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Gardening in the Shade

Deciduous shrubs

Many small trees and large shrubs thrive under large shade trees. These small trees are often a good size plant to use in small, urban yards where space and light may be limited.

Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    8 to 12 feet tall, 6 to 12 feet wide
  • Creamy white flower clusters in late spring, followed by blue-black berries in fall. Fall color varies from yellow to reddish-purple. Adapted to many soil conditions. Suckers freely.

Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    8 to 12 feet tall, 8 to 15 feet wide
  • Showy panicles of white flowers in midsummer. Suckering, multistemmed shrub. Better pest tolerance than other buckeyes.

Burkwood viburnum (Viburnum x burkwoodii)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    8 to 10 feet tall, 6 to 8 feet wide
  • Flowers pink in bud, opening to fragrant white clusters 3 inches across in early spring. Semi-evergreen foliage. Adapts to most pHs. Prefers moist soil. Many similar hybrids are available in the nursery trade.

Common witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light, medium to full
  • Size
    20 to 25 feet tall, 15 to 20 feet wide
  • Yellow, straplike flowers in late fall, often at the same time as leaves are colored yellow. Best in moist shade.

Highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum )

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    8 to 12 feet tall and wide
  • White, 4 inches clusters of flowers in midspring, followed by bright red fruits in fall, persisting into winter. Fall foliage color ranges from yellow to reddish-purple. 'Compactum' and Arnold' are dwarf versions, 3 to 6 feet tall.

Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light, medium to full
  • Size
    3 to 6 feet tall, 6 to 9 feet wide
  • Spreading, arching plant with yellowish-green stems. Bright yellow flowers in midspring and sporadically through the season. Does best with low fertility and well-drained soils.

Koreanspice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    4 to 8 feet tall and wide
  • Fragrant pinkish-white flowers in midspring. Dark green summer foliage sometimes turning purple in fall. 'Cayuga' is more disease tolerant.

Large fothergilla (Fothergilla major)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    6 to 10 feet tall, 4 to 8 feet wide
  • White, bottlebrush tufts of flowers in midspring. Fall leaf color is a mix of yellow, orange and red. Requires acidic soil.

Leatherwood (Dirca palustris)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light, medium to full
  • Size
    3 to 6 feet tall and wide
  • Small yellow flowers in early spring. Yellow-green foliage. Prefers moist shade.

New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    3 to 4 feet tall, 3 to 5 feet wide
  • Small white flowers in summer. Tolerates dry sites. Some leaf spot and mildew problems.

Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    4 to 8 feet tall, 3 to 5 feet wide
  • White flowers in summer, changing to pink, then brown. Coarse, oak-leaf shaped foliage. Best in moist, well-drained soil.

Redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    8 to 12 feet tall and wide
  • Noted for dark red bark coloration. Prune out old stems to maintain best color. White flower clusters in late spring and sporadically through the summer. Fall color is sometimes reddish-purple. Compact forms 'Isanti' and 'Kelseyi' are susceptible to leaf spots.

Shrubby St. Johnswort (Hypericum prolificum)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    2 to 5 feet tall, 2 to 4 feet wide
  • Bluish-green foliage color. Bright yellow 1 inch flowers in summer. Seed capsules persist through winter. Well-adapted to dry, heavy soils.

Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light, medium to full
  • Size
    3 to 5 feet tall and wide
  • Cultivar 'Annabelle' produces panicles of flowers up to 1' foot wide in mid- to late summer. Cut back to ground each winter. Suckers and spreads from roots. Does best with moisture.

Sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light, medium or full
  • Size
    3 to 8 feet tall and 3 to 6 feet wide
  • Fragrant white to pink flowers in summer. Good for heavy shade and wet sites. Spreads slowly through suckers.

Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light, medium or full
  • Size
    3 to 5 feet tall and wide
  • Fragrant racemes of white flowers in summer. Deep red fall foliage color. Does best in moist sites.

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    6 to 12 feet tall and wide
  • A deciduous holly. Separate male and female plants. Bright red berries on females in fall through early winter. Prefers moist, acid soil.

G6911, reviewed April 2002

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G6911 Gardening in the Shade | Page 3 | University of Missouri Extension