University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Many of us have at least some, if not most, of our landscape in shade.  Although perennials are most often thought of for shady sites, there are some good shrub choices as well.  Rhododendrons and azaleas are most often thought of for a shade garden, but other hardy shrub choices include daphne, Caroline allspice, drooping leucothoe, dwarf fothergilla, mountain laurel, mountain pieris, redvein enkianthus, Virginia sweetspire, and witch hazel.

Caroline allspice (Calycanthus floridus) is native to the southeastern U.S. so is hardy only to USDA zone 5 (-10 to –20F average minimum) where it can reach about eight feet high and wide.  It will tolerate full sun to part shade, and moist soils to some drought once established.    The main attractions are the yellow fall color, and the reddish brown flowers in late spring with a scent of strawberries. ‘Athens’ and ‘Michael Lindsey’ are two cultivars (cultivated varieties) you might look for.

Daphne (Daphne burkwoodii) is most often seen as the cultivar (cultivated variety) ‘Carol Mackii’.  Although often short lived (five to ten years), its creamy-margined leaves brighten up part shade and its sweetly scented flowers are effective near patios and windows.  It reaches two to three feet high and wide, and is effective in masses. Daphne needs a moist, but well-drained soil in USDA zone 4 or warmer (-20 to –30F average minimum).
Redvein enkianthus (Enkianthus campanulatus) is named for the red veins in the urn-shaped flowers which are otherwise creamy with reddish tips.  These hang in clusters in spring from ends of branches where the leaves are clustered as well.  Plants can reach six to ten feet high and a bit less wide.  ‘Red Bells’ is a cultivar with more red in flowers and in the bright fall colors.  Consider this shrub if you live in USDA zone 5 or warmer.

Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) is a multi-stemmed shrub two to three feet high, with deep green leaves in summer which turn reds to yellows in fall. Slightly fragrant bottlebrush flowers appear before leaves in spring.  This plant forms a nice thicket in masses in moist, well-drained soils in USDA zone 5 and warmer. ‘Appalachia’ is a slightly shorter cultivar.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis) has several species and cultivars which reach six to ten feet.  They are noted for their late winter yellow, strap-like and scented flowers and yellowish fall color.  These prefer moist, acid, and well-drained soils but will tolerate poor soils.  Plants are more dense in sun, more open in part shade.  While ‘Pallida’ with pale yellow flowers is marginally hardy in USDA zone 5, others such as ‘Arnold Promise’ with gold flowers, ‘Diane’ with russet red flowers, and ‘Jelena’ with copper flowers should be hardy to zone 5.

Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) is named from the spires, up to six inches long, of sweetly-scented white flowers in late spring to early summer.  This species is found in the south, where it is native, along ponds which indicates it can take periodic flooding even though it prefers well-drained soils.  Tolerating part shade, the fall colors are brighter in full sun.  It can reach eight feet tall, but usually the species and cultivars are three to four feet high.  Marginally hardy in USDA zone 5, the cultivars ‘Henry’s Garnet’ with wine red fall leaves, and ‘Morton’ with scarlet fall leaves are slightly more hardy.

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is an evergreen shrub from the eastern U.S. which can reach 8 to 15 feet high and wide, but generally is a bit less. Depending on cultivar and location, you may see flowers in late spring to mid summer.  These are the main attraction, found in clusters near branch tips.  White to pink in nature, flowers in the many cultivars may also have reds and combinations of bud and flower colors. This evergreen needs protection from winter winds, and from reflected light if in full sun.  Dappled shade is best, as is an acid, well-drained soil.  The species and cultivars may be marginally hardy in USDA zone 4.

Drooping leucothoe (Leucothoe fontanesiana) has arching stems about three feet high and six feet wide.  It is attractive at woodland edges in part shade with its dark green pointed evergreen leaves, and white urn-shaped flowers drooping along stems. Plant where this species can grow naturally with no pruning, where it is protected from winter winds which cause leaves to brown, and in acid soils. The species, the shorter cultivar ‘Nana’, and the variegated ‘Girard’s Rainbow’ all are hardy to USDA zone 5.

Mountain pieris (Pieris japonica) is an evergreen shrub that may be hardy to USDA zone 4 (floribunda) or zone 5 (japonica). While the former is native to the southeastern U.S., most cultivars are of the latter species.  Clusters of white, scented flowers in spring resemble lilies-of –the-valley.  These plants prefer part shade, but tolerate some sun.  They prefer moist, well-drained, acid soils but will tolerate some alkalinity (higher pH).  Most reach about three to five feet high and wide.  Some of the cultivars to look for include the dwarf ‘Cavatine’, ‘Dorothy Wyckoff’ with rosy winter buds opening light pink, ‘Mountain Fire’ with bright red new growth, the pink flowered ‘Valley Valentine’, and the dwarf ‘Prelude’ with pink buds opening white.

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