Finding fast growing shrubs for shade is somewhat challenging, because many more fast-growers do best in sun. Focus on vigorous, hardy plants that thrive in most parts of the country. Somewhere in the mix, you'll find just the right bushes for your own yard. Also notice what grows well in neighbours’ shady yards and in the shade section of local nurseries. Protect “part shade” shrubs from afternoon sun.
Nandina domestica, heavenly bamboo, is a surprisingly adaptable, reasonably fast-growing shrub that does well in partial shade, though sun encourages redder fall foliage. Large, lacy panicles of white flowers mature into clusters of round red berries by fall. Bamboo-like stems and leaves seem delicate but are tough. Shrubs grow 12 to 24 inches per year and can reach 10 feet tall, depending on the cultivar and growing conditions. Nandina loses its leaves at -12.2 degrees Celsius, but otherwise adds winter cheer.
European Cranberry Viburnum
The deciduous European cranberry viburnum, or Viburnum opulus, is a fast-growing large shrub that does well in shade. Multi-stemmed with a spreading habit, this rounded viburnum grows to 15 feet tall and equally wide with maple-like leaves that turn from dark green to yellow, red or purple in autumn. Bright red fall berries last into winter.
The upright evergreen leatherleaf mahonia, or Mahonia bealie, grows to 10 feet tall and does well in morning sun and shade. Lemon yellow, fragrant flowers bloom in early spring. Gray-green leaves lighten in winter, providing contrast to purple-blue berries.
Fast-growing Foster holly, or Ilex x attenuate, does well in shade and full sun and grows to 20 or 25 feet tall. Leaves are evergreen and frame red berries in winter. Grown as a shrub, Foster holly would work well as a barrier shrub or privacy screen.
Oakleaf hydrangea, or Hydrangea quercifolia, is a dramatic shade shrub with large white flower panicles, oak-like leaves, cinnamon brown bark and burgundy fall foliage. Shrubs do well in light to medium shade and grow to 8 feet tall.
The deciduous bigleaf or French hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla, has big pink or blue flowers, depending on soil pH. These fast-growing shrubs can grow to 12 feet tall, with a large, rounded form. They do best with only morning sun.
Amur maple, Acer ginnala, tolerates partial shade, dry sites and poor soils but requires well-drained soils. Shrubs grow to 15 feet tall and feature bright fall foliage in shades of yellow, orange and intense reds.