If you’re a gardener or homeowner with a lot of shade on your property, you may find yourself struggling to find plants that thrive and bloom with minimal sunlight, especially when it comes to shrubs. While there are many colorful flowering perennials and annuals for shade, there are far fewer shrubs with vivid blooms for shady conditions. Today, I’d like to introduce you to 16 flowering shrubs for shade to fill your landscape with color from early spring through fall. There’s even a shrub for shade that blooms in the winter on this list!
16 Flowering Shrubs for Shade
Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
A wide-spreading, 6-foot-tall, North American native shrub for shade, oakleaf hydrangea deserves a home in every shady landscape. Even in the winter the peeling bark of the oakleaf hydrangea is deserving of our attention. The large, oak leaf-like leaves turn an amazing orange and then a deep burgundy in the autumn. Large, cone-shaped panicles of creamy white flowers are produced from the woody stems in summer. The merits of this shrub for shade cannot be stressed enough. It’s a personal favorite for its four-season interest. Hardy in garden zones down to -20 degrees F.
Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica)
Kerria is a small genus of underused flowering shrubs for shade (or sun!). The plants have bright green stems and leaves, and sunny yellow flowers. These shrubs are very tolerant of shade and poor soil. Thin out the old stems every few years by cutting them back to the ground just after the plant flowers. Kerrias are prolific bloomers that reach a height of 6 feet. The inch-wide flowers are produced in spring. The cultivar ‘Pleniflora’ has double flowers and a taller, more vigorous growth habit.
Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
Laurels are evergreen flowering shrubs for shade that are native to the eastern U.S. The leaves are smooth-edged and glossy, dark green. The large clusters of tea cup-shaped flowers are absolutely stunning (albeit a little sticky). They appear on the plants in late spring and can be purple, pink, white, or bicolored. This woodland flowering shrub is hardy to -30 degrees F and has many different cultivars. Spreads 5 to 15 feet tall and wide, and has a rounded, yet open shape. Choose a shady location for this shrub, and make sure the soil is acidic by fertilizing with a granular, acid-specific fertilizer annually.
Slender deutzia (Deutzia gracilis)
These spring-blooming flowering shrubs for shade are deciduous and vase-shaped. They’re easy to grow in average garden soil and require very little care. Topping out at around 5 feet tall, they can be kept smaller by pruning them just after they bloom. The prolific flowers are pure white and nearly an inch wide. Each five-petaled flower lasts for several weeks. Slender deutzia is hardy to -20 degrees F. Though deutzia flowers best in areas that receive full sun, this shrub is quite tolerant of partial to moderate shade, though dense shade should be avoided. The dwarf cultivar ‘Yuki Cherry’ has pink petals for added interest.
Glossy abelia (Abelia x grandiflora)
This semi-evergreen shrub grows between 3 to 6 feet tall and thrives in areas of full sun to moderate shade, though flowering is better where the plant receives at least a few hours of sun per day. The arching branches produce clusters of small, but showy, tubular flowers. The blooms are white with a blush of pink. This hybrid abelia is hardy to -10 degrees F and blooms in summer. This plant flowers on new growth, so it can easily be pruned back hard and still bloom in the very same season. The variety ‘Edward Goucher’ is a shorter selection that produces larger, lavender blooms. Hummingbirds adore this plant.
Witch hazel (Hamamelis spp.)
There is nothing better than a witch hazel when it comes to surprises. Just when you think there’s nothing in bloom in the garden, the witch hazel struts its stuff! Among the only winter-flowering shrubs for shade, Vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) pops out fringe-like yellow, rust, or red-colored blooms in the dead of winter. Chinese witch hazel (H. mollis) is another winter-blooming selection, while common witch hazel (H. virginiana) blooms in fall. Most witch hazels are hardy to -10 degrees, though some are hardier and others less so, depending on the species. Witch hazels are deciduous and easy to grow in ordinary garden soil, but moist areas are best. With a structure much like a small tree, these flowering shrubs for shade have an added bonus: the blooms of many varieties are also fragrant! Those seeking North American natives should plant common witch hazel or vernal witch hazel.
Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)
These North American native shade-loving shrubs bloom in summer and are hardy down to -20 degrees F. Long panicles of creamy white flowers drip from the stems in mid summer. While this shrub does well in full sun, it’s surprisingly tolerant of shade, too. The deciduous nature of the plant means there are no leaves on it during the winter, but in the fall, the foliage turns a deep red-purple that’s just stunning. It’s perfect for moist soil. The fragrant blooms are adored by many of our native pollinators. ‘Little Henry’ is a great dwarf variety.
Oregon holly grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
The low-growing habit of these flowering shrubs for shade makes it a good fit for foundation plantings, garden beds, and shrub borders. Their evergreen leaves are compound, and the yellow, fragrant flowers are borne in long panicles. In the fall, the plant is covered in small, dark berries. Oregon holly grape prefers a shady spot that’s protected from winter winds. It reaches 6 feet in height and is hardy down to -20 degrees F.
Japanese pieris/Andromeda (Pieris japonica)
When I was a kid, we had a pair of Japanese pieris flanking our front walk. My mother called them “pierce-a-ponicas” which I though was their real name until I took a shrub ID class in college. Despite my mom’s mispronunciation of the name, I grew to really love these amazing flowering shrubs for shade. They’re deer resistant, evergreen with beautiful green leaves, and very winter hardy. Large clusters of slightly fragrant, white, bell-shaped blooms extend from the ends of the branches in early spring and are a favorite of queen bumble bees and other early pollinators. The plants grow to 10 feet in height, especially in protected sites where they’re sheltered from drying winter winds. Some cultivars, such as ‘Mountain Fire‘, have vivid red new growth in the spring, while other cultivars, such as ‘Dorothy Wycoff’ and ‘Flamingo’, have pink flowers instead of white.
Sweet shrub/Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floiridis)
Oh how I love sweet shrubs! These medium sized, fragrant, gorgeous, North American native flowering shrubs for shade are so delightful. Topping out at 8 feet in height, this deciduous shrub produces uniquely shaped, dark purple-pink blossoms along the length of its stems. Spring blooming and perfect for sites that are anywhere from partial shade to full sun, Carolina sweet shrubs do best in well-draining soils, though they’ll do just fine in average garden soil as long as they’re irrigated during dry spells. They are a great alternative to the viburnum.
Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)
Another North American native hydrangea for shade, the smooth hydrangea has so much to offer. With an upright but open shape and excellent winter hardiness (down to -20 degrees F), these flowering shrubs for shade produce globe-shaped clusters of creamy white blooms in high summer. Topping out around 4 feet tall, the straight species is lovely, but showier cultivars, such as ‘Annabelle’ and ‘Grandiflora’, produce larger blooms. Unlike many other hydrangea species, the flowers of smooth hydrangea are produced on new growth, so prune in the early spring and there’s no chance of cutting off the current season’s blooms. They are low-maintenance beauties for full or part shade.
Coralberry/snowberry (Symphoricarpus spp.)
Ok, so, I’m cheating a bit here. While coralberries and snowberries are flowering shrubs for shade, they’re much better known for their berries than they are for their flowers. These hardy, deciduous shrubs are North American natives that produce fairly small, unremarkable blooms, but their berries are just lovely in the autumn and winter landscape. Some species serve as a host plant for the day-flying snowberry clearwing moth (also called the hummingbird moth). The snowberry (S. albus) grows to 4 feet and produces pink flowers followed by white fruits. It’s hardy down to -50 degrees F. The coralberry (S. orbiculatus) has white flowers followed by coral-colored fruits. Plus, the fall foliage is a lovely crimson. They make very unique hedges.
Rhodies and Azaleas
What we gardeners commonly call rhododendrons and azaleas are actually one very large genus of plants botanically classified in the genus Rhododendron. Gardeners distinguish rhododendrons from azaleas by how their flowers are produced. Azalea flowers are funnel-shaped and borne singly, while rhododendron flowers are larger and produced in clusters. All rhododendrons are evergreen, but there are both evergreen and deciduous azalea species. Regardless, both rhododendrons and azaleas are great flowering shrubs for shade. They are both attractive to early season pollinators and make beautiful statements in partial to full shade. Here are some excellent varieties of both rhodies and azaleas.
Evergreen azaleas (Rhododendron [sub genus Tsutsusi])
If you are looking for evergreen shrubs that aren’t yews, try azaleas. Most evergreen azaleas are native to Asia, but a few species are native to North America. There are thousands of evergreen azalea species, hybrids, and cultivars – so many that it’s difficult to keep them straight. Azaleas can range in height from mini varieties that top out at just 2 feet tall, all the way up to full-sized specimens that grow to 8 feet in height. Azaleas produce a wide range of flower colors, from salmon pink and white to purple, red, and lavender. Their hardiness varies, though many are hardy to -20 degrees F. If you’re looking for a great flowering evergreen shrub for shade, azaleas are a terrific choice.
Deciduous azaleas (Rhododendron [sub genus Pentathera])
Deciduous azaleas are among my favorite flowering shrubs for shade. While their branches are bare in the winter, the clusters of tubular flowers that appear in spring are real show-stoppers. My favorite group of deciduous azaleas are the Exbury hybrids. These upright azaleas reach a height of 4 to 5 feet and produce trusses of flowers that can be red, pink, cream, orange, or yellow. Hardy to -20 degrees F, these flowering shrubs for shade prefer well-drained soils high in organic matter. They bloom around the same time as the dogwood. The royal azalea (R. schlippenbachii) is another deciduous species that grows up to 10 feet tall, with leaves clustered at the end of the twigs and pink flowers in the spring.
Rhododendron (Rhododendron species, hybrids, and cultivars)
Rhododendrons are a large group of woody plants with broad, evergreen leaves. The bell-shaped flowers are borne in huge clusters at the ends of the stems. The showy flowers each have 5 to 10 stamens and are treasured by bigger bee species and butterflies. Rhododendrons prefer well-drained, acid soil with lots of organic matter. Use sulfur or a granular fertilizer formulated specifically for evergreens. Partial and dappled shade is best for rhododendrons; deep shade may reduce flowering. However, some species and hybrids are more tolerant of deep shade than others.
Rhododendrons may exhibit winter die-back during years of particularly cold weather or in windy areas. Larger species, such as R. catawbiense, can grow 10 feet tall, while shorter species, such as R. yakusimanum, reaches just 3 feet in height. All rhododendrons bloom in spring. Their hardiness varies, depending on the species, but most are hardy to at least -10 degrees F with many species exhibiting hardiness way beyond that.
PJM Rhododendron (Rhododendron x PJM)
This group of broadleaf evergreen rhododendrons is a delightful addition to any shady garden. They’re among the hardiest of all flowering shrubs for shade, surviving easily down to -30 degrees F. PJMs grow up to 6 feet tall and wide. The bright lavender-pink flowers appear in spring, often with a smattering of reblooms in the autumn. Just like other rhododendrons, PJMs prefer acidic soil that’s well drained. This group of hybrids produces compact growth and small, dark leaves. It’s hardier than many other rhododendron types and the foliage turns a deep purple in the winter.
A few other shade-tolerant shrubs worth including in your garden are summersweet clethra, serviceberry, camellias, aucubas, and the bottlebrush buckeye.
For more exceptional plants for your landscape, check out the following posts:
- Perennials for shade
- Annuals for the shade
- Small-stature flowering shrubs for sun
- Dwarf evergreen trees
- 3 Small flowering trees
- Compact evergreen shrubs
Do you grow any of these terrific flowering shrubs for shade? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comment section below!
I would love more information about appropriate zones for these – I have Oakleaf Hydrangea and 3 other kinds – all do well here in 8b and Azaleas are our primary flowering shrub. I would LOVE to have some rhododendron but have tried them 3 times and they just “stop” exactly were they are when planted and die on me. I do not see them in my area so I assume it is too hot here. Can anyone tell me which of the above are the most heat tolerant???
Jessica Walliser says
Hi Pat. Yes, growing rhododendrons south of USDA Zone 7 or 8 can be difficult (but, you can grow crepe myrtles and camellias, so there’s a plus!). Here’s a great article by our friend Steve on the Southern Living website that features rhodie varieties that are good for warm climates like yours. https://www.southernliving.com/garden/grumpy-gardener/growing-rhododendrons-in-the-south
We live off Lake Michigan in Chicago. It is a court yard condo. We have a SEVERE rabbit problem (they love the courtyard safty) and a need for deep shade loving shrubs. The area gets sun in early spring before the trees leaf out but after that it’s pretty dense shade. I’d love Rhododendrons. Any thoughts?
Jessica Walliser says
Any of the shrubs in this article will do well there. But, I would protect the bases of them with a 1-foot-tall circle of chicken wire, to keep the rabbits from chewing the bark in the winter. I’ve never had a problem with rabbits eating the foliage of any of these shrubs during the growing season, but a low fence will help with that, too.
Susan Hesse says
We recently bought a home in West Tennessee and are looking for flowering shrubs for the west side of the house. The area has mostly shade due to large trees on that side of the house. What variety do you suggest?
Jessica Walliser says
Any of the shrubs discussed in this article should work fine in those conditions.
I planted 2 panicle hydrangea in May of this year and wondering if they will produce flowers this year
Jessica Walliser says
It might take a year or two for them to bloom, but then you’ll have flowers for many years thereafter.
I have an area along a fence that is consistently in shade throughout the day. We are in Toronto, which I believe is zone 5 or 6? and our soil has lots of clay.
Is there a flowering shrub that would do well in these conditions?
Jessica Walliser says
Hi Sasha. Any of the shrubs recommended in this article should thrive in your garden. I’m also zone 5 (Pennsylvania) and grow all of them in my garden.
Hi everyone. I want to plant something big and showy in a large pot outside. I am in an apartment. Zone 5. Michigan. Deep shade. What does anyone suggest? A tree or shrub? Maybe a mountain laurel or hydrangea? It would benin a container. I could take it in in winter. Thank you.
Jessica Walliser says
I suggest an oakleaf hydrangea, a Virginia sweetspire (Itea), or a rhododendron. All of which can stay outdoors for the winter, even in a pot. Wrapping the exterior of the pot with a few layers of bubblewrap in the winter will help insulate the roots.
Terry Machowski says
Our property is in MI very close to Lake Michigan – zone 6b the maps say. The soil is pretty much sand. The oakleaf hydrangea sounds amazing but the area gets very little sun. Would you recommend them for this area? They seem to be a bit pricey and I would hate to spend the money and have them die. Thanks for the help and any ideas.
Jessica Walliser says
Yes, I think an oakleaf hydrangea would do quite nicely in those conditions. Another option to consider would be bottlebrush buckeyes. Be careful if you have deer, though, as they are quite fond of oakleaf hydrangeas.
Mark Shain says
This is an excellent list! Thank you for compiling it.