Gardeners coping with shady yards can simplify the process of choosing plants by determining whether they're working with partial, filtered or dense shade. Partially shady areas, according to Colorado State University Extension' s Plantalk, receive direct sun for part of the day. Those in filtered shade receive sunlight passing through open tree foliage, while densely shaded spots are those beneath heavily leaved trees. Many attractive shrubs will grow in one--or all--of these conditions.
Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), a 4- to 6-foot honeysuckle family shrub, grows wild in shady post oak woods, thickets and along streams or riverbanks. It's native from Massachusetts south to Florida and west to Texas. Brownish or purple branches have 2-inch, oval, dull green leaves. White flower clusters appear from April to July. The shrub's most ornamental feature, however, is its abundant coral-to-purple, 1/8-inch berries. Remaining on the plants through the winter, they provide food for birds and small mammals.
Use coralberry, recommends the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, as a colonizing plant in a shady woodland garden. It spreads easily by rooting from the nodes that touch the soil. Give it partial to full shade and well-drained, circumneutral (pH of 6.8 to 7.2) soil. It thrives in sand, loam or clay.
Common buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), an evergreen shrub of the madder family, loves shady, wet conditions. Wild to the swamps, prairie swales and stream margins from Maine to Florida and west to California, it stands 6 to 12 feet high. Its frequently twisted trunks have multiple branches with glossy, deep-green, 8-inch oval leaves. From July to August, it flowers with fragrant, 1-inch, white or light pink spherical blooms.
Clusters of small nuts following the flowers stay on the plants through winter, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Waterfowl feed on the seeds. Plant this perennial shrub in a bog or water garden with partial to full shade. It handles sands, loams, clay and limestone-based soils. Note that its foliage is poisonous.
Mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is another shade-loving honeysuckle family shrub. It grows wild in woods and thickets from Florida north to Canada and west to Texas. Standing 4 to 6 feet high and up to 4 feet wide, it has deciduous, deep-green foliage similar to maple leaves. Between April and August, it blooms with flat, 1 1/2- to 3-inch clusters of small white flowers. Red berries ripening to purple or black are a food source for birds.
This shrub is desirable especially for its pinkish purple autumn color. Plant it as an accent shrub in sun to full shade and acidic (pH below 6.8), dry soil. It grows in rocky soil or sand, clay or loam. Remove suckers promptly to prevent colonization.