Shade bushes for the northwest



Finding interesting plants for shade can be a struggle, but when you add in that plant’s desire to be a woody shrub, the list becomes even narrower. But these textural wonders are essential to give depth and real presence to our shade beds and borders.

Whether you’re looking for colorful foliage, spectacular flowers, or an out-of-this-world texture, there’s sure to be at least one shade-loving shrub that fits the bill. To help us find these attractive garden treasures, we asked area experts to pick their four favorite shrubs for shade. Check out some sensational picks for the Northwest below and discover more shade-loving shrubs in this episode of the Let’s Argo About Plants podcast.

1. Knaptonensis’ Japanese Cedar

'Knaptonensis' Japanese cedar

Name: Cryptomeria japonica ‘Neptunian’

Zones: 5-9

Size: 4 feet long and 2 feet wide

Conditions: partial to full shade; Average to moist, well-drained soil

Local Range: Japan

This unusual variegated conifer is a favorite for its bright, shining white juvenile foliage, which it produces slowly and steadily. However, it does not love the direct sun at all, which burns these delicate white points. This makes it a great choice for cone lovers. Sun-compromised planting locations. ‘Neptunianus’ is ideal for containers because of its slow growth and its plump, pyramidal shape. Regular moisture is essential, But otherwise this standout choice needs no human intervention to look its best.

2. ‘Flamentosa’ Sky Bamboo

'Flamentosa' Sky Bamboo
Photo: Courtesy of Juniper Level Botanic Garden at Plant Delights Nursery

Name: Nandina domestica* ‘Flamentosa’

Zones: 6-10

Size: 1 to 2 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide

Conditions: full sun to partial shade; Average soil

Local Range: Japan, China, India

Although it’s not actually bamboo, this little shrub is quite heavenly. Not to be dismissed as yet another Nandina, ‘Filamentosa’ is strikingly different because of its very finely cut foliage, which provides incredible texture all year round. If that’s not enough, it also provides evergreen foliage color. New growth is red, fading somewhat before taking on copper-orange hues in autumn. Pinkish-white summer flowers are borne atop foliage on bright red stems. It grows slowly and is extremely low maintenance. Its low, mounding habit makes it useful in containers or as a ground cover.

3. ‘Elegantissima’ English Boxwood

'Elegantissima' English Boxwood
Photo: Nancy J. Ondra

Name: Buxus sempervirens ‘Elegantissima’

Zones: 6-8

Size: 6 feet long and 4 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to full shade; Applicable to a wide range of soil types including clay and sand

Local Range: Europe, Asia, Africa

Although boxwood can be seen everywhere, this underutilized evergreen is a workhorse that is especially valuable for dry shade. It makes a wonderful topiary if you like it, but its naturally relaxed habit will provide year-round texture when left pruned. Its finely textured dark green leaves have creamy white margins. The color is more muted in dark shade, but in light shade this shrub literally shines. Hardy and undemanding, ‘Elegantissima’ deserves a place in every shade garden.

4. ‘Mt. Vernon ‘Dwarf English Laurel

'Mount Vernon's Dwarf English Laurel

Name: Pronus laurocerasus ‘Mount Vernon

Zones: 6-9

Size: 2 feet long and 5 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to full shade; Average to moist, well-drained soil

Local Range: Southwest Asia, Southeast Europe

Bold, glossy leaves and a low, neat spreading habit make this laurel well worth keeping in even a small space. Dense and Clean, it rarely produces flowers or seeds. It doesn’t happen Run as fast as its bigger cousins, but creates instead. A tall, dense ground cover that will tolerate almost any growing conditions. It’s wonderful skirting under hydrangeas (Hydrangea spp. and cvs., zones 3-9) and other deciduous shrubs, form a beautiful ground-level winter structure. It’s also a great partner to each of the other shrubs on this page. With no need for pruning, ‘Mt. Vernon is as low-maintenance as it gets, yet it delivers big rewards.

*Caution Warning:

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina Dumisa).

Japanese barberry (Berberus thunbergia)

This plant is considered invasive. AL, FL, GA, MD, MO, and SC.

See For more information.

Barbara Leibner Head Container Designer and Chief Merchandiser at Ravenna Gardens in Seattle.



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