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Discover 6 great flowering shrubs for shade

September 16, 2018

Mountain laurel is a beautiful, shade-tolerant shrub that’s also evergreen.

Shade doesn’t have to be a liability to gardeners. While populating small shady corners with hostas, ferns, begonias and other shade-loving herbaceous plants brings texture and color to those areas, it’s more challenging to find the right flowering shrubs for larger shade-filled garden beds.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to some of my favorite flowering shrubs for shade. Whether you use them to spruce up your foundation plantings, add some color to a “tree island” in your front yard, or tuck them under large deciduous trees like oaks and maples, these shrubs thrive in areas that receive less than a few hours of sun per day. They do quite well under the filtered canopy of deciduous trees or on the north side of houses and other structures. They are understory shrubs that are meant to grow in areas with limited sunlight.

Compact Maximum Rhododendron (Rhododendron “Maximum Compacta”): A mini version of a traditional rhododendron, this broad-leaved evergreen produces large clusters of pinkish lavender flowers in late spring. A low-growing, bushy plant, it makes a great addition to foundation plantings and shrub borders that receive full to partial shade. As it reaches just 3 feet tall and wide, bumblebees love the flowers and are often found buzzing around the blooms. With winter hardiness down to -40 degrees F, there’s no pruning necessary to maintain the shrub’s natural shape and size. Another compact rhododendron worth seeking out is the purple-flowered “Ramapo.”

Lavalamp Flare Panicle Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata “Kolmavesu”): An adaptable and petite hydrangea that’s hardy to -40 degrees F, Lavalamp Flare produces big, conical flower clusters that are white and age to a brilliant pink. Each upright flower panicle can grow up to 16 inches long. With a mature height of just 2 to 3 feet, that means over half of the plant’s height is flowers. It’s perfect for smaller yards and gardens with limited sun. Another wonderful shade-loving hydrangea with no-fail blooms is the oak leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia).

Japanese Andromeda (Pieris japonica): This broad-leaved evergreen shrub produces panicles of small, white, bell-shaped flowers in the spring. It’s a great early forage plant for many species of bees. Fully hardy here in Western Pennsylvania, Japanese andromeda prefers slightly acidic soil and some protection from heavy winter winds. The drooping clusters of flowers occur on shrubs that reach about 8 feet tall at maturity, though some dwarf cultivars do exist. There are also some varieties with pink flowers and foliage, too. As an added bonus, Japanese andromeda is typically deer resistant.

Compact Korean Azalea (Azalea yedoenese var. poukhanense “Compacta”): This semi-evergreen, compact azalea seldom requires pruning and produces lavender-pink flowers in the spring. It’s perfect for woodland gardens and shady beds. At full maturity, this slow-growing azalea reaches just 3 feet tall and spreads about 5 feet wide. Its an easy-care flowering shrub for the shade. Unfortunately, the deer do favor it (along with other azaleas), but if you have space for this beauty, I highly recommend it.

Mountain laurel (Kalimia latifolia): If you’re looking for a great North American native flowering shrub to tuck into a shady spot, mountain laurel is a beautiful option. This evergreen shrub has shiny green leaves that are topped with clusters of cup-shaped flowers in the mid-spring. Though some sources tout it as being deer resistant, mountain laurel is a favorite of the deer in my garden, so plant it with caution. Mountain laurel is the state flower of Pennsylvania, and most varieties can reach up to 10 feet in height, though they are fairly slow growers. There are many cultivars of this shrub that come in a wide range of flower colors but all prefer to grow in shady conditions with slightly acidic soil.

Japanese Kerria (Kerria japonica): Another Asian flowering shrub that’s perfectly suited to shade gardens, kerria is a deciduous shrub that can really steal the show. In mid-spring, the shrub produces bright yellow blooms all along the length of its stems. Reaching about 8 feet in height with equal spread, it requires some room, but with its lovely, arching growth habit, it makes a wonderful specimen. Kerria even tolerates full shade and still produces blooms. The cultivar “Plentiflora” has double flowers that grace the garden with even more color.

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