Evergreen shrubs on the north side of a house or those sitting under a dense tree canopy receive no direct sunlight, but there is an important difference in the type of shade they experience. The shade on the north side of a house is called open shade because the shrubs are open to the sky, and they receive indirect sunlight.
Drooping leucothoe (Leucothoe fontanesiana) has graceful, arching branches. The shrubs grow 3 to 6 feet tall with ornamental foliage that emerges in shades of red, bronze and purple, sometimes with white variegation. Clusters of urn-shaped, white flowers hang from the branches in spring. Drooping leucothoe needs a moist, acid soil that is well-drained. It is hardy in U.S Department of Agriculture zones 5 to 8.
Most people think of boxwood as a hedge shrub, but they also make good foundation and topiary bushes. If you think of boxwoods as dull, ordinary shrubs, try one of the variegated varieties such as B. sempervirens 'Variegata'. Boxwood grows equally well in sun or shade and tolerates a wide range of soils. Good drainage is essential. Boxwood is hardy in USDA zones 6 to 8.
Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is an excellent flowering shrub for the north side of a house. In optimum soil conditions it grows up to 10 feet tall with a similar spread. White or pink flowers bloom in clusters as large as 6 inches in diameter in late spring or early summer. Mountain laurel needs a cool, moist, slightly acid soil that is well drained. Mulch is essential to hold in moisture and insulate the soil from temperature extremes. Mountain laurel is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9.
Mahonia (Mahonia bealei) grows to a height of 10 feet. The large central stem doesn't have lateral branches, and the long leaf stems grow directly from the main stem. The leaves are dark green, spiny and leathery. Clusters of fragrant yellow flowers bloom in late winter, followed by berries that mature to bluish-black. The berries attract birds to the garden. Grow mahonia in a moist, well-drained soil. It is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8.
Rosebay rhododendron (Rhodendron maximum) is native to the Eastern United States. It grows 5 to 12 feet tall and left to its own devices forms a dense thicket. Rosebay rhododendron features large, thick, leathery leaves. The flowers bloom in early summer in white and shades of pink. Rosebay rhododendron needs a moist, well-drained soil. It is hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7.