For flower lovers, shade can be a nightmare. Finding colorful, floral plants that thrive in low light spaces without too much care or assistance can be difficult. You may think that your options for filling shady spots are limited. However, you could not be further from the truth.
The following flowering shrubs are all ideal for shade. Reliable and long lasting, the plants listed below add color and interest to even the shadiest part of the garden. Some even provide color, thanks to their foliage or berries well into the winter months.
One of the most reliable flowering shrubs for shade, when not in flower the Hydrangea also provides a good leafy backdrop against which you can showcase other flowering plants. When in flower, the Hydrangea truly shines.
Interestingly in acidic soils Hydrangea flowers are blue, turning purple or pink in alkaline soils. A Soil pH Meter accurately analyzes the pH level of your soil, this helps you to confidently predict what color flowers your Hydrangeas will produce before they bloom.
Allowing the spent blooms to sit on the plant over winter provides further interest. These can be pruned away in the spring as new growth emerges. If you want to learn more about pruning Hydrangea plants, our how to care for Hydrangea guide is packed full of useful information.
The Hydrangea is one of the most colorful flowering shrubs for shade.
A particularly attractive shade loving cultivar is the Oakleaf Hydrangea (H. quercifolia). This is a wide spreading plant which is capable of reaching 6 ft in height. Native to North America, in the winter, the bark peels from the Oakleaf’s branches and stems adding further attraction.
As the name suggests the foliage of the Oakleaf Hydrangea is similar in shape to the leaves of the oak tree. In the fall these turn from green to shades of orange and burgundy. Throughout the summer months, large white cone shaped flowers sit on the plant’s woody stems. The Oakleaf Hydrangea is hardy down to -20 ℉.
Another attractive Hydrangea, that is also one of the most reliable flowering shrubs for shade, is the Smooth Hydrangea (H. arborescens). Native to North America, the Smooth Hydrangea has a pleasingly upright open shape. Hardy down to to -20 ℉ these flowering shrubs for shade produce glove-shaped blooms during the summer months.
Unlike other varieties, Smooth Hydrangea plants set flowers on new growth, not older woody stems. Prune your Smooth Hydrangeas in early spring before new growth emerges to prevent the accidental removal of flower buds.
For something a little more eye-catching, there are also showy types of Hydrangea such as Grandiflora and Annabelle. These produce large, attractive blooms.
Whicheven cultivar you decide to grow, the Hydrangea is one of the most colorful, low maintenance flowering shrubs for shade choices.
2 Japanese Kerria
A reliable partial shade perennial, the Japanese Kerria (Kerria japonica) belongs to the small Kerria genus of flowering shrubs for shade. Also known as the Japanese rose plant, this is a resilient specimen which is hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9. During the spring and early summer months, chrysanthemum-like sunny yellow flowers sit on arching stems above the bright green foliage.
Rarely bothered by pests and fairly deer resistant, Japanese Kerria is tolerant of both poor soil and low or filtered light. A prolific flowering plant, thinning out the old stems every few years by cutting back to the ground once flowering has finished for the year helps to promote the plants vigorous growth habit.
As summer turns to fall the leaves turn an attractive yellow color before falling from the plant. If allowed to remain in place the colorful stems provide winter color and interest.
Happy in dappled light positions, in cooler climates Japanese Kerria also tolerates full sun. Be careful not to plant the Japanese Kerria in too sunny a position. Exposure to too much sunlight can cause the leaves to bleach and the flowers to quickly fade. If your garden lacks natural shade, protect your Japanese Kerria from too much sun exposure with a Garden Expert Sun Shade Cloth.
The sunny, chrysanthemum-like flowers of the Japanese kerria.
Popular for their sunny yellow flowers and bright green stems and leaves, the Japanese Kerria is one of the most versatile flowering shrubs for shade. Tolerant of both poor soil and low light levels, the Pleniflora cultivar is a particularly attractive option thanks to its vigorous growth habit and eye-catching double flowers.
3 Mountain Laurel
A broadleaf evergreen, Mountain Laurels (Kalmia latifolia) are ideal flowering shrubs for shade. Native to the eastern United States, like Japanese Kerria, the Mountain Laurel is a resilient, deer resistant shrub.
Identified by its gnarly, multi-stemmed growth, during the spring large clusters of tea cup shaped flowers emerge. These can be white, pink or purple in color. You can also find cultivars that produce attractive bicolored blooms. These sit above elliptical, smooth-edged. dark-green glossy leaves which are similar in appearance to those of the rhododendron.
Typically growing as a dense, woodland flowering shrub, Mountain Laurel is hardy in temperatures down to -30 ℉. Depending on the cultivar Mountain Laurel plants can grow to a height of 5 to 15 ft.
Best planted in acidic soil, these are slow growing flowering shrubs for shade. In favorable conditions Mountain Laurel is a great foundation plant. You can also combine Mountain Laurel with Rhododendrons or Azaleas for a living fence or shrub border.
The tea-cup shaped blooms of the Mountain Laurel
Warning, all parts of the Mountain Laurel are considered highly toxic to both humans and animals.
4 Slender Deutzia
An ideal choice for smaller gardens, Slender Deutzia (Deutzia gracilis) is one of the most reliable spring flowering shrubs for shade.
Easy to grow, Slender Deutzia is typically classed as a dwarf shrub. Rarely exceeding 5 ft in height, pruning just after flowering has finished for the year helps to keep the plant small and compact.
Despite being on the small side, Slender Deutzia has a prolific flowering habit. The small, pure white flowers are typically made up of 5 petals that can measure 1 inch wide. For something a little different the flowers of the dwarf cultivar Yuki Cherry are pink.
With the right care Slender Deutzia flowers can last for several weeks, providing a long lasting display. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8, Slender Deutzia can be planted in full sun or partial shade.
When in flower, Slender Deutzia produces masses of white flowers.
The Abelia is an old fashioned shrub that retains its popularity thanks to its showy blooms, interesting foliage and reliability. Abelias are also one of the best long lasting flowering shrubs for shade.
Abelia flowers emerge at several points from spring to fall. These frilly tubular blooms, in hues of white or pink, typically develop in fragrant clusters. Edward Goucher, one of the smaller Abelia cultivars, is popular for its large, lavender blooms.
While older cultivars are still prized members of the garden, newer Abelia cultivars, which have been developed in a range of interesting shapes and colors, provide even more interest. Glossy Abelia (Abelia x. grandiflora) is a particularly attractive type providing masses of glossy, oval green leaves and white flowers with a pink tinge, while Evergreen Abelia produces red leaves throughout the summer months. These darken, becoming more intensely brilliant in the fall and winter.
Typically 3 to 6 ft tall, in warm areas Abelia plants are evergreen specimens. In colder areas they are considered semi-evergreen, losing their leaves in the winter. Hybrid types can tolerate temperatures down to -10 ℉.
Ideal for planting in full sun or moderate shade, just a few hours of light every day is enough to encourage more flowers to set on the arching stems. One of the showiest flowering shrubs for shade, the Abelia is just as popular with pollinators and hummingbirds as it is with gardeners.
6 Witch Hazel
One of the larger, deciduous flowering shrubs for shade, Witch Hazel (Hamamelis spp.) is also one of the most attractive flowering shrubs. Blooming during the darkest months of winter, Witch Hazel’s red or yellow fragrant flowers fill gardens with life and fragrance.
A low maintenance option that is largely maintenance free, most types of Witch Hazel are also largely pest and disease resistant.
Common Witch Hazel (H. Virginiana) tends to flower slightly earlier than other cultivars such as Chinese Witch Hazel (H. mollis) , setting its blooms in the fall. Most hybrid Witch Hazel cultivars are hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8. Native types are slightly hardier. Both Vernal and Common Witch Hazel are reliable cultivars that are native to North America.
The fiery, ember-like blooms of Witch Hazel.
Best planted in full sun, in warmer areas Witch Hazel prefers filtered shade and rich, well draining soil. The Witch Hazel is one of the most reliable, low maintenance flowering shrubs for shade. If you want to learn more, our guide to growing Witch Hazel is a good place to start.
7 Virginia Sweetspire
One of the many deciduous flowering shrubs for shade on our list, Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica) is popular for its fragrant, elongated floral panicles. Creamy white blooms sit on arching stems above alternate, oval, dark green leaves. Providing further interest, as the flowers fade and summer turns to fall, the foliage turns an eye-catching shade of red.
A pleasing rounded growth habit makes Virginia Sweetspire an attractive, low maintenance addition to many planting schemes such as shrubby or woodland borders. Native to the eastern North America woodlands, in favorable conditions the plants set out suckering roots, enabling it to spread. This also makes it a good choice for controlling soil erosion.
While Virginia Sweetspire or Virginia Willow as it is also known, does best in full sun the plants are also tolerant of partial shade. Reaching a height of 4 to 8 ft, this is a deciduous specimen that, when in flower, is also a popular pollinator plant. In smaller spaces dwarf cultivars can be used. Many, such as Little Henry, are also good for container gardens.
8 Oregon Holly Grape
Oregon Holly Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is a low growing flowering shrub which adds unique interest to the garden. Not the easiest of our flowering shrubs for shade to cultivate, in a favorable position the Oregon Holly Grape provides masses of interest as well as food for garden birds and wildlife, particularly hummingbirds, thanks to their edible berries. Too sour for most human tastes, the edible berries can be used in both jams and jellies.
A good choice for year providing round interest, the foliage of Oregona Holly Grape is both colorful and textural. The appearance of the Oregon Holly Grape changes throughout the year. In the spring clusters of lightly fragrant yellow flowers hang from the branches.
As the flowers fade, the plants rich foliage comes into its own, complimented by the emergence of dark, blue berries. The leaves change color throughout the year. Bronze in the spring as they emerge before turning green and then purple in the fall.
The lightly fragrant blooms of Oregon Grape Holly.
Reaching a height of 3 to 6 ft, these ornamental shrubs are a good choice for foundation planting or using in shrubby borders and garden beds. Creeping Mahonia (M. repens) is a Grape Holly cultivar that is good for providing ground cover. Most varieties are hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 8.
9 Japanese Pieris
Japanese Pieris or Japanese Andromeda (Pieris japonica) is one of the most interesting flowering shrubs for shade. Also known as the lily-of-the-valley shrub, the foliage of Japanese Pieris changes color throughout the seasons. In late summer or early fall, long flowering panicles also appear. These open the following spring to reveal mildly aromatic, creamy-white bell-shaped flowers.
Opening earlier than many other flowering shrubs for shade, Japanese Pieris blooms are popular with early pollinators such as queen bumble bees.
The flowering panicles of Japanese Pieris.
Variegata is one of the most attractive Japanese Pieris types thanks to its foliage which changes color several times before eventually maturing to a pleasing green shade with white margins. Other colorful cultivars include Mountain Fire, which is popular for its bright red foliage which forms on new shoots, and the bright pink flowering Flamingo.
While larger types can reach up to 10 ft tall, in smaller spaces compact cultivars such as Purity can be used. Purity is popular for its extra-large, pure white flowers. For long lasting color, Red Mill is a reliable choice. It is also more resilient than other cultivars.
Most types of Japanese Pieris are hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9. Best planted in a sheltered site in full or partial sun and rich, well-draining soil. In heavy or poor soils, work in lots of compost before planting. You can also amend the soil with azalea or camellia fertilize to ensure your soil is acidic enough. A soil pH test tells you the pH level of your soil. Japanese Pieris plants struggle in alkaline soils.
Japanese Pieris is a good choice for shrub groupings or as a foundation plant. It is also a great container plant for a small patio.
10 Carolina Allspice
One of the less commonly cultivated flowering shrubs for shade, Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus) or Sweet Shrubs are reliable, medium sized flowering shrubs for shade parts of the garden.
Emerging in the spring, the fruitfully fragrant flowers of Carolina Allspice are harder to notice than the blooms on other flowering shrubs for shade because they tend to be hidden beneath the outer layer of foliage. Carolina Allspice flowers are uniquely shaped and typically dark purple or maroon in color. Some cultivars may produce yellow flowers.
Adding further interest, when crushed the foliage is also fragrant. Both the leaves and blooms are used in potpourri mixes.
Native to North America Carolina Allspice is a deciduous shrub which can grow up to 8 ft tall. Easy to cultivate, Carolina Allspice adapts to most soil types and thrives in a range of climates. Most cultivars are hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 10. Carolina Allspice also tolerates strong winds making them a good choice for a natural windbreak.
Carolina Allspice is a good alternative to another of the flowering shrubs for shade on our list, the Viburnum.
Viburnum, also known as Hobblebush or American Cranberry Bush, is one of the most popular flowering shrubs for shade. A versatile specimen, there are many different cultivars currently available. This means that however large, small, light or dark your garden you are certain to find a Viburnum cultivar to suit your garden. A fast growing specimen, most Viburnums can be cultivated as either a small tree or a shrub.
Most Viburnum shrubs flower from early spring until early or mid June. As the flowers fade, the plants retain their interest thanks to their berries and colorful foliage.
Viburnum flowers come in three major types:
- flat floral clusters,
- flat umbles outlined with larger flowers similar to lace-cap hydrangeas,
- dome shaped clusters similar to snowballs.
The foliage can also vary between Viburnum cultivars, some may have rounded foliage while others are lance shaped or toothed. The foliage can also be velvety rough or smooth.
Hardy in USDA Zones 2 to 9, the Viburnum is native to North America. The plants can, depending on the cultivar, reach between 3 and 20 ft in height and spread 3 to 12 ft wide. While evergreen cultivars are more common, deciduous varieties with eye-catching fall color are increasingly popular.
Some Viburnum cultivars produce hydrangea-like flowers.
Many Viburnum cultivars are ideal flowering shrubs for shade. Some such as Viburnum Davidii or Tinus are evergreen. Others, such as Viburnum x bodnantense produce pleasingly fragrant flowers during the winter months. Many varieties such as American Cranberry Bush can also be used as part of a living fence.
12 Coralberry and Snowberry
Often grouped together, Coralberries and Snowberries are two separate plants. Similar in appearance, these reliable flowering shrubs for shade are largely grown for their foliage. As the small, unremarkable flowers fade, attractive berries form, providing color and interest to the fall and winter landscape as well as a food source for garden wildlife. Some cultivars are also a host for the day-flying snowberry clearwing or hummingbird moth.
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) provides year round interest from white or pink-white spring flowers to fall and winter white berries. The bell–shaped flowers are particularly attractive, forming in dense clusters. Typically reaching a height of 4 ft, Snowberry is hardy in USDA Zones 2 to 7. Here, with a little care they tolerate a range of soil types. Snowberry plants grow in either partial sun or full sun positions.
The white fruits of the Snowberry.
Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), also known as the Indian Current, is a uniquely bushy, deciduous hedge shrub popular for its showy berries. The dense dark green ovate leaves remain on the plant from spring until fall. As summer fades they turn crimson red in color.
Like Snowberry, Coralberry produces white or pink-white tubular blooms. As these fade, coral colored fruit forms. As well as adding color to winter gardens, the fruits are also a valuable source of winter food for garden birds and small mammals.
Hardy in USDA Zones 2 to 9, Coralberry reaches a height of 2 to 5 ft and can spread up to 8 ft wide. Thriving on neglect, this is one of the more reliable flowering shrubs for shade. Like the Snowberry, Coralberry can also be used in a container garden.
13 Rhododendrons and Azaleas
Members of the same Rhododendron plant genus, the key difference between the Rhododendron and Azalea is the shape of the flower. While Azalea flowers are funnel shaped and singular, Rhododendron blooms are larger and tend to form in clusters.
Both are reliable flowering shrubs for shade. While rhododendrons are evergreen, Azaleas can be either evergreen or deciduous depending on the cultivar and growing conditions. The hardiness of the Azalea also varies depending on the cultivar.
Both are good statement plants that are attractive to early season pollinators.
Evergreen Azalea is one of the best evergreen flowering shrubs for shade. It is also a reliable yew alternative. Evergreen types can range in height from mini 2 ft specimens to those reaching up to 8 ft.
Azaleas flower in a range of colors from purple and lavender to white, salmon pink and even red. In addition to the reliable evergreen types there are also showier hybrid cultivars.
Amongst the most attractive cultivars are the Deciduous Azaleas. These spring flowering, shade loving hybrid shrubs can reach up to 5 ft in height. In the spring clusters of red, pink, yellow, cream or orange tubular shaped flowers set on the branches that had sat bare all winter. Flowering at the same time as dogwood, Royal Azalea is a particularly attractive deciduous specimen. Reaching up to 10 ft tall, in the spring time masses of pink flowers emerge.
Azaleas are reliable specimens that are best planted in well draining, organically rich soil. If you want to learn how to add an Azalea to your garden. Our how to grow Azalea guide is a great place to start.
A Rhododendron bush in full flower.
Similar to Azaleas, Rhododendrons are large woody plants with broad evergreen leaves. The bell shaped flowers form in large colorful clusters. These are showy flowers which typically have 5 to 10 stamens each. Popular with large bees and butterflies, Rhododendrons are best planted in well draining, acidic, rich soil. Thriving in either partial or dappled shade, like many flowering shrubs for shade, some hybrids are more deep shade tolerant than others.
PJM Rhododendron is a broadleaf evergreen variety of rhododendron which is also one of the most reliable flowering shrubs for shade. Hardy, down to -30 ℉ PJM is a resilient cultivar, when mature it can achieve a height and spread of around 6 ft. Bright lavender-pink flowers emerge in the spring.
With the right care, and if planted in acidic rich well draining soil, PJM may reflower in the fall. This is a hybrid cultivar which is popular for its compact growth habit and small dark leaves. Like many hybrid cultivars it is hardier than older cultivars. Further adding to the attraction, the foliage of PJM turns purple in the winter.
14 Christmas Box
The diminutive Christmas Box (Sarcococca confusa) is one of the most fragrant flowering shrubs for shade. Despite being smaller than other specimens, the sweet scent that the Christmas Box flowers emit can fill a small garden. The small, white flowers sit amongst dark green, evergreen leaves. As the flowers fade red, black or purple berries form. These are a popular food source for wild birds.
Typically flowering in late winter, during January and February, despite the name Christmas Box, these plants rarely flower in December. In addition to the fragrant blooms, some cultivars produce attractive narrow foliage. Others have a compact growth habit, making them ideal for small spaces or lining paths.
A popular choice for giving body to low maintenance borders, Christmas Box rarely spreads too wide or grows too large.
Christmas Box is an adaptable shrub that thrives in difficult conditions such as dry soil or shade. Best planted in shade, if planted in too sunny a position the foliage of Christmas Box can bleach, losing its color. Hardy in USDA Zones 7 to 9, the plants are a good, low light loving alternative to Common Box (Buxus).
Another one of the more reliable evergreen shrubs for shade, the pale, scented floral clusters of Skimmia add further attraction. As the fade glossy, red berries form. As well as being one of the best flowering shrubs for shade, Skimmia’s nectar rich flowers are a popular draw with pollinators.
Skimmia provides attraction throughout the year. An evergreen, their glossy long lasting leaves contrast nicely with white or yellow flowers in the spring. During the fall and early winter, colorful berries also provide interest.
Skimmia is a popular flowering shrub which, during winter months, produces red berries.
Skimmias are either male or female meaning you need to grow both a male and female plant if you want berries to develop. One of the most reliable male partner plants is Skimmia japonica Rubella. As well as its reliability, the plant is also visually attractive, producing dark red buds which open to reveal scented, white blooms. Skimmia japonica Nymans and Skimmia japonica Veitchii, also sold as Foremanii, are reliable female plants.
Best planted in neutral soil and in a shady position, some types even tolerate deep shade. One of the best small flowering shrubs, Skimmias are ideal for flower beds, borders, patios, courtyard gardens, woodland schemes and cottage or informal gardens.
Flowering shrubs for shade are a great way to fill difficult spaces in the garden, providing a backdrop to more showy plants or impressing with dramatic foliage. Smaller cultivars can also provide ground cover to shady spots. The flowering shrubs for shade listed above are all versatile specimens suitable for planting in a range of conditions and planting schemes.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.