Finding evergreen shrubs that will tolerate shady conditions in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zone 5 and can be planted as a privacy screen may seem like a difficult task. USDA zone 5 is defined by areas where winter temperatures average between minus 10 and minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, such as Des Moines, IA, and Chicago, IL. Most evergreens tend to prefer sunny conditions because they have less leaf surface to produce photosynthesis. Luckily, few are shade tolerant and hardy enough to deal with the cold.
Rhododendrons (Rhododendron spp.) are a diverse species that may be deciduous or evergreen. At least two of the evergreen varieties will tolerate shady conditions in zone 5. Both prefer moist, cool, well-draining acidic soil. The rosebay rhododendron (R. maximum) will grow up to 15 feet tall in full shade. It has large, purplish-pink to white flowers. The Catawba rhododendron (R. catawbiense) grows up to 10 feet high in half-shade. It has 6-inch-wide, purple flowers.
Yews (Taxus spp.) are coniferous shrubs with berrylike cones. Several varieties tolerate sun or shade and should be planted in well-draining, sandy soil that is slightly acidic. The Anglojap jew (Taxus x media) is a dense, compact evergreen that can grow up to 20 feet tall. The Japanese yew (T. cuspidate) has bright red berries and can grow up to 40 feet tall. It has shown an invasive tendency in some areas. The Canadian Yew (T. Canadensis) is a slightly smaller variety that grows only to 6 feet in height.
Viburnum (Viburnum spp.) shrubs are popular landscape choices due to their showy, fragrant flowers that turn into colorful berries. Evergreen varieties include the leatherleaf viburnum (V. rhytidophyllum). It has yellowish-white flowers that turn into red and black fruit. It grows up to 15 feet tall in well-draining soil and prefers partial to full shade. The Prague or Pragenese viburnum (Viburnum x pragense) is a rapidly growing hardy variety with pink buds that open to white flowers. It prefers full sun to partial shade.
Most pine trees (Pinus spp.) grow too tall or need full sun conditions to be included here. Two exceptions are the Swiss mountain pine (P. mugo) and the white pine (P. strobus). Both prefer well-draining, moist soil that is slightly acidic. The Swiss mountain pine is slow growing, with dark green needles. It can reach up to 20 feet high. The white pine is fast growing and prefers full sun, although it will tolerate light shade. It can grow up to 80 feet tall, although small cultivars are also available, such as Ontario and Radiata.
- Penn State College Department of Horticulture: Using Trees and Shrubs for...; Emelie Swackhamer, et al.
- University of Tennessee Agriculture Extension Service; Evergreen Trees for ...; Wayne Clatterbuck, et al.
- Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service; Hedges; B. Rosie Lerner, et al.
- University of Connecticut: UConn Plant Database
- North Carolina State University: Tree Index
- Arbor Day Foundation: Tree Guide