Shade bushes are a diverse addition to your yard, and they can easily inject interest in color in a darker corner of your forest garden. These shade bushes range from tall hedges to shorter bushes, and they can be deciduous or evergreen. Some bushes will produce blossoms while others have gorgeous foliage to display. They’re a great option for anyone whose yard doesn’t get a ton of sunlight from morning to dusk.
Shade bushes also give you a great opportunity to be much more creative when it comes to plant selection. Everything from lush perennials for borders, textured ground covers, and vibrant beds at your trees’ bases, you’ll get the choice of a huge range of foliage and flower textures and colors.
Landscaping ideas featuring shade bushes are plentiful too, and they encompass everything from planting a garden fence or a walkway border. A lot of the shrubs that thrive in shade gardens also like to be in moist soil, and this makes them excellent picks for surrounding a small pond or water feature. Also, shade bushes are also good in containers on your front porch. If you’d like to know about the best shade bushes for your yard, read on to get some inspiration below.
1. Japanese Rose (Kerria japonica)
This is a deciduous shade bush, and it one of the most shade-tolerant shrubs available on the current market. It will put on a nice show in early spring with beautiful flowers, and it’ll continue to bloom several times through the summer months. The bark turns from darker green to yellow-green in the cooler winter months, and you can easily revive this bush if it starts to get overgrown by cutting it back to the ground in the fall and letting it grow in the spring again.
To keep this shade bush happy, it grows best outdoors in zones four to nine. It produces yellow flowers that are cheerful and bright if you get the growing conditions correct. The soil should be loamy, and they like partial to full shade. The more shade you give them, the better off they are.
2. Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
Mountain laurel is a very common type of bush you see in landscaping a lot. It’s native to eastern North America, and it loves woodland areas where your trees will shade it. You’ll see evergreen, glossy leaves with showy clusters of flowers in shades of white, pink, or rose with purple markings in late spring. You can get full and miniature shade bushes with this pick, and it needs a higher acidity to the soil. This can make it slightly picker to grow.
Plant this bush outside in zones five to nine to keep it happy, and it prefers to be in part to full shade. However, it can do surprisingly well in full sun. You may see fewer blooms though if you do put it in the sun. It needs rich, cool, acidic soil that stays consistently moist but drains well between watering sessions. It won’t do well in clay, and you might need to add an acid-enhanced fertilizer to help it thrive.
3. Emerald and Gold Euonymus
This shade bush comes with eye-catching bi-colored leaves on it, and the name tells you exactly which colors you should expect with it. The golden tint to the leaves will get a lot brighter if the bush gets at least partial sun, but it’s very attractive in pure shade too. It’s better known as a burning bush, and it can be quite invasive in your yard if you don’t watch it. This is a very fast-growing shade bush that requires you to prune it back vigorously in the spring months.
To keep this shade bush happy, it should get planted outdoors in zones five to eight. You can plant it in anything from full shade to full sun. The soil should be well-drained, but you do want to make a point to keep it moist at all times without saturating it. During the fall months, this bush takes on a fiery reddish-orange hue.
4. Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris)
Although this is technically a vine that would do extremely well on a trellis in a climbing garden, it’s possible to trim and prune it to get a beautiful shade bush. This bush or vine can grow very well in the full or partial shade without a problem, but they do tend to produce more flowers in at least partial sun. On the stems, you’ll get peeling bark that gives the plant visual interest in the late fall and winter months. They have deep green leaves to offset the flower clusters.
This plant grows best outdoors in zones four to seven, and they can easily produce dozens of clusters of purple, pink, blue, and white flowers. The flower color will depend on the soil acidity, and the soil should stay moist at all times. You can increase the acid content in the soil to change the flower’s colors and ensure quicker growth by adding a highly acidic fertilizer.
5. Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)
This shade bush is a needled evergreen hemlock, and you can easily trim it to ensure that it grows very dense and pretty foliage. This makes this bush an excellent contender if you need a natural privacy screen in your yard. They make excellent hedges to run around your yard, and they thrive in the northern end of the hardiness range for shrubs, and they like you to put a very thick layer of mulch over their roots in the winter to protect them from the colder weather.
Plant these shade bushes in zones three to seven for the best results in partial sun to partial shade. They’ll produce yellow to light green, non-ornamental foliage. The soil is slightly tricker to keep the plant happy as they like very rich and moist soil, but it also has to have a higher acidity than most traditional soils do.
6. Sky Pencil Holly (Ilex crenata)
This is a variety of Japanese holly that has a very tall, distinctive columnar shape to it that makes it very eye-catching. It’s very hard to miss this architectural plant when you see it, and it’s a great way to boost your home’s curb appeal. It has smooth-edged leaves to it, and it works very well planted in tight spaces and corners. It produces black berries that will attract a huge range of birds, and it doesn’t need a lot of pruning to keep it looking nice.
You can prune this shrub in the winter if you choose to because it goes dormant. This shade bush does best in zones six to eight, and it produces greenish white flowers. You’ll plant it in an area that gets partial sun to full shade. The soil should drain very well between watering sessions, and it should be slightly more acidic to keep the plant healthy and thriving.
7. Carol Mackie Daphne (Daphne)
This blooming shade bush grows light pink to white flowers, but the variegated leaves are also eye-catching by themselves. The flowers have a very intense floral scent to them when they bloom, and they’ll bloom well into the late summer months. It also produces berries, but the leaves and berries of this plant can be toxic if ingested and irritating to the skin, so you want to avoid it if you have kids or pets that could get into it.
This plant does best planted in zones four to eight, and you can plant it in partial sun to partial shade. The more sun it gets, the more flowers it will produce. The soil should be moist but well-draining, but it doesn’t do well with much acidity. If you think the soil is too acidic, add a bit of lime to neutralize it.
8. Andromeda (Pieris japonica)
Andromeda is a smaller flowering shrub that is evergreen, but it also offers beautiful small flowers in white coloring from early spring through mid-summer. The flowers can be very fragrant, but some people may find their smell offensive while others find it pleasing. So, plant it with caution if you’re not sure which category you fall into. Feeding this plant works best if you have an acidic fertilizer, just like you’d use if you have azaleas in your yard or landscape design.
For this shade bush to grow and thrive, you’ll plant it in zones five to seven. It will flower in partial sun or partial shade, but the flower amount will go down in full shade. The soil should be rich, moist, and drain well between watering sessions. It also needs to be more acidic or it won’t do well.
9. Yews (Taxus genus)
Yews are a shade bush that has a lot of use around Christmas time due to their red, showy, berry-like cones that contrast sharply with their deep green leaves. They are a very tough plant that can survive a host of conditions, but they are extremely poisonous plants that should be kept away from pets or children. You should trim them each year to help them keep their shape and stop them from overgrowing or getting leggy by the middle of summer.
This plant grows best when you have it outside in zones four to seven. They can grow in full sun, partial sun, partial shade, or full shade without losing any vibrancy. The soil should be rich but well-draining, and the plant does not like a lot of acidity in the soil. You can easily clip branches off for Christmas decorations in the early winter months.
10. Azalea and Rhododendron (Rhododendron)
There are several species of this shade bush that will give you a show in the spring with brightly colored blooms in brilliant shades. You can choose from deciduous or evergreen varieties, and they’re adaptable to different climates. In turn, this makes them easier overall to grow. You’ll get yellow, white, pink, red, or purple flowers with this plant, and they’re very popular as foundation plantings. However, azaleas can get very large unless you prune and shape them routinely.
Depending on the variety of shade bush you get, they grow in zones four to nine. They like partial to full shade to grow the best, and they do well in acidic soil. For the best results, unless the soil is already very heavily acidic, you’ll want to fertilize once a year with an acid-enhanced fertilizer. Do this in very early spring or late winter for the best results.
11. Canadian Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
This is a subshrub that works wonderfully as a ground cover for shady, damp areas throughout your yard. This is a relative to dogwood, and it gives you pretty blossoms that earned this shade bush the nickname of “creeping dogwood” or “bunchberry dogwood.” It’s a great pick if you live in a damp, cold area where other shrubs can fail to thrive. Adding a mulch mixed with peat moss will give the shrub a boost of acidity, and it’ll grow better for it.
To get the most out of this shade bush, plant it in zones two to seven. It has lime green leaves with smaller white flowers that give way to bright red berries to give it a nice contrast, and it needs shade with no or very little sun. The soil should consistently stay very moist, and it needs a higher acidity level than other plants.
12. Camellia (Camellia sinensis)
Better known as the tea plant, this shade bush has twigs and leaves that can make a very fragrant tea. Many people choose to grow it for an ornamental shrub since Camellia has very glossy foliage. As a bonus, it also offers very fragrant flowers in the late summer and early fall months. It can easily live for years with proper care, and it is very easy for maintenance. You shouldn’t need to prune or trim it a lot to keep it looking nice and healthy. This is also a slower-growing plant, and you’ll fertilize it lightly once a year.
Plant this shade bush outside in zones seven to nine for the best results. You can choose from white or pink flower varieties, and both do well in full to partial shade. Ideally, you’ll have them in an area with more shade than sun. The soil should be rich and sandy, but it also has to be a well-drained and acidic loam. So, this bush is more picky for beginners.
13. Chinese Fringe-Flower (Loropetalum)
Chinese fringe-flower is an evergreen shade bush that is better known as Chinese witch hazel. It produces pretty fringe-like flowers that will put on a show when they bloom in the very early spring months. They have a spreading habit to them, and they are slightly larger at 12-feet tall. The foliage on this bush is typically a pretty green color, but some varieties do offer show-stopping purple leaves. The flowers will range from red or yellow to white, depending on the variety you pick out.
Grow this shade bush in zones seven to nine in partial shade. It won’t do well if you give it too much sunlight. It is slightly finicky about the soil, and you’ll have to ensure that it’s rich and acidic, but the soil itself has to be a well-drained loam. You can incorporate peat moss into the soil to boost the acidity level and make the soil more porous.
14. Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens)
It’s easy to recognize Boxwood as an evergreen shade bush that you often see used as topiaries or hedges in landscape designs. This is a classic plant that has a long history of use, and it has a slightly more compact shape with very dense light green leaves. They will get around three feet high, but they have a very slow-growing habit to them. However, this makes it very easy to trim and shape these shrubs to keep them looking neat and pristine.
It grows best in zones five to eight. It can survive in full sun, but it also does very well in partial shade. So, you have some freedom when it comes to where you plant this shade bush. The soil should be very well-draining, but it’s not incredibly picky. This makes it a nice choice for beginning gardeners who need something they can slowly tend to.
15. Dwarf Fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii)
This is a deciduous shade bush that produces very fluffy flowers in shades of white in the spring months. It also has brilliant fall leaf colors. During the spring months, you’ll get one to three-inch long flowers that have a bottlebrush shape with a slight licorice smell. The leaves start as a dark green coloring on the top before fading to a bluish-grey on the bottom. If you live in a colder planting zone, you’ll have to wrap them in burlap before the first frost hits to prevent them from getting windburnt.
This shade bush grows best in zones five to eight. It can thrive in anything from full shade to full sun, so you have some flexibility where you plant it. However, it also likes moderately moist soil all of the time that drains very well. The soil also has to have a higher acidity rating for the plant to be happy.
16. Tree Peony (Paeonia suffruticosa)
This type of Peony is a subshrub that will bloom in the middle to end of spring each year, and it’ll produce very big and showy blossoms in many different shades of purple, red, pink, or white. This shade bush makes excellent hedge plants or borders, and their foliage is almost as pretty as the flowers themselves. They have very modest water needs, and it’s easy to give them too much water and interfere with their growth.
The tree peony is best planted in zones four to eight. You get a little more play with the light conditions as it does well in everything from full, direct sun to partial shade. The soil should be a fertile loam, and you do want to water it sparingly. Unlike a lot of shade bushes on the list, this one doesn’t like consistently moist soil. If possible, keep it on the drier side.
Paeonia suffruticosa ‘TPG’, 2017 by F.D. Richards / CC BY-SA 2.0
17. California Holly (Heteromeles arbutifolia)
California Holly is better known as Christmas Berry. It’s native to California, and this is a very drought-resistant shade bush that does well if you forget to water it for a few weeks. You’ll get very small flowers with this plant that give way to red berries. This makes it very popular throughout California in xeriscaping projects, and it has very light green oblong leaves that contrast nicely with the berries.
To grow this shade bush, you’ll need to be in zones nine to eleven for it to do well. They can survive in full sun, but they prefer to be planted in light shade. The soil should be slightly rich and drain very well between watering sessions. You can water this bush sparingly, and allow the soil to dry out well between watering sessions. Too much water isn’t good for this plant’s growth.
18. Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia)
If you want to attract pollinators like hummingbirds to your yard, this is the shade bush to incorporate into your landscaping design. This is also called the firecracker plant, and it can easily grow in any soil texture without a problem. You can maintain it as a tree or a shrub, and it is a very desirable plant due to the bright flowers, open structure, textured bark, and how it appeals to a host of wildlife. It does produce a toxic nut that can cause kidney failure in pets or kids. You’ll get a lot of leaves, twig, and fruit litter too with it.
You can grow this in multiple or single trunks, and it does best in zones four to eight. It grows in full sun to partial shade, and it’ll stay more shrub-like with shade conditions. The soil should be well-drained but moist, and it should also be rich and very slightly alkaline.
19. Coast Leucothoe (Leucothoe axillaris)
This unique shade bush will give you white urn-shaped flowers that grow in bunches and are very small in stature. This is technically a weeping evergreen shrub, and it’s native to the United States. You can see people swapping out boxwoods for this shrub in boundaries and hedge plantings. Before you plant it, you will have to dig in a healthy amount of peat moss 18 inches down to help get the correct soil conditions for this plant to thrive.
It grows best in zones six to nine in partial to full shade. It won’t do well if you have it in a spot that gets direct, full sunlight for several hours a day as it can burn. The soil does need to be acidic, but this is where digging the peat moss in comes in handy. It also helps to improve moisture retention, and this means that you won’t have to water as much.
20. Aucuba (Aucuba japonica)
Also known as spotted laurel, this is a rounded evergreen shrub that offers a host of colorful leaves throughout the year. If you buy both female and male plants, they’ll give you smaller red berries in the fall months. This shade bush can get up to 15-feet high at full maturity, and this makes it an excellent privacy fence. You’ll get very glossy green leaves in an elliptical shape, and they have tiny reddish-purple flowers that start to bloom very early in the spring months.
You want to plant them in zones seven to nine, and they like part shade to full shade. Keep them out of the direct sunlight because this can slow the shade bush’s growth. It likes organically rich but moist and well-draining soil. Also, you should make a point to fertilize it using an acid-based fertilizer once a year in the early spring months.
21. Alder-Leaved Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)
The final shade bush on the list is a member of the Rosaceae family. This family includes a host of fruiting, flowering shrubs and trees as well as roses. You can find deciduous serviceberries in the Northern Hemisphere growing wild. This particular shade bush offers flower clusters in the spring in white, and it also gives you edible blue-purple fruit in the later summer months. You get interest in all four seasons with the spring blooms, summer pome fruits, autumn leaf foliage, and the bark color in winter.
You will have to keep good air circulation with these plants to prevent powdery mildew fungus or rust from appearing. They grow best in zones four to nine, and you can get away with putting them in full sun to partial shade. They need well-drained soil that you keep slightly moist at all times.
These 21 shade bushes can provide you with visual interest and texture all year round, and most of them are relatively easy to grow and maintain. You can add a few different ones to your landscape to keep it looking nice without adding a huge pile of duties to your workload. Take a look and see which ones will thrive in your planting zone and have fun adding them in.
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.