Shade bushes for the south

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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 South and discover more shade-loving shrubs, below, in this episode of the Let’s Argo About Plants podcast.


1. Mapleleaf Viburnum

Mapleleaf Viburnum
Photo: millettephotomedia.com

Name: Viburnum acerifolium

Zones: 4-8

Size: 3 to 6 feet tall and wide

Conditions: full sun to partial shade; Moist to dry, well-drained, acidic soil

Local Range: Eastern North America

I am lucky to have this durable shrub growing in my woods. It is an all-season plant, with clusters of white flowers in late spring that shine against its soft green, maple-like foliage, followed by fruits that turn red and turn blue-black when ripe. Which makes summer hot for birds. The incredible fall foliage color ranges from coral, orange and reddish pink, a display that is truly unique among the deciduous plants in my garden. It is much more tolerant of heat, drought and shade than other garden viburnums, and its sucking habit makes it easy to propagate and share.

2. ‘Chojoho’ Azalea

Chojoho azalea
Photo: Courtesy of Hayes Jackson

Name: Rhododendron ‘Chojoho’

Zones: 6-9

Size: 2 feet long and 3 feet wide

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

Local Range: A hybrid of Asian species

What’s not to like about this azalea? Its small, evergreen leaves are attractive year-round, and in late spring the flowers bloom a rich red with narrow, star-like petals and prominent stamens. In summer, the color of the red flowers gradually fades to orange-green. My biggest complaint about most azaleas is the short bloom time, and ‘Chojoho’ breaks that concern with an attractive display that lasts for months into August or September. This satsuki-type azalea naturally has such a compact habit that it is often used as a bonsai subject. It also works well in containers, at the front of borders, or in small garden spaces.

3. ‘Ogon’ Holy Olive

Ogun Holy Olive
Photo: millettephotomedia.com

Name: Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Ogun’

Zones: 7-11

Size: 6 to 10 feet tall and wide

Conditions: partial to full shade; Well-drained soil

Local Range: A hybrid of East Asian species

I’ve been on a golden plant kick lately, and nothing brightens up a shady spot like the warm chartreuse glow of ‘Ogan’ Holly Olive. Shade and drought tolerant, this slow-growing shrub has glossy evergreen leaves with beautifully textured spiny margins. New leaves emerge with a bright yellow color that softens and darkens as the season progresses. In autumn it produces fragrant flowers that spread a sweet apricot-like fragrance throughout the garden. I’m a fan of all Osmanthus, but this selection is a particular favorite. With its compact size and attractive foliage, it will work well in any garden.

4. Yewtopia® Japanese Plum Yew

Yewtopia Japanese Plum Yew
Photo: millettephotomedia.com

Name: Cephalotaxis Harringtonia ‘Plania’

Zones: 6-10

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide

Conditions: partial to full shade; Well-drained soil

Local Range: East Asia

This durable conifer has amazing heat and drought tolerance, making it especially suitable for use in southern gardens. I have lost many conifers in my garden due to the recent summer drought, but the Japanese plum yews have persevered. This species is available in many forms suitable for a variety of landscape uses, but Yewtopia┬« is a particular favorite. Its compact size, upright form, and easy-to-run vase habit make it a great addition to almost any shade scheme, and I’ve used it in shade containers with great success. Did I mention it’s also deer resistant?


Hayes Jackson is an urban regional extension agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and director of Longleaf Botanical Gardens in Anniston, Alabama.

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