Shade loving ornamental trees

Updated February 21, 2017

A shady garden can present a challenge to gardeners, struggling to find plants tolerant of minimal sunlight. Several available options, though, will allow you to complement a shade garden filled with shade-loving flowers such as Virginia bluebells and bleeding heart. To select the best ornamental tree, know the degree of shade that your garden receives and how well your soil drains. Many shade-loving trees do quite well in moist soils and can tolerate a range of shady conditions from partial to full shade.


Yews are evergreen ornamental trees, very tolerant of medium to dense shade. They prefer moist, well-drained soils. There are benefits to adding yews to your garden. Yews are very tolerant of pruning and shearing, allowing you to control how big they get rather easily. Since they are evergreens, they provide year-round colour and enjoyment. Be aware, though, that red yew berries are poisonous.


Several varieties of ornamental dogwood trees are available. Flowering dogwood is perhaps the most familiar, reaching heights of about 25 feet. The pink or white flowers of the dogwood tree are quite showy, adding interest to the shade garden. The red-osier variety has bright red stems, supplying year-round colour. It is a hardy tree that will also provide winter food for wildlife with its berries. Unlike the yew, the flowering dogwood is not as tolerant of pruning.


Redbuds, native to the eastern United States, are very attractive shade-loving ornamental trees that provide stunning spring colour with their purple-pink flowers. Although it is shade tolerant, the redbud will also tolerate full sun conditions. It has a relatively short trunk and produces heart-shaped leaves. Redbud has some wildlife value, providing food for some songbirds. Cultivars with variegated or maroon flowers are also available.


The sycamore, also known as buttonwood or plane tree, is a good addition to shaded water gardens, being very tolerant of moist soil conditions. It is a fast-growing tree, capable of reaching heights up to 60 feet. Its mottled tan-and-grey bark makes it an attractive ornamental tree. Sycamore roots can be invasive.


There are several cultivated varieties of the shade-tolerant serviceberry. In addition to providing colour with its lovely white spring flowers, serviceberry supplies habitat and food resources for wildlife. It is a small deciduous tree, reaching heights up to 25 feet. Its purple berries are edible, suitable for jams and jellies. In some areas, serviceberry is cultivated for its fruit.

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About the Author

Chris Dinesen Rogers has been online marketing for more than eight years. She has grown her own art business through SEO and social media and is a consultant specializing in SEO and website development. Her past work experience includes teaching pre-nursing students beginning biology, human anatomy and physiology. Rogers's more than 10 years in conservation makes her equally at home in the outdoors.