Evergreen Shrubs for Shade

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Evergreen Shrubs for Shade

Depending on your perspective, shade is an asset or a challenge.

In my Zone 7 garden in Atlanta, shade is welcome, especially during the hot summer months. Fortunately, my front garden is sunny and my side yard is shady, affording me the best of both worlds. When selecting shrubs for low light situations, there are a variety of evergreen types to consider. A garden where evergreen and deciduous plants have been skillfully combined is bound to be a garden that pleases throughout the year. By pairing shrubs and trees with different habits and different types of foliage, as well as including herbaceous plants, you can transform your lackluster woodland into a shady oasis of color, texture and even fragrance.

When I add new shrubs to my garden or transplant existing shrubs, having the right tool is key. I like the Fiskars® Steel Extendable D-handle Ergo Garden Spade.  It is heavy enough to handle my clay soils and cut through roots, but easy to manage and the shaft is adjustable. 


Commonly known as Flordia leucothoe, Agarist populifolia is a multi-stemmed evergreen with a graceful arching habit. While this native will grow in part sun, Florida leucothoe thrives in shade, easily reaching 8 to 12’ or taller and 5 to 10’ wide.  Great for informal screens or as a backdrop for deciduous trees. The bright green foliage displays tinges of red when it first opens. For a contrast pair it with oakleaf hydrangeas, mountain laurel and large-leaf rhododendrons. Hardy from Zone 6 to 9.  


When we purchased our current home about seven years ago, I inherited two large mature Japanese camellias, that bloom reliably every year and provide evergreen anchors.  Japanese camellia, Camellia japonica, is an old fashioned evergreen that continues to be popular (and with good reason) in southern landscapes. It’s dense habit and lustrous dark green foliage as well as the showy flowers; there are thousands of cultivars with flowers of all sizes, both single and double, that range from pure white to the deepest red.  All these qualities add up to a choice low maintenance evergreen (and I don’t use that term lightly) for shady sites. Depending on the selection, flowers can occur in November, December, March and April. These stalwart shrubs are ideal for a mixed border, screen or hedge. Combine them with deciduous shrubs and trees for the best effect. Hardy from Zone 7 to 9 (10 on the West coast).

For foundation plantings, Japanese plum-yew, Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’ is low growing, reaching 2 to 3’ tall and 4 to 6’ wide, making it ideal for locations where you don’t want to obscure views. This dark needled evergreen looks like the yew, Taxus, that grows in many northern gardens, but unlike yew, plum-yew thrives in heat and humidity in shade as well as sunny sites. Hardy from Zone 6 to 9.  


If you like the big leaves, Japanese fatsia, Fatsia japonica, while not a tropical, offers lush foliage. The dark green lobed leaves, 6 to 14 inches wide, provide texture and interest throughout the year.  I underplant mine with autumn fern and hellebores. The curious white flowers occur on terminal panicles in October or November, followed by small black fruits. This ornamental is easy to grow and appreciates shady sites. Hardy from Zone 7 to 10. 


There are a number of different types of anise shrubs that will grow in low light situations including two of my favorites, Florida anise, Illicium floridanum and small anise-tree, Illicium parviflorum.  Both are carefree and hardy from Zone 6 to 9. For herbaceous companions, consider ferns, hostas and hellebores. 

Additional evergreen shrubs to consider for shade: tea olive, Osmanthus fragrans and other species of Osmanthus, mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, Catawaba rhododendron, Rhodendron catawbiense, rosebay rhododendron, Rhododendron maximum, Sarcococca confusa, Viburnum awabuki