14 Beautiful Shrubs for Shade Gardens that Brighten Up Your Yard

Kalmia 'Tinkerbell' pink mountain laurel
Photo: Jeff Mcnamara

Landscaping a shady area is easy with this select group of shrubs that excel in low-light situations. Most of the following plants will even produce colorful and fragrant flowers, which can brighten up those hard-to-fill spots in your yard.

01 of 14

Sumac

sumac bush growing in garden with plants around the base
Laurie Black

Although it's considered a small tree, sumac has a compact, shrub-like form that will fit into almost any size landscape. Sumac grows quickly and prefers rich, slightly moist soil and a partially shady location. Wild sumac can become invasive, but most new dwarf hybrids will stay within bounds, growing just 6-feet tall and wide. Some varieties prefer full sun, but 'Tiger Eyes' needs at least partial shade, and has a beautiful golden color to its leaves.

Growing conditions: Partial shade or full sun in well-drained, consistently moist soil

Size: Up to 6-feet tall

Zones: 4-8

Buy It: Staghorn Sumac Oxymel ($20, Etsy)

02 of 14

Lily-of-the-Valley Shrub

Pieris
Marty Baldwin

This eye-catching broadleaf evergreen gets its name from the lily-of-the-valley-like cascades of white or pink flowers it produces in spring. It's a slow-growing shrub, but if you can be patient, it'll eventually become the centerpiece of your garden. Because lily-of-the-valley shrub prefers partial shade and slightly moist, acid soil, it makes a great companion for azaleas and camellias.

Growing Conditions: Partial shade in well-drained soil

Size: 5-feet tall, 8-feet wide

Zones: 5-8

Buy It: Lily-of-the-Valley Bulb Pack ($14, Etsy)

03 of 14

Yew

yew shrub
Matthew Benson

One of the most versatile shrubs on the planet, yews, come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and they can easily be sheared into hedges or screens. Yews prefer partial sunlight but can also thrive in the shade or full sun, depending on the type. Use spreading varieties along a foundation or path, and line up upright forms to create privacy around a patio or spa. The plant's soft, dark green needles look terrific all year long.

Growing Conditions: Full shade to full sun in well-drained soil

Size: Can vary by variety; some reach 2-to-4-feet tall, others up to 30-feet tall

Zones: 4-7

Buy It: Dense Spreading Yew Shrub ($32, The Home Depot)

04 of 14

Serviceberry

Amelanchier arborea serviceberry
Dean Schoeppner

If you're looking for four-season interest, you can't go wrong with serviceberry, occasionally called shadblow. This amazing native tree has a shrub-like form and produces masses of small white flowers in the early spring, followed by edible blue-black berries in the summer. In fall, the foliage turns bright red, and when winter arrives, the plant's bark adds textural interest to the otherwise dormant landscape. Use serviceberry singly as a specimen tree or cluster several along a lot line or fence.

Growing Conditions: Partial shade or full sun in well-drained soil

Size: Varies by variety

Zones: 2-9

Buy It: Shadblow Serviceberry ($17, Arbor Day Foundation)

05 of 14

Clethra

clethra shrub
Marty Baldwin

Fragrance and color — that's what you'll get when you plant Clethra in your garden. Also called summersweet, this easy-care shrub bursts into bloom in the late summer, sporting spikes of richly scented white or pink flowers. Plus, in the fall, the leaves turn bright yellow. Clethra is a native shrub that tolerates wet acid soil and salt spray. Use it in a foundation planting or in a mixed border. Hummingbirds love this shrub, so if you plant it, you'll start seeing them flit around your yard.

Growing Conditions: Partial shade or full sun in well-drained, consistently moist soil

Size: 4-to-6-feet tall, 4-feet wide

Zones: 3-9

Buy It: Ruby Spice Clethra ($45, Etsy)

06 of 14

Azalea

Azalea Herbert
Bob Stefko

Celebrate the return of spring with a colorful collection of azaleas. These spectacular shrubs thrive in partially shady locations with rich, acidic soil. Azaleas, which are in the rhododendron family, come in a variety of colors, and some newer varieties will even put on an extra flower show in the fall. Once established, azaleas will perform for decades, particularly in the southeastern part of the United States.

Growing Conditions: Partial to full shade in slightly moist, well-drained soil

Size: 3-to-6-feet tall and wide

Zones: 3-9

Buy It: Autumn Sunburst Azalea ($45, Lowe's)

07 of 14

Rhododendron

Rhododendron 'Haaga'
Denny Schrock

In general, rhododendrons are a bit bigger and bolder than their close cousins the azaleas. These beauties develop softball-size flower heads perched atop leathery, dark evergreen leaves. Rhododendrons prefer slightly moist, acidic soil and can grow up to 20-feet tall, although there are also ground-hugging varieties available. Colors include lavender, pink, white, purple, yellow, rose, and bicolor.

Growing Conditions: Partial to full shade in slightly moist, well-drained soil

Size: 2-to-20-feet tall

Zones: 4-8

Buy It: Compact Rhododendron Shrub ($34, The Home Depot)

08 of 14

Camellia

Close up of pink Camellia flower
Denny Schrock

The undisputed queen of the winter garden, camellias bloom nonstop from fall to late spring. These amazing plants come in an almost unlimited array of flower colors, including red, white, and pink, and some varieties are also fragrant. Camellias have a dense branching habit with shiny, bright green leaves, so the plants look wonderful in the landscape even when not in bloom. Camellias are slow growers, but most varieties will eventually reach 12-to-20-feet tall. They prefer slightly sandy, acid soil.

Growing Conditions: Partial to full shade in well-drained soil

Size: 2-to-20-feet tall, 5-to-7-feet wide

Zones: 6-10

Buy It: Pink Camellia Flowering Shrub ($23, Lowe's)

09 of 14

Bigleaf Hydrangea

endless summer bloomstruck hydrangea
Kritsada Panichgul

If someone held a popularity contest for shrubs (not likely, but you never know) bigleaf hydrangeas would be the uncontested winner. With their broad, bright green foliage and their white, pink, blue softball-size flowers, bigleaf hydrangeas are pretty and versatile garden plants. Use these shrubs to create a low hedge, perk up a mixed perennial border, or in large tubs to flank an entry. Bigleaf hydrangeas prefer rich, slightly moist soil, and protection from the hot, afternoon sun. Newer varieties bloom on and off all summer.

Growing Conditions: Partial to full shade in well-drained soil

Size: 3-to-8-feet tall and wide

Zones: 4-7

Buy It: Grumpy Bigleaf Hydrangea ($18, The Home Depot)

10 of 14

Mountain Laurel

pink mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
Jeff Mcnamara

If you take a springtime drive through the Appalachian Mountains, you may see wild mountain laurels in flower on hillsides and meadows. This spectacular native spring-flowering shrub makes a great landscape plant sporting large clusters of cup-shape rose or white flowers with purple markings. It prefers a rich, slightly acid soil, and makes a wonderful companion for azaleas and rhododendrons. Mountain laurel is also rabbit and deer resistant.

Growing Conditions: Partial shade in moist, well-drained soil

Size: 5-to-15-feet tall and wide

Zones: 4-9

Buy It: Flowering Mountain Laurel Cuttings ($15, Etsy)

11 of 14

Daphne

Daphne flowers
Janet Mesic-Mackie

Ideal for cool moist climates, Daphne produces quantities of pale purple, fragrant blooms every spring. It's a broadleaf evergreen that loves rich, slightly moist soil. Daphne does not like excessively hot summers or deeply cold winters, so it's best grown in temperate regions of the Pacific Northwest or South. Use Daphne as a low hedge, specimen plant, or as a foundation plant on a sheltered side of your home.

Growing Conditions: Partial to full shade in slightly moist, well-drained soil

Size: 3-to-4-feet tall, 2-to-4-feet wide

Zones: 7-9

Buy It: Daphne 'Aureomarginata Alba' ($46, Wayside Gardens)

12 of 14

Viburnum

doublefile viburnum
Denny Schrock

Talk about no fuss! Once planted, viburnums are about as low-maintenance as you can get. These tough and colorful shrubs thrive in sun or partial shade, aren't fussy about soil type, and have almost no insect or disease problems. They're pretty, too, with clusters of white flowers in the spring followed by blue-black or red berries in the summer, and bright yellow foliage in the fall. Viburnums come in a variety of shapes and sizes that fit almost any landscape situation. Two top picks for partial shade include Arrowwood and Judd.

Growing Conditions: Partial shade to full sun in well-drained soil

Size: 6-to-8-feet tall and wide

Zones: 2-9

Buy It: Chinese Snowball Viburnum ($33, The Home Depot)

13 of 14

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Oak Leaf Hydrangea
Alise Obrien

For year-round color, you can't beat oakleaf hydrangea. This American native thrives in light shade and develops showy panicles of creamy white flowers in early summer. Then, in the fall, its huge oak leaf-shape leaves turn spectacular shades of yellow, orange, and burgundy. And during the winter you can enjoy oakleaf hydrangea's papery, cinnamon-color bark. This amazing plant also can tolerate drier soils than other hydrangea species.

Growing Conditions: Partial shade in well-drained soil

Size: 6-to-8-feet tall, 4-to-6-feet wide

Zones: 5-9

Buy It: Gatsby Moon Oakleaf Hydrangea ($29, The Home Depot)

14 of 14

Kerria

double Japanese kerria
Denny Schrock

One of the best flowering shrubs for shady spots, Kerria produces masses of bright yellow flowers in April and May. These easy-care plants are also tolerant of both dry and wet soils, heavy shade, and hungry deer. Kerria can spread by underground suckers, so check state regulations to find out if it's considered invasive in your region.

Growing Conditions: Partial to full shade in moist soil (can tolerate poorly drained soil)

Size: 3-to-6-feet tall, 6-to-8-feet wide

Zones: 4-9

Buy It: Double Flowering Kerria ($41, Garden Centerpoint)

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles