When choosing fast-growing shrubs for shady sites in your landscape, determine the plants' mature size and spread. Shrubs that grow quickly can often overwhelm a space and may require regular pruning and shaping. Other considerations include shrub preferences, such as soil types, moisture needs, sunlight requirements, and cold- and heat-hardiness, as determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's plant hardiness zone map.
Evergreen Shrubs for Partial Shade
Partially shaded sites receive about two or three hours of direct sunlight in the summer between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. The spreading euonymous (Euonymus kiautschovicus) thrives in semishade and moist, well-drained soil. This semi-evergreen to evergreen shrub grows to 10 feet high and, despite its name, only spreads from 4 to 6 feet. A rounded shrub, the spreading euonymus has glossy, deep-green foliage and attracts bees with its white summer flowers.
The Fruitland eleagnus (Elaeagnus pungens "Fruitlandii") also grows in partial shade. This drought-tolerant shrub has blue-green, wavy foliage and blooms in fall with fragrant, white flowers followed by red berries. Hardy in zones 7 to 10, this eleagnus grows to 10 feet tall and tolerates a range of soils.
Deciduous Shrubs for Partial Shade
Shrubs that prefer partial shade can also be planted in sites that receive no direct sunlight but experience a shifting, equal pattern of sun and shade all day long. The spreading cotoneaster thrives in partial shade and moist, well-drained soil. Hardy in zones 4 to 7, this shrub grows to 6 feet tall with an 8-foot spread and blooms with small, pink flowers in summer followed by red fruits.
The winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) grows best in moist, well-drained soil. A 6- to 10-foot-tall shrub, this honeysuckle blooms with lemon-scented white flowers in winter. Winter honeysuckles tolerate drought and severe pruning and are hardy in zones 4 to 8.
Evergreen Shrubs for Full Shade
Fully shaded sites only receive indirect or reflected sunlight and are often found under dense tree canopies or building overhangs. Not many fast-growing evergreens grow well in full shade, but exceptions include the bearberry cotoneaster (Cotoneaster dammeri). Though it prefers partial shade, this cotoneaster tolerates full shade and a range of soils. This small shrub grows to 2 feet with a 6-foot spread and has dark-green leaves that turn red to purple in winter. Bearerry cotoneasters are hardy in zones 5 to 7.
The adaptable Foster holly (Ilex x attenuate) can grow in shade to full sun and zones 6 to 9. Foster hollies grow to 25 feet tall with a 12-foot spread and have lustrous, deep-green foliage. Foster hollies produce red berries in winter.
Deciduous Shrubs for Full Shade
When selecting deciduous shrubs for fully shaded sites, choose species with light coloured flowers, as deeper hues like blue and red can fade into the shade. The American bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) grows to 12 feet with an equal spread. This fast-growing shrub tolerates full shade sites and wet soil and is hardy in zones 4 to 7. They produce small, white flowers in mid- to late spring.
The black jetbead (Rhodotypos scandens) also tolerates full shade. It prefers moist, well-drained soil but can thrive in slightly alkaline sites. Hardy in zones 5 to 7, the black jetbead grows to 6 feet with an 8-foot spread and blooms with white summer flowers followed by shiny, black berries.
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- Texas A&M; University: Large Shrubs
- Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service; Shrubs for Shady Spots; Jeff Bedwell
- University of Illinois Extension: Selecting Shrubs for Your Home Full Shade
- North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension; Shrubs; Erv Evans
- University of Connecticut; Plant Database of Trees Shrubs and Vines; Mark H. Brand