Called “understory” trees, they usually grow shorter than the large shade and conifers that make up the tallest members of the forest. Understory trees prefer the dappled, partial shade cast by the giants of the forest and should be planted in similar conditions in your landscape.
Japanese spreading or dwarf yew (Podocarpus macrophylla maki var.) grow well in partial to full shade. They are both low-growing, ground cover-type evergreens. The spreading variety grows to 5 feet high; the dwarf variety reaches 3 feet high. Both spread 5 to 6 feet across. Grow them in moist, well-drained, acidic soil.
An excellent understory tree for partial shade, flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) grows to a height of 15 to 25 feet. Dogwood offers interest during all seasons of the year: flowers in spring, deep green leaves in summer, reddish-purple foliage and red fruit in fall. The bark has an interesting texture that becomes more apparent when the tree loses its leaves in winter.
Grow dogwood in partial shade in moist, fertile soil that is slightly acidic. Provide them with supplemental irrigation during their first year in your yard, but do not overwater. Fertilize in the tree's second growing season in your yard, following the manufacturer's rates of application for the weakest strength. Dogwood trees rarely need supplemental fertilizer if they are grown as a specimen in a lawn that is fertilized regularly. Over-fertilizing is a common cause for reduced flowering in dogwood trees, according to the North Carolina State University Extension.
Originally imported from its native China for silkworm production, the common mulberry tree (Morus alba) has become a weed tree over much of the eastern and southern United States. Growing in all types of soil and in either sun or shade, mulberries can sometimes grow where no other variety of tree will grow, according to the Ohio State University Extension. It can grow up to 60 feet high in full sun, although in the shade most specimens are considerably shorter. Its berries, which resemble raspberries, ripen over a long season beginning in late June. Trees growing in shade will produce their crop later in the summer. They withstand drought, pollution, salt spray and compacted soils. They are very adaptable and fast-growing. Birds love their berries and may prefer them over your cultivated berries.