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Japanese Garden Shade Plants

By Jean Lien ; Updated September 21, 2017

Japanese garden style is known for subdued beauty and close attention to detail. Plant selections for this type of garden should ideally be evergreen and easily maintained. Fully shaded areas in the Japanese garden require trees and shrubs that tolerate low light and have a color or texture that will provide a muted but harmonious contrast.

Camelia Japonica

Camelia japonica has dark green glossy leaves and an abundance of flowers in spring. Camelias bloom earlier than most other flowering shrubs, adding color to the early spring shade garden. Flowers come in a wide range of colors, depending on the variety. Camelias can be pruned as a small tree or allowed to grow as a shrub. Soil should be well drained and fertile. A yearly mulch of ground bark will acidify the soil and add organic matter. Camelias are hardy in zones 6 through 9, however a particularly harsh winter will cause some damage. A pruning in late spring will tidy up the plant. Flower buds on very early blooming varieties may be killed by severe cold. A frost blanket applied prior to frigid temperatures will insulate the plant and protect buds and new growth.

Cephalotaxus Harringtonia 'Prostrata'

Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Prostrata' (Japanese Plum Yew) is a ground cover or small shrub growing 2 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Evergreen foliage is delicate and almost fern-like, with small intensely green needles on gently arching branches. Foliage color changes with the onset of winter, turning an attractive reddish bronze. This yew is also deer resistant. Plant in well drained soil rich in composted matter. Although relatively cold tolerant, 'Prostrata' should be planted in a sheltered area to prevent foliage damage from drying winter winds. Hardy in zones 6 through 9.

Microbiota Decussata 'Fuzz Ball'

Microbiota decussata 'Fuzzball' (Siberian Cypress) has an appearance as enchanting as its name. Silvery green feathery foliage grows in a tight clump 1 foot high and 2 to 3 feet wide. Siberian Cypress will grow in morning sun, however in hot climates full shade is preferable. Winter temperatures bring a reddish flush to the foliage. Hardy in zones 6 through 9.

Tsuga Canadensis 'Gentsch White'

Tsuga canadensis 'Gentsch White' (Gentsch White Canadian Hemlock) grows 4 to 6 feet tall and wide. Dainty evergreen foliage is variegated with silvery white throughout. This shrub glows in a shaded garden. Soil should have good drainage, yet remain evenly moist, and contain acidic organic matter. Drying out during hot summer weather can severely damage or even kill this plant. Even in cool climates, too much sunshine can burn the foliage. A few hours of morning sun will be tolerated, but prolonged or hot afternoon sun will cause unsightly needle browning. Protect this hemlock from strong winds, especially in the winter. Hardy in zones 3 through 7. Warmer growing zones may have success with this plant if it is kept in the coolest, shadiest area of the garden.


About the Author


What began as a lifelong gardening fixation turned into a career for Jean Lien. She has more than 15 years of experience in the nursery industry and landscaping, and three years of horticulture at South Puget Sound Community College. Lien began writing in 2009 for various websites.