The Best Shade-Loving Shrubs
August 11, 2006 ASK A SPECIALIST: I WOULD LIKE TO PLANT BUSHES THAT DO WELL IN THE SHADE. WHAT DO YOU SUGGEST?
Answer by: Jerry Goodspeed, Utah State University Extension Horticulturist
When we think of shade-loving plants, we often focus on perennials and groundcovers, assuming that trees and shrubs should be able to withstand any kind of sun exposure. This is not true. Many shrubs and small trees actually prefer part or filtered shade.
When “part shade” is indicated on a plant tag, it generally means they need protection from hot afternoon sun. Plants that prefer “filtered shade” usually are happiest growing in the light-dappled shade of a larger deciduous tree. If you are in the market for small, shade-loving trees and shrubs, consider this list.
Japanese maple. These trees can survive in full sun, but can struggle near the end of May when the tips of their leaves burn and they start suffering from iron chlorosis. To keep them looking their best, give them a northern exposure, shade them in the afternoon and apply chelated iron in the spring before they leaf out. Flowering dogwood. These trees are spectacular when they bloom in the spring, and their attractive foliage also has nice fall color. This small tree prefers well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. It can be planted in the shade of a larger tree, yet has the confidence not be intimidated by it. Kerria. This tall shrub grows to around 7 feet tall, is covered with yellow flowers in the spring, then dabbles in producing flowers the rest of the summer. Its rather free-flowing habit works well in the background, where it brings harmony to the rest of the landscape. Heavenly bamboo. Most people do not even attempt to grow this beautiful small shrub in their landscape; however, with adequate drainage, a bit of organic matter and a little protection, this plant does very well. Its semi-evergreen leaves have wonderful fall and winter color and it remains red throughout the winter, which is especially showy after a snow storm. Oregon grape holly. This native plant is found in foothills, where it usually grows in the shade of trees and larger shrubs. It has yellow flowers, purple fruit and attractive fall color. Unfortunately, it is often planted in full sun where it struggles. Either groundcover or upright Mahonia varieties work well in the right location.
Holly. Holly has one characteristic in common with Mahonia; they both have sharp leaves that discourage picnickers from standing too close. Holly is a little fussier than Oregon grape when it comes to growing conditions. It needs well-drained soil and organic matter. Holly is noted for its colorful berries and broadleaf evergreen leaves, which are attractive throughout the winter. Yews. Probably the most noted shade-loving evergreen, yews can survive and even thrive in full sun. They prosper and do well in the shade as long as the soil dries out between each watering, but many die from root rot and other problems associated with over-watering. #####
Direct column topics to Julene Reese, Utah State University Extension, Logan, UT 84322-4900, 435-760-9302; firstname.lastname@example.org.