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Foundation Shrubs for Shade

By Marie Roberts ; Updated September 21, 2017

Foundation shrubs provide texture and color interest to houses and other structures. Sometimes used to camouflage areas, foundation shrubs are better used as complementary landscape features. Clemson University Extension recommends blending foundation plantings into the surrounding landscape. Shady areas require shade-tolerant shrubs and consideration of soil conditions because these areas may be dry and require supplemental irrigation.

Japanese Holly

Japanese hollies (Ilex crenata) are rounded, evergreen shrubs reaching 5 to 10 feet tall, variable with cultivar. Its leaves are dark green, with the sharp spines or red berries of Chinese hollies (Ilex cornuta). Dwarf forms of Japanese hollies are common foundation plants, and prefer sun or partial shade on nutrient-rich, well-drained, moisture-retentive soils. Japanese hollies are cold hardy to USDA zone 6.

Japanese Barberry

The Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is a densely foliated, compact, deciduous shrub, reaching a height of 6 feet with equal spread. Its clusters of whorled leaves are yellow-green to maroon, depending on the cultivar, turning red to red-purple in fall. Japanese barberry shrubs produce shiny red ornamental berries that ripen in the fall. Hardy to USDA zone 4, Japanese barberry prefers full sun or part shade on a wide range of well-drained soils. It is drought tolerant once established.

Japanese Plum Yew

Japanese plum yews (Cephalotaxus harringtonia) are slow-growing, fine-textured evergreen shrubs reaching less than 8 feet tall with variable spread. They have 1 to 1 1/2 inch needle-like leaves and ornamentally insignificant flowers. Japanese plum yews are well suited to foundation plantings or in containers. Hardy to USDA zone 6, these shrubs prefer partial to full shade conditions in fertile, well-drained soil.


Boxwoods (Buxus microphylla) are compact evergreen shrubs growing to 5 feet tall, but commonly seen in the 2- to 3-foot range, with equal spread. Boxwoods have 1-inch, simple, rounded, stiff and leathery green leaves and inconspicuous flowers. These common foundation plants prefer full sun to partial shade, nutrient-rich, acidic soils and are cold hardy to USDA zone 5. Boxwoods are shallow rooted and do not tolerate waterlogged or excessively dry conditions.


About the Author


Marie Roberts is a writer based in Florida. She has a B.S. in horticultural sciences. Roberts began writing in 2002.