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6 Spectacular Shade Plants

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Published March 13, 2018
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It can be frustrating when you have an empty spot in your landscape that you really want to fill, but alas…it’s too shaded for your favorite bloomers… Well fear no more! For today we are going to go through some of our favorite shrubs for bringing new life to any shade garden. So without any further ado, here are..

6 Shade Plants for Shady Gardens! (But Not Necessarily Shady Gardeners)


  • Partial Sun to Full Shade

Pieris are ideal for shaded gardens and landscapes. This diverse species includes varieties tall enough to be a privacy hedge, and short enough to function as low-borders. Do make sure that your selected variety works with the sun exposure in your intended location though. Although shade-friendly as a whole, some pieris tolerate full shade, while others need at least partial sun.

Looking for a medium height pieris with variegated foliage? Check out the Pieris japonica ‘Variegata’.

Need a more considerably sized variety? Take a look at the Pieris forrestii, they reach around 10 feet tall.

Don’t care for white blooms? The ‘Valley Valentine’ Pieris japonica features eye-catching Magenta red blooms.

As far as we’re concerned, the Mountain Snow Pieris from Southern Living Plants has it all. From rich evergreen foliage and showy bronze new foliage, to gorgeous bloom displays. It’s compact, disease/pest resistant, as well as heat tolerant, but arguably best of all, it can be grown in full shade!

The Mountain Snow produces crisp white, bell-shaped bloom panicles that explode onto the scene in Winter and early Spring, coating nearly the entire shrub. If you listen closely on a windy day, you can hear these petite blooms clinking against each other, slightly reminiscent of seashell chimes.


  • Partial Sun to Full Shade

Mahonia are always popular choices for shaded areas. The traditional Mahonia most people know is upright and statuesque, with leathery, thick spiny leaves. These varieties are ideal as shaded border or privacy plantings, as they get very thick (especially with seasonal pruning) and the spined leaves deter unwanted visitors. In addition, Mahonias feature sprays of gorgeous, fragrant yellow blooms in winter and late fall that honeybees adore. One of our favorite varieties, the Marvel Mahonia is a great choice for this type of Mahonia.

A more unusual type of Mahonia, that still enjoys the shade just as much, is the Soft Caress Mahonia (Pictured above and to the right). The Soft Caress fulfills a different role in the landscape than traditional Mahonia, but it does it beautifully. The soft, feathery, blue-green foliage on this evergreen shrub is perfect for shaded gardens or container gardens, and particularly shines as a mass planting. Plant a group of them around taller blooming shade plants such as Rhododendrons or Oakleaf Hydrangeas for an impressive shade display. If you have a shaded front porch, try using Soft Caress Mahonia as a container plant, mixing it with other shade plants such as Heuchera, Heucherella, or Fatshedera.

For a great blog post from Southern Living Plants on how to create a garden oasis using Soft Caress Mahonia, Click Here.


  • Partial Sun to Full Shade

Rhododendrons are a tried and true favorite selection for a shade garden bloomer, and rightfully so! They’re able to turn a small amount of sunlight into some truly gorgeous blooms. Although they are shade friendly, some sunlight, whether filtered throughout the day or a couple hours of direct light, will allow for optimal blooms. Use them as an accent, container, hedge, or mass planting, or however you see fit; they’re a versatile bunch. Just make sure the soil is breathable and acidic to make sure that they really thrive.

Some of our favorite Rhododendrons are from the Southgate Rhododendron series. Most notably, these beauties can handle southern heat (which is something we have in spades). In addition to the heat tolerance, they’re also disease and pest resistant and have some blooms that are truly easy on the eyes.

Oakleaf Hydrangea

  • Partial sun

Oakleaf Hydrangeas are a staple for gardeners all over who have partially shaded spots to fill in their landscape. To get the most blooms for your buck with these beauties, use them somewhere where they will receive dappled sun periodically throughout the day, or an hour or two of direct sun. Well-draining soil is also very important for these guys, hydrangeas are susceptible to root rot when supplied with too much water.

These native U.S. shrubs are naturally nearly disease and pest free, as well as drought tolerant once established. They can be pruned to maintain a particular height, but left untrimmed will reach 10’ H x 8’ W. Try pairing them with shorter shade loving shrubs like Soft Caress Mahonia or Mojo Pittosporum.

If the Oakleaf Hydrangea interests you, check out the Semmes Beauty Oakleaf Hydrangea, one of our favorite selections.


  • Partial Sun to Full Shade

Pittosporum are versatile shrubs and can fill numerous roles in the landscape. They do well in sun as well as shade, they’re really not selective when it comes to lighting. These evergreens are traditionally fast-growing and densely foliated which makes them fantastic candidates for borders or hedges. Some varieties grow in more of a tree form while others are low-growing, there’s a Pittosporum for nearly any application. Coastal dwellers rejoice as well, Pittosporum are tolerant of salt. If you need icing on the cake, most varieties produce intoxicatingly fragrant, orange-scented white blossoms in spring.

Think a low-growing Pittosporum might be for you? Check out the Mojo Pittosporum (pictured above). Sometimes called a ‘Mock Orange’ due to their beautifully scented blooms, these guys only reach 3’ H x 3’ W so they won’t outgrow your landscape. Try using them as a low-border in a shaded location, or perhaps use them as a mass planting below tall shady trees.


  • Partial Sun to Full Shade

Tried and true, the Yew won’t fail you now! Yews are popular shade plants, and for good reason. These guys are quite versatile. Plant them in full sun, part sun, or full shade, they’re not picky. You’ll often see them used as foundation plantings around houses, privacy hedges, groundcovers, and more. Keep in mind that Yews are slow growing, so if patience isn’t your thing you may want to pick up an older plant. On the plus side, due to the Yews slow growth, they require only infrequent trimming.

One of our favorites is the Yewtopia Plum Yew (pictured above). This variety is heat and drought tolerant, as well as disease and pest resistant. The Yewtopia reaches a compact 3-4’ H x 3-4’ W which makes maintenance largely unnecessary. Use it as a reliable accent, mass planting, border, or container plant in your shaded garden.

Another distinctly different variety of yew is the Spreading Plum Yew. This variety is awesome at what it does, and what it does is grow low. The Spreading Plum Yew reaches only 2-3’ tall, and once grown in it creates a dense mat of feathery foliage. Use it to fill in around large trees with thick canopies, and make sure you plant them en masse for a truly gorgeous display.

Concluding Remarks

Thanks for checking out our list of some of our favorite shade plants! There are some great shade plants out there that we didn’t include in here, feel free to mention them in the comments below.

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