Shade Loving Small Trees

Gardens are a multi-dimensional space with different elements that are put together to make a pleasing landscape. The shade areas do not have to be left bare or filled with only low-growing plants. Small trees love the shade that protects them from the hot afternoon sun.

Cinnamon Clethra

Cinnamon clethra (Clethra acuminata) is also known as cinnamonbark clethra and mountain pepperbush. The plant is a deciduous tree that grow up to 20 feet tall and is found in the Appalachian Mountains. The tree produces oval-shaped leaves that turn gold or yellow in the fall; white, bell-shaped flowers growing in long clusters; and tiny seeds with the taste of pepper. Plant cinnamon clethra in partial shade and a soil that is rich, moist and well drained The tree is hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8 and is a favorite of butterflies.

Oregon Vine Maple

Oregon vine maple (Acer circinatum Pursh) is also known as vine maple and is found in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California. The tree grows from 10 to 20 feet tall with a spread of 25 to 30 feet. It has a small trunk and round, palm-shaped, bright-green deciduous leaves that change to yellow-orange or red in the fall. Purple-white flowers bloom in March, April and May and are followed by red fruit in the summer. Plant Oregon vine maple in partial or full shade and a moist soil. Butterflies will come by for the nectar and birds and small animals for the seeds. It is hardy in USDA Zones 6 to 9.

Sweetbay Magnolia

Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) grows from about 20 to 40 feet tall and 15 to 30 feet wide. The tree produces elliptic-shaped leaves that are green on top, silver-green on the underside and up to 6 inches long. The fragrant, cream-colored flowers bloom from late May through summer and are followed by chartreuse or brown fruits that split open to reveal bright red-orange fruits. Plant sweetbay magnolia in full sun or partial shade and a soil that is moist to wet. The tree is hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9.


Sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum) is also known as farkleberry and tree huckleberry. The tree grows from 8 to 30 feet tall and about the same in spread with oval to round leaves that are dark green on top, pale underneath and 1 to 2 inches long. In the colder parts of the tree's range, the leaves are deciduous; in the warmer areas they last all year turning red-purple in the fall. The white, bell-shaped flowers bloom in the spring, growing in abundant, drooping clusters. This is followed by fruits that are the largest blackberry in North America in late summer, which remain through the winter. Plant sparkleberry in full sun to partial shade and in soil that is moist to dry. The tree is hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 through 9. Birds and small wildlife will make a meal out of the berries.

Keywords: shade gardens, small trees, ornamental trees

About this Author

Regina Sass has been a writer for 10 years, penning articles for publications in the real estate and retail industries. Her online experience includes writing, advertising and editing for an educational website. Sass is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.