How do I Choose the Best Shade Shrub?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Many shrubs do very well in full or partial shade. There are several things to consider when selecting a shade shrub which can help gardeners narrow down their choices quickly and choose the most appropriate shrub for their needs. Most nurseries and garden stores have very helpful staffers who are always happy to provide advice and recommendations to customers who are having trouble.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

One important thing to consider is the needs of the garden. A shade shrub should mesh well with the existing landscaping, and people should think about whether they want an evergreen or deciduous shrub, whether or not they want a flowering shrub, and what color foliage they would prefer. They may want to think about surrounding plantings as well as garden features such as walls, walkways, and pools when thinking about how the shade shrub will look once it is planted.

Size is another important thing to consider. A shade shrub can vary considerably in size, from a tall scraggly shrub to a short, compact one. When selecting a shrub, people should think about how the shrub will grow, and what sort of look they want. A shrub which takes well to trimming and grows in a compact, even way may be a good choice for a carefully manicured garden, while a tall, slightly wild shrub might be better for a casual or informal garden.

The conditions are also something to think about. It is a good idea to select a shade shrub which is rated for the zone one is gardening in, as plants which are not suited to the zone may struggle. It is also important to think about soil composition, watering needs, and similar issues to select a shrub which will not require a great deal of maintenance.

It is often possible to look plants up by zone, color, and other characteristics in gardening guides. Some nurseries keep such guides behind the counter for the convenience of customers. Using a guide, a gardener can quickly narrow down a list of choices which are suitable for the conditions in the garden and the environment, and use these to select a shrub which will meet appearance needs. Staff may also have specific recommendations; if a gardener says, for example, “I need a shade shrub which will grow to around three feet (one meter) tall with purple flowers,” a staffer can provide the gardener with some options to choose from.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Feryll - I have azaleas all over my yard, and my yard is mostly woods. These shrubs make good shade shrubs. Azaleas are one of the most well known and colorful shrubs around, but most people think these shrubs need a lot of sunlight and really warm weather, but they will grow about anywhere that has average spring and summer temperatures.

They grow in clusters right up against the trees in my yard. They are not harmed or stunted in the least by the limited amount of sunlight.


@Feryll - As this article says you can probably ask someone at your garden center about which shrubs would work best in your region, but in general I think mountain laurels are the perfect shrub for wooded areas. These shrubs have beautiful evergreen leaves and they also produce pretty flowers in the spring.

The clusters of flowers might be the perfect thing to brighten up that depressingly dark section of your yard that you wrote about, and the mountain laurel is one of the toughest and attractive shade tree shrubs I know about.


My girlfriend and I like to joke that our yard has about five different habitats because of the differences in the amount of sun and shade some areas get. One side of the house has tall pine trees, magnolia trees, oak trees and more. This side of the house gets very little direct sunlight during the day.

The front of the house gets more sunlight, but we also have trees there, including one very large old pecan tree that shades the house and front yard pretty well. Anyway, it is on the side of the house with all of the large trees that we have a tough time getting shrubs to grow.

We would like to find some types of colorful shrubs for shade areas to liven up that part of the yard since it is often dark over there and a bit depressing at times.

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