The Q&A Archives: shrubs for shade

Question: What can I plant on the north side of our house as a foundation planting? We are in Zone 8b. I am trying to find something that will get 3 to 4 ft tall and will grow well in mostly shade. Our house sits at an angle facing SW so the amount of light changes considerably throughout the year. Thank you.

Answer: Here are some shrubs to consider:
Hardy Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) is a carefree shrub that no garden should be without. One of the best native American shrubs, Summersweet has everything. Carefree, with sweet smelling summer blooms of pink, white, or deep-rose, Summersweet is pest and disease free. Prefers slightly acid, sandy soil and full sun, but tolerates clay and dense shade. Late summer/early fall bloom. Zone: 3-9. Height: 4-6 feet.

Mophead Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla): Also known as Lacecap, Bigleaf, or French hydrangea, this Japanese transplant is a most popular and easy to grow summer flowering shrub. With its huge, leathery leaves and abundance of showy flowers, the big leaf hydrangea is a sight to behold in the heat of summer. From early blooming 'Forever Pink' to unbelievably hardy (to zone 4) 'Endless Summer,' the blooms of this breathtaking shrub keep on cranking out all summer long. Hydrangeas love acid, moist, loamy soil which will produce deep blue flowers; however the mophead will also grow well in alkaline soil, producing pink flowers. White blooms remain white, no matter the soil pH. There are also new cultivars, such as 'Lemon Daddy' which sports leaves of bright chartreuse, and 'Little Honey' bursts from the ground with radiant gold leaves in summer, which turn scarlet in fall. Hydrangea macrophylla comes in a variety of sizes from 3 feet, for the little garden, all the way up to 6 feet for the larger garden. Disease free and lovely, no garden needs to be without the mophead hydrangea. It is a plant that will make your summer garden the talk of the town. Part shade in the south, to full sun in the far north. Zone: 4-9.

Oak-Leaf Hydrangea (H. quercifolia ?Snow Queen?): What is not to like about the Oak-Leaf Hydrangea? Dark green leathery leaves and huge 12 to 15 inch panicles of snow-white blooms just begin to appear when the summer garden is beginning to look spent. A vigorous grower to 10 feet high, it is highly pest and disease resistant, and thrives in full sun or deep shade. In fall, foliage turns a deep rich burgundy, and in winter, the exposed bark and dried flower heads are eye-catching. For the smaller garden consider H. quercifolia ('Pee Wee'), which grows a mere 4 feet high and 3 feet wide. Plant in mass, about 4 feet apart. Zone: 5-9.

Kerria Japonica: (K. Japonica): If you have a wooded lot with dense shade, this is the summer shrub for you. This tough, disease free, small woody plant bursts into a mass of golden blooms in early summer, continues intermittently all summer, then explodes again in fall. Looks lovely under the trees in a woodland garden. A real show-stopper, the Kerria Japonica will give you years of pleasure, as it slowly grows to a mere 5 feet. Kerria Japonica is evergreen all year, in all but the most northern gardens. Zone: 5-8

Blue Mist Shrub (Caryopteris): This small, aromatic, deciduous (dropping leaves in winter) shrub is perfect for low hedges or the sunny edge of the woodland garden. Almost unreal in its visual impact, when planted 'en masse' (in groups) the breathtaking varieties of the blue mist shrub include 'Summer Sorbet' with variegated foliage, 'Sunshine Blue' with a deeper blue bloom and golden foliage, and even a pink called 'Pink Chablis.' Blue mist shrub is heat and drought tolerant, once established, and it blooms from summer through fall in full sun to part-shade. Not fussy about soil, this breathtaking shrub is a magnet to butterflies. Height 2-3 feet with late summer to fall blooms. Zone varies: 4-8

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