Shade Loving Ornamental Shrubs

With an impressive canopy from large trees, a woodland garden can be relaxing and refreshingly cooler than the sunnier parts of your landscape. Finding ornamental shrubs to vegetate shadier locations can be difficult, especially in regard to those that flower. Use both light-colored foliage shrubs and flowering shrubs to bring added visual brightness and interest.


The perfect shrubs for a woodland garden, rhododendrons and azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) are well known for their seasonal flower displays in either spring or summer. The larger shrubs with bigger flower clusters tend to be commonly called rhododendrons, while the smaller shrubs are often dubbed azaleas. You can buy plant species that collectively may provide blossom displays from spring to late summer. Generally, any species of these shrubs can be grown across U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Hardiness Zones 4 though 9.


Also called Japanese laurel, aucuba shrubs (Aucuba spp.) bear oval, glossy evergreen leaves that have teethed edges or are mottled with yellow spots. Use varieties with more colorful leaves to brighten the shade garden. Female aucuba plants bear red berries in autumn if male-gendered plants are nearby. Grow aucuba in USDA Zones 6 and warmer in gardens sheltered from winds.


With common names like doghobble, sweetbells or fetterbush (Leucothoe spp.), these evergreen shrubs with glossy leaves and white bell-like flowers are related to heathers and blueberries. Needing acidic soils and a moist soil in considerable shade, they are best grown in USDA Zones 5 through 9. Consider the more ornately colored leaves on cultivars names 'Rainbow' or 'Scarletta'.


Also called Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus), sweetshrub is best grown in partial shade where it receives some dappled sunlight to encourage flowering. The flowers are borne in early to mid-summer, ranging in color from red to white or yellow. Crush the leaves and smell an aroma similar to cloves or camphor. The leaves turn yellow in autumn before falling off. Grow sweetshrub in moist well-draining soil in USDA Zones 5 though 9 protected from drying winter winds.

Bottlebrush Buckeye

In the dappled shade under tall trees or in a border at the edge of a woodland, bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) makes a handsome shrub. Blooming in late spring to early summer, each branch tip dons an upright cluster of white flowers, whether grown in a sunny spot or shady location. It is deciduous, with golden yellow fall foliage. Grow it in USDA Zones 4 through 8.

Oregon Grape

An evergreen shrub with glossy green foliage that looks like a cross between holly and sumac, the Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) provides multiple seasons of ornamentation. In late winter, stems are topped with fragrant canary yellow flowers. By summer the grape-like clusters of blue fruits contrast the leaves. In winter's cold, the foliage blushes with tones of bronze and purple. Grow this upright clustering shrub in USDA Zones 5 through 8.

Keywords: shade loving shrubs, designing shade gardens, shrubs for shade, shade plants, flowering shade plants

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for "The Public Garden," "Docent Educator," nonprofit newsletters and for horticultural databases, becoming a full-time writer in 2008. He's gardened and worked professionally at public and private gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. He has written articles for eHow and GardenGuides.