A garden cast in shade can be among the most difficult of areas to design and maintain, especially when aiming to have year round interest. Many evergreen small trees, shrubs, vines and perennials provide options to you, depending on your climate, to vegetate the areas under tall trees. Mix and match plant types in the design for best visual appeal and garden diversity.
Needled Evergreen Shrubs
In general, plants with evergreen needles have greater tolerance to colder winter temperatures, such as the variable climates in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 8. Yews (Taxus spp.), hemlocks (Tsuga spp.) and Japanese umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata) are examples of common shrubs or very slow-growing trees that are shrub-like in their youth that translate well to shaded landscapes.
In mild winter regions, USDA Zones 7 through 9, shrubby Chinese podocarpus (Podocarpus macrophyllus 'Maki'), stinking cedar (Torreya floridana) and plum yews (Cephalotaxus fortunei and Cephalotaxus harringtonia) tolerant considerable shade under landscape and woodland trees.
Broadleaf Evergreen Shrubs
Some of the most ornamental evergreen shrubs for shade fall into this category, having broad leaves that remain over winters that are not too cold, such as USDA Zones 6 through 8. Rhododendron, mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), doghobble (Leucothoe spp.), pieris (Pieris japonica and Pieris floribunda), Chinese fringe flower (Loropetalum chinense), anise tree (Illicium spp.) and Japanese cleyera (Ternstroemia gymnathera) are widely used in shady glens and woodland gardens. Many cultivated varieties, cultivars, exist of these plant species and may broaden the diversity of plant forms, mature sizes and other characteristics suitable for your shady garden area. Some species of oft-regarded deciduous shrub types may be evergreen such as laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) and shade-tolerant selections of yaupon (Ilex vomitoria).
Some vines, such as English ivy (Hedera helix), periwinkle (Vinca minor), Asiatic jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum) and spurge (Pachysandra terminalis) act as evergreen ground covers, too.
Evergreen Herbaceous Perennials
Some herb-like plants, those that lack any woody stems or trunks, remain evergreen when winter cold is limited, especially in USDA zones 7 and warmer. Lilyturf (Liriope muscari), mondo grass (Ophiopogon spp.), bugleweed (Ajuga reptens), barrenwort (Epimedium spp.) and Japanese rush (Acorus gramineus) provide excellent year-round texture and color in areas that may be shaded in the growing season but exposed to more light with tree leaves absent. Depending on climate, other perennials may survive the winter but with foliage that changes color, such as Bergenia cordifolia.