Most trees are adapted to prefer sunshine, but some garden plants do survive and thrive in even the darkest of shade. Because sunshine is used for photosynthesis, you should expect that plants that grow in shade will grow slower than plants growing in sun. If you can, choose to give your shade-loving tree a site that provides at least two hours of direct sun per day for more vigorous and healthy growth. Most shade-loving trees will tolerate up to four hours per day of direct sun before experiencing sunburn on their leaves.
Green or Variegated Japanese Maples/ Acer palmatum
Japanese maples with green foliage are happy in part shade. They will tolerate full shade, but will grow more vigorously with at least two hours of direct sunshine per day. Acer palmatum ‘Seiryu’ is an example of a Japanese maple with green foliage that thrives in shade, and it reaches 10 to 15 feet tall.
Variegated Japanese maples also do well in shade. They prefer shady sites because their white leaf margins burn in too much direct sun. Acer palmatum ‘Butterfly’ is a variegated tree that does well in part to full shade and reaches 7 to 9 feet tall.
All Japanese maples prefer regular watering during the growing season.
English Yew/Taxus Baccata
English Yew or Taxus baccata is a sturdy evergreen tree that does well in full sun or full shade. It will grow to 65 feet tall, though there are dwarf varieties that stay small. It tolerates any kind of soil as long as it has good drainage.
English Yew can be pruned severely with no ill effect, so can be adapted to nearly any garden style. Its deep green foliage and naturally columnar shape make it particularly well-suited to formal gardens.
Fern Podocarpus/Podocarpus Gracilior
Fern Podocarpus or Podocarpus gracilior is a tough plant once established, thriving in full sun or full shade, heavy soils, and even wind. It can be sheared into a small column or espalliered against a wall. If left unpruned, it can reach 50 feet tall in time.
Fern Podocarpus is evergreen with medium green leaves. It prefers sites with regular water in summer, though mature specimens can survive without supplemental water.
Tree Fern/Dicksonia Antarctica
Tree Fern or Dicksonia Antarctica loves full or partial shade. Its fronds are 3 to 6 feet long and the plant itself reaches 15 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Tree Ferns prefer regular summer water to perform their best.
The gracefully-arching fronds seem at home in tropical or woodland garden settings, because tropical garden settings often feature bold foliage forms, and woodland settings often have other ferns to echo the foliage effect.
While Camellias have a somewhat shrubby growth habit, they can easily be pruned to reveal a tree-shaped form by removing all lower branches. Most Camellia japonica plants will grow 10 feet tall in 15 years, then will continue growing to 20 feet tall or larger in time.
Camellias prefer part shade or filtered sun, but they will tolerate full shade. In heavy shade, they will bloom less. Camellia japonica ‘Nuccio’s Bella Rossa’ is an example of a Camellia japonica, and it has crimson flowers and blooms in early to late spring.