Shade planting: shrubs

Gardens shaded by trees and buildings are increasingly common as gardens get smaller. Although north- or east-facing gardens can be cool and shady for much of the year, they can present some creative opportunities with well-chosen shade-tolerant shrubs.

Introduction

For practical considerations and to learn more about degrees of shade see our page on shade gardening.

Suitable plants

See the list below for some of our suggestions on plants to grow in shade. A much wider range of plants including other cultivars of those listed, can be found at RHS Find a Plant.

For other plants, see our advice page on shade-loving annuals, bulbs and perennials (includes grasses and ferns), climbers and wall shrubs for shade and planting under trees.

(*) suitable for neutral to acid soils
(f) female (m) male
(v) variegated foliage
(e) evergreen
(w) prefers moist or wet soil
AGM The RHS Award of Garden Merit
Note: Height and spread for each plant is approximate. Location, soil conditions and prevailing weather will influence ultimate height and spread.

Shrubs to try in deeper shade

Medium to large shrubs

Aucuba japonica ‘Crotonifolia’ (f/v) AGM: (e) glossy mid-green leaves speckled yellow. Bright red berries in autumn if pollinated by male plant. Height 3m (10ft).
Buxus sempervirens: (common box) glossy dark green leaves. Height and spread 5m (16ft).
Camellia sasanqua 'Jean May’ AGM: (*) (e) (w) slightly fragrant, semi-double or double, shell-pink flowers in winter and early spring. Height 2m (6ft½). Spread 2m (6ft½).
C. 'Ruby Wedding' AGM: (*) (e) (w) bright red flowers in spring. Height 1.5m (5ft). Spread 1.5m (5ft).
C. japonica 'Brushfield's Yellow': (*) (e) (w) creamy-white, anemone-form double flowers which shade to light yellow in the centre. Height 2.5-4m (8-13ft). Spread 1.5-2.5m (5-8ft).
Elaeagnus × ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’ (v) AGM: (e) glossy metallic sea-green leaves, silver beneath, have dark green centres and golden-yellow margins, scented small white flowers in autumn. Height and spread 3m (10ft).
Fatsia japonica AGM: (e) palmate-lobed leaves to 45cm, small white flowers in round clusters followed by small, black fruits. Height 4m (13ft). Spread 4m (13ft).
Hamamelis × intermedia 'Barmstedt Gold’ AGM: fragrant deep gold flowers, winter to early spring. Height 3m (10ft). Spread 3.5m (11ft).
Hydrangea aspera subsp. sargentiana: (w) peeling bark and large, velvety ovate leaves. Large flat flowers of purple or blue, surrounded by white ray florets from summer to autumn. Height 2m (6ft½). Spread 2m (6ft½).
H. macrophylla 'Madame Emile Mouillere' AGM: (w) rounded heads of white flowers in summer, sometimes tinged pink in full sun Height 1.8m (6ft). Spread 1.2m (4ft).
H. paniculata ‘Limelight’ AGM: (w) dense panicles of lime-green flowers from summer to autumn pink tinged with age. Height 2m (6½ft). Spread 2.2m (7ft).
Ilex aquifolium 'Silver Queen' (m) AGM: (e) purple young shoots and pink-tinged young leaves then spiny, dark green with a broad cream margin. Flowers small, white. Height 8m (26ft). Spread 4m (13ft).
Ligustrum lucidum ‘Excelsum Superbum’ (v) AGM: (e) glossy, yellow margined bright-green leaves, white flower panicles in in summer. Height and spread 4m (13ft).
Lonicera × purpusii 'Winter Beauty' AGM: small, sweetly scented cream flowers on bare branches winter to early spring. Height and spread 2m (6½ft).
L. nitida: (e) small, glossy dark green leaves, tubular creamy white flowers from leaf axils in spring. Height 3.5m (11ft). Spread 3m (10ft).
Mahonia × media ‘Lionel Fortescue’ AGM: (e) sharply toothed dark green leaflets and during winter bright yellow very fragrant flowers in upright racemes to 40cm (16in) long. Height to 5m (15ft). Spread to 4m (13ft).
M. oiwakensis subsp. lomariifolia AGM: (e) sharply toothed dark green leaflets and from late autumn to winter fragrant yellow flowers in densely clustered, upright racemes 20cm (8in) long followed by blue-black berries. Height to 3m (10ft). Spread 2m (6½ft).
Osmanthus × burkwoodii AGM: (e) leathery, glossy dark green leaves and tubular very fragrant white flowers mid-late spring. Height and spread 3m (10ft).
O. heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’ (v) AGM: (e) holly-like glossy greyish-green leaves speckled creamy-white and yellow, tubular scented flowers, autumn. Height and spread 2-3m (6½-9ft).
Prunus laurocerasus: (cherry laurel) (e) large glossy dark green leaves and upright panicles of white flowers in mid and late spring followed by dark red fruits. Height and spread to 8m (25ft).
P. lusitanica AGM: (Portugal laurel) (e) red-stalked glossy dark green leaves and slender white flower racemes, early summer followed by dark red fruits. Height and spread 8m (26ft).
Rhamnus alaternus 'Argenteovariegata' AGM: (e) small, leathery leaves greyish-green with creamy-white margins. Inconspicuous yellow flowers followed by small berries, red turning black. Height and spread 2.5-4m (8-13ft).
Rhododendron yakushimanum 'Koichiro Wada' AGM: (e) (*) (w) silvery young foliage becoming dark green with a thick, reddish-brown indumentum beneath. Rounded trusses of white flowers open from bright pink buds. Height and spread 90cm-1.5m (3-5ft).
Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna: (e) greenish-purple stems, slender tapered mid-green leaves and clusters of fragrant white flowers in winter, male flowers with cream anthers. Height 1.5m (5ft). Spread 2m (6½ft).
Skimmia × confusa 'Kew Green' (m) AGM: (e) large clusters of fragrant creamy-white flowers in dense conical panicles in spring.  Height 1.2m (4ft). Spread 1.5m (5ft).
S. japonica 'Nymans' (f) AGM: (e) dark green leaves and dense panicles of small white flowers in spring followed by bright red berries. Height 90cm (3ft). Spread 1.5m (5ft).
Viburnum × hilleri ‘Winton’ AGM: semi-evergreen with dark green leaves suffused bronze-red in winter. Profuse, scented, creamy-white flowers in panicles, early summer. Height 2.5m (8ft). Spread 3m (10ft).
V. tinus ‘Eve Price’ AGM: (e) dark green leaves 8cm (3in) long and small white flowerheads from pink buds in late winter and early spring then dark blue-black fruit. Height 2-3m (6½-10ft).

Smaller shrubs - under 1.5m (5ft)

Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea ‘Admiration’ AGM: bright orange-red leaves in spring deepen over summer, creamy-yellow spring flowers and crimson berries in autumn. Height and spread 60cm (2ft).
Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’: (common box) (e) compact, slow growing with small glossy dark green leaves. Height 1m (3ft). Spread 1.5m (5ft).
Danae racemosaslender green shoots and glossy stems, greenish-yellow flowers in early summer. Height and spread 90cm (3ft).
Daphne laureola: (e) glossy dark green leaves and scented pale greenish-yellow flowers in late winter and early spring. Height 90cm (3ft). Spread 1.2m (4ft).
D. pontica: (e) glossy dark green leaves and clusters of yellow-green flowers in mid and late spring. Height 90cm (3ft). Spread 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft).
Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ (v) AGM: grey-green leaves with white margins and pink-tinged in winter. Height 60-90cm (2-3ft). Spread 90cm-1.2m (3-4ft).
Fuchsia ‘Mrs Popple’ AGM: flowers single, with bright red sepals and tube and violet-purple petals July to autumn. Height 90cm (3ft). Spread 90cm (3ft).
Hypericum × hidcoteense ‘Hidcote’ AGM: (e) dark green leaves, cup-shaped golden-yellow flowers. Height 1.2m (4ft). Spread 1.5m (5ft).
Leucothoe [Scarletta]=‘Zeblid’ AGM: (*)(e) dark red-purple young foliage, turning dark green then bronze in winter, white flower racemes in spring. Height 1.2m (4ft). Spread 1.5m (4ft).
Ligustrum japonicum ‘Rotundifolium: (e) rounded leathery dark green leaves. Height 1.5m (5ft). Spread 1m (3ft).
Mahonia aquifolium ‘Apollo’ AGM: (e) bright green spiny-toothed leaflets, flushed red-purple in winter, yellow flower racemes then black berries. Height 90cm (3ft). Spread 1.5m (5ft).
M. nitens 'Cabaret' (PBR) AGM: (e) holly-like glossy leaves, and red buds open to fragrant yellow flowers from September through autumn. Height and spread 90cm (3ft).
Rhododendron 'Summer Fragrance' AGM: (*) (w) mid-green foliage turning yellow and orange in autumn. Summer flowering - fragrant, pale yellow, blotched with deep yellow. Height and spread 1.2m (4ft).
Ruscus aculeatus ‘John Redmond’ AGM: (hermaphrodite) with glossy dark green leaves and bright red berries summer to autumn. Height 75cm (30in). Spread 90cm (3ft).
Viburnum davidii AGM: (e) dark green ribbed leaves, tubular white flowers in flowerheads, late spring, followed by metallic-blue fruits on female plant if male pollinator present. Height and spread 90cm (3ft).

Low growing/groundcover shrubs

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ‘Vancouver Jade’: (*) (e) small, glossy, dark green leaves and small racemes of pink flowers in summer then red berries. Height 15cm (6in). Spread 45cm (18in) or more.
Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea ‘Bagatelle’: small, deep purple leaves and creamy flowers in spring, red autumn berries. Height 30cm (1ft). Spread 40cm (16in).
Cornus canadensis: (creeping dogwood) (*) (m) green flowers in late spring are surrounded by white bracts, then fleshy red fruits. Height 15cm (6in). Spread indefinite.
Cotoneaster salicifolius ‘Gnom’ AGM: (e) narrow dark green leaves, small white flowers in early summer then red berries. Height 30cm (1ft). Spread 2m (6½ft).
Gaultheria procumbens AGM: (*) (e) strongly scented glossy dark green leaves, pale-pink flower racemes in summer then bright red berries persisting through winter. Height 15cm (6in). Spread 90cm (3ft) or more.
Pachysandra terminalis ‘Variegata’ (v) AGM: (e) dark green leaves with white margins. White flowers in spring and early summer. Height 25cm (10in). Spread 60cm (2ft).
Rubus tricolor: spreading, arching shoots covered in red bristles, glossy dark green leaves, white hairy beneath. White flowers followed by raspberry-like edible fruits. Height 60cm (2ft). Spread indefinite.
Vinca major ‘Maculata’ (v): (greater periwinkle) (e) arching shoots and dark green leaves with yellow-green centres 9cm (3in) long. Dark violet flowers over a long period spring to autumn. Height 45cm (18in).
Vinca minor f. alba ‘Gertrude Jekyll’: (lesser periwinkle) long trailing shoots and dark green leaves 5cm (2in) long. Profuse white flowers over a long period during spring to autumn. Height 10-20cm (4-8in). Spread indefinite.

Shrubs for partial or dappled shade

Medium to large shrubs

Arbutus unedo ‘Elfin King’: (strawberry tree) (e) red-brown bark, glossy mid-green leaves and small white flowers in panicles in autumn. Red fruits follow. Height 2m (6½ft). Spread 1.5m (5ft).
Azara microphylla AGM: (e) glossy dark green leaves and in late winter tiny scented greenish-yellow flowers. Height 8-9m (26-29½ft). Spread 4m (13ft).
Berberis darwinii AGM: (e) small, glossy dark green leaves and during spring dark-orange flowers in pendent racemes then blue-black fruit. Height and spread 2-3m (6½-10ft).
Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Geisha Girl’ AGM: deep apricot-peach double flowers in spring. Height 2-2.5m (6-8ft). Spread 3m (10ft).
Choisya ternata AGM: (Mexican orange blossom) (e) dark green leaflets, and in late spring fragrant white flowers, occasionally again in late summer and autumn. Height and spread 2-2.5m (6½-8ft).
Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ AGM: (red-barked dogwood) with bright red winter shoots and red autumn leaves. Height and spread to 3m (10ft).
Corylopsis sinensis var. sinensis ‘Spring Purple’: (*) dark plum-purple young foliage and in mid-spring fragrant lemon-yellow flowers in pendent racemes to 8cm (3in) long. Height and spread 4m (13ft).
Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ AGM: (e) dark leathery leaves and very fragrant white flowers, purple-pink in bud, borne in late winter-early spring. Height 2-2.5m (6½-8ft). Spread 1.5m (5ft).
Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ (m) AGM: (e) dark sea-green leaves and from mid-winter silver-grey catkins 20cm (8in) long. Height and spread 4m (13ft).
Hydrangea quercifolia [Snow Queen]=‘Flemygea’ AGM: (oak-leafed hydrangea) (w) large panicles of white sterile flowers, from summer to autumn , some becoming pinkish with age. Good bronze-purple colour in autumn. Height 2m (6½ft). Spread 2.5m (8ft).
Itea ilicifolia AGM: (e) glossy dark green holly-like leaves and in midsummer to autumn highly fragrant, small, greenish-white flowers in pendent racemes to 30cm (1ft) long. Height and spread 3m (10ft).
Kalmia latifolia ‘Olympic Fire’ AGM: (mountain laurel) (*) (e) glossy wavy-margined dark green leaves and from late spring to early summer crimped large pink flowers from red buds. Height and spread 3m (10ft).
Leycesteria formosa: (Himalayan honeysuckle) bamboo-like shoots and in summer to early autumn pendent spikes of white flowers amid dark purple-red bracts then purple-red berries. Height and spread 2m (6½ft).
Nandina domestica: large leaves composed of mid-green leaflets, red when young and in autumn. In summer, conical panicles 40cm (16in) long, of small star-shaped white flowers followed by bright red fruits persisting through winter. Height 2m (6½ft). Spread 1.5m (5ft).
Pieris formosa var. forrestii ‘Wakehurst’ AGM: (*) (e) glossy dark green leaves, brilliant red when young. White flowers in panicles, mid and late spring. Height to 5m (16ft). Spread 4m (13ft).
Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’ AGM: glossy dark green leaves on thorny stems, and in late spring small white flowers followed by profuse orange-red berries. Height and spread 3m (10ft).
Stachyurus praecox AGM: bell-shaped pale yellow-green flowers in racemes 10cm (4in) long in late winter and early spring before the leaves. Height and spread 2-3m (6½-10ft).
Viburnum opulus ‘Xanthocarpum’ AGM: maple-like dark green leaves, red in autumn and in late spring flat lace-cap-like flowerheads of white flowers are followed by bright yellow fruit. Height 4m (13ft). Spread 3m (10ft).
Weigela ‘Praecox Variegata’ (v) AGM: bright green leaves have creamy margins, white with age and in early summer honey-scented rose-pink flowers. Height to 2.5m (8ft). Spread 2m (6½ft).

Smaller shrubs – under 1.5m (5ft)

Berberis × stenophylla ‘Corallina Compacta’ AGM: (e) small, narrow dark green leaves and in late spring red budded, light orange flowers then glaucous black berries. Height and spread 30cm (1ft).
Corylopsis pauciflora AGM: (*) Profuse pale yellow flowers in pendent racemes, early and mid-spring. Height 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft). Spread 2m (6½ft).
Cotoneaster × suecicus ‘Coral Beauty’ AGM: (e) white flowers in summer followed by profuse bright orange fruit. Height 90cm (3ft). Spread 1.5m (5ft).
Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ (v): (e) deep green leaves with narrow cream margins and fragrant white flowers from red-purple buds midwinter to early spring. Height and spread 4ft (1.2m).
D. tangutica AGM: (e) fragrant purple or pink flushed white flowers, late spring and early summer. Height and spread 90cm (3ft).
Erica carnea f. alba ‘Springwood White’ AGM: (e) masses of white flowers above bright green foliage in late winter and early spring. Height 30cm (1ft). Spread 60cm (2ft).
E.× darleyensis ‘Kramers Rote’ AGM: (e) profuse bright magenta flowers above bronze-green foliage. Height 30-60cm (1-2ft). Spread 60-75cm (2ft-30in).
Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ AGM: large spherical white flowerheads 20cm (8in) across in summer. Height and spread 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft).
Hypericum × moserianum ‘Tricolor’ (v): mid green leaves blotched pink and cream and from summer to autumn cup-shaped bright yellow flowers. Height 30cm (1ft). Spread 60cm (2ft).
Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’ AGM: (e) small glossy bright yellow leaves darken in shade. Tiny creamy-white flowers followed by blue-purple berries. Height and spread 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft).
L. pileata: (e) dark glossy green leaves and in late spring tiny white flowers followed by violet-purple berries. Height 60cm (2ft). Spread 2-2.m (6½-8ft).
Pieris japonica ‘Little Heath’ (v): (e) mid-green leaves with silvery-white margins and pink-tinged young growth. White flowers in panicles, late winter and spring. Height and spread 60cm (2ft).
Ribes laurifolium: (e) scalloped, leathery dark green leaves and in late winter cup-shaped greenish-yellow flowers in pendent racemes. Height 90cm (3ft). Spread 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft).
Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis: (e) glossy dark green leaves and in winter highly fragrant pink-tinged white flowers followed by blue-black fruits. Height 60cm (2ft). Spread 90cm (3ft).

Hedges

Buxus sempervirens (box)
Ilex aquifolium (holly)
Lonicera nitida, L. pileata
Prunus laurocerasus
(cherry laurel)
P. lusitanica AGM (Portugal laurel)
Taxus baccata (yew)


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