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Gardening in the Shade

Understory trees

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.

American hop hornbeam, Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    25 to 40 feet tall, 15 to 30 feet wide
  • Best in dry sites. Fruits enclosed in a papery membrane resembling hops. Native.

American hornbeam, Blue beech, Ironwood (Carpinus caroliniana)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light, medium or full
  • Size
    20 to 30 feet tall and wide
  • Does best in moist sites, but tolerates drier conditions. Can be difficult to transplant. Moderately slow grower. Good yellow to orange-red fall color. Native.

Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    30 to 40 feet tall, 20 to 35 feet wide
  • Dangling white, bell-shaped flowers in mid-spring, followed by winged brown fruits in fall. Prefers moist, acidic, well-drained soils.

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    20 to 30 feet tall and wide
  • Make certain plant source is from northern, hardy range of dogwood. Showy white or pink bracts in midspring, followed by clusters of red fruits in fall. Needs moist, well-drained soil.

Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    20 to 30 feet tall and wide
  • Large white bracts similar to, but 2 to 3 weeks after, flowering dogwood. Red fruits in late summer to early fall. Reddish-purple fall foliage. Generally good resistance to the dogwood anthracnose fungus.

Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    20 to 40 feet tall and wide
  • Early to leaf out in spring. Prickly fruit covering opens to reveal chestnut brown "buckeyes." Dropping fruits can be messy. Fall color yellow to orange. Susceptible to leaf spot diseases. Leaf scorch common in hot, dry sites.

Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    15 to 25 feet tall and wide
  • Interesting layered branching pattern. Creamy white flowers in late spring not as showy as flowering dogwood. Flowers followed by red turning bluish-black fruits in mid- to late summer. Does best with moist, cool soils.

Serviceberry, Juneberry (A. x grandiflora)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    15 to 25 feet tall, 10 to 20 feet wide
  • Clusters of white flowers in early spring followed by edible blue berries in late spring to early summer, much appreciated by birds. Does best in moist soils, but tolerates dry sites. Difficult to distinguish species unless in flower or fruit. Yellow to red fall color.

Sourwood, Lily of the Valley Tree (Oxydendrum arboreum)

  • Shade tolerance
    Light to medium
  • Size
    25 to 30 feet tall, 20 feet wide
  • Long showy panicles of white flowers produced in early summer. Flowers best in full sun. Fall foliage color red, yellow and purple. Does best in gravelly soils.

G6911, reviewed April 2002

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G6911 Gardening in the Shade | Page 8 | University of Missouri Extension