Before selecting shrubs for your garden's shady areas, determine the amount of shade you have. Heavy shade, says Penn State University's retired professor of horticulture N. Robert Nuss, has no direct sunlight. Light shade receives sun filtered through open-canopied trees like birches. Moderate shade gets reflected light like that found on hardwood forest floors. Shade plants usually flower less and lack the intense fall color of those grown in full sun.
Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is a heath family shrub native to the woods and hillsides of the eastern United States. A broadleaf evergreen standing between 12 and 20 feet high, it typically has multiple trunks and a thicket-forming habit. Glossy leaves emerge pale green, becoming deep green in the summer and purple with cold weather. In June and July, shrubs have showy, flat clusters of bell-like white or pink, rose-spotted blooms. Plant in a cool location with partial shade and moist, rocky or sandy soil. Ingesting any part of the plant is potentially fatal, cautions the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) grows wild in shaded woods and thickets, and along streambanks through most of the eastern and southern United States. Frequently growing near post oak trees, it seldom exceeds 4 feet high. Coralberry's branches have purple or brown bark that shreds as its wood ages. Branches have oval, 1-inch to 2-inch green leaves. Between April and July, the bushes have small white flower clusters. Colorful berries ranging from coral to purple follow the blooms and last through the winter.
Coralberry provides food, shelter, and nesting sites for a variety of birds and wildlife. Plant it, advises the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, in a well-drained location and partial to full shade. Not particular about soil moisture, it accepts sand, loam, and clay soils. Bushes root and spread where their branch nodes touch the ground.
Northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) is a spreading shrub standing from 3 to 12 feet high. A salt-spray tolerant shrub, it's native to coastal woodland borders, thickets, and ledges from Maine to Virginia and along Lake Erie in Ohio. Handling both heat and cold, it's evergreen in areas with mild winters. The shrub's dense branches have grayish green, glossy, fragrant leaves. Between July and October, yellow-green flower catkins appear. Pollinated female plants produce white berries that feed birds throughout the winter. Plant this shrub, recommends the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, in partial shade. Give it moist, acidic (pH below 6.8) sandy, loam or clay soil. You'll need male and female shrubs to produce a berry crop.