Great Shrubs for Shady Gardens in the Mid-Atlantic Region
Regional Gardening, Best Shrubs, Mid-Atlantic Gardening
Shade gardens can appear like a planting challenge for some gardeners. They might not be aware of the wide variety of gorgeous shade-loving plants that will thrive in filtered light or deep shade.
How to define shade? Generally speaking, a full shade garden receives less than 2 hours of light per day. A part shade garden receives between 2 and 6 hours of sunlight and is shaded for the rest of the day.
Below is the list of shrub species and cultivars that are shade tolerant and will add beautiful color in the shady corners of your Mid-Atlantic garden. As you will note, some are top performers and have received prestigious awards.
When choosing plants, remember to pay attention to their foliage in order to create combinations of long-lasting appeal. While most shrubs produce flowers, paying particular attention to their foliage will ensure a planting that is attractive all season.
Shrubs for Shady Gardens in the Mid-Atlantic Region
Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea (Purple Japanese Barberry) is always a spectacular addition to the landscape where it brings a strong color accent from spring to fall. This dense, arching, deciduous shrub features broadly oval, reddish-purple leaves which turn into brilliant red or red-orange shades in the fall. Tiny, scented, pale yellow flowers appear in mid-late spring, followed by an abundant crop of bright red berries in the fall.
Compact, Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruticosa' (Boxwood) is a small, slow-growing, broadleaf evergreen shrub with a soft and lush foliage of ovate, fairly glossy leaves, up to 1 in. long (2 cm). Tough, hardy and easy to grow, this dwarf Boxwood provides color year-round, as well as form, texture and contrast to its companion plants.
Prized for its attractive and sweetly scented winter blooms, Chimonanthus praecox 'Grandiflorus' (Wintersweet) is a vigorous, medium-sized, deciduous shrub which adds beauty and fragrance to the garden when most plants lie dormant. In mid-late winter, a profusion of small, highly fragrant, bowl-shaped, waxy butter-yellow flowers with purple centers appear on the naked branches. They may last until early spring, depending on the winter temperatures. Bushy, this upright, vase-shaped flowering shrub enjoys a slightly arching habit and sports shiny lanceolate, dark green leaves which warm up to yellow in fall.
A truly beautiful shrub with distinctive, bright pink, bottlebrush-like, flower spikes, delightfully fragrant and long-lasting (up to six weeks) in mid-late summer. It also provides great fall color with its lustrous dark green leaves turning glowing yellow. More compact than the species, this hardy shrub should be planted near a patio to enjoy its extremely fragrant summer blooms. Insect and disease-resistant, its flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
Adding a pop of vibrant color in the snowy, dull months of winter, Cornus sericea (Red Osier Dogwood) is a medium-sized ornamental shrub with incredible appeal. Rapidly-growing, adaptable to most soils including wet soils, it enjoys spectacular decorative features : stunning fall color, attractive berries, vibrant red or golden stems and sometimes a lovely variegated summer foliage. A spectacular addition in the garden for most seasons, Red Osier Dogwood certainly adds a WOW! to a winter landscape.
Prized for its delicate fragrant blooms, Corylopsis pauciflora (Buttercup Winterhazel) is a slow-growing medium-sized deciduous shrub of great interest year around. In late winter to early spring, a profusion of scented, pale primrose yellow, bell-shaped flowers in short drooping racemes appear on the naked branches. They persist for several weeks and offer a lovely floral display. After flowering, small, ovate, bright green leaves, bronze when young, emerge for the summer and warm up to yellow in fall. Enjoying a spreading habit, this multi-stemmed, flowering shrub is so dense that it is almost impossible to see through, even in winter.
Prized for its brilliant variegated foliage, Daphne × burkwoodii 'Carol Mackie' (Daphne) is a small, rounded, semi-evergreen shrub with delightfully fragrant clusters of pale pink flowers in late spring. Persisting well into winter, the foliage of oblong, gray-green leaves, 2 in. long (5 cm), is adorned by striking, golden margins that mature to creamy-white. Fluttering above the foliage, the blossoms give way to tiny red fruits in fall. A compact and highly ornamental flowering shrub that is perfect for small gardens.
Enkianthus campanulatus (Redvein Enkianthus) is a handsome, upright, bushy shrub with spectacular fall color and attractive clusters of nodding, bell-shaped, red-veined, creamy-yellow to whitish-pink flowers in late spring to mid summer. Its elliptic, blue-green leaves are crowded in clusters at the branch tips and turn magnificent shades of orange and red in fall. Generally pest and disease free
Noted for its luminous and attractive foliage, Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald 'n' Gold' (Wintercreeper) is a low-growing, broadleaf, evergreen shrub with a spreading habit. It forms a dense, bushy mat of glossy, ovate to elliptic, dark green leaves edged with gold and tinged pink in fall and winter. It produces a few tiny, inconspicuous, greenish flowers in early summer. Winner of the prestigious Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society. Reported to be invasive in natural areas in most of the states in the eastern half of the U.S.
Distinctive for its soft blue summer foliage, Fothergilla gardenii 'Blue Mist' (Dwarf Fothergilla) is a deciduous, dwarf ornamental shrub which adds long-lasting beauty to the landscape during 3 seasons. In spring, this compact, slow-growing, mounded shrub gets beautifully covered with honey-scented, upright, creamy-white bottlebrush-like flowers, 1-2 in. long (2-5 cm), before the leaves emerge. In summer, the foliage of oval leaves is an attractive frosty blue-green, which creates a striking contrast with the other plants. In fall, the foliage usually warms up to a glowing yellow, orange and red, with all colors present in the same leaf.
Noted for its fantastic fall attributes, Hamamelis virginiana (Virginian Witch Hazel) is an erect large, deciduous shrub or small tree, with sweetly-scented, bright yellow flowers in fall. Each flower consists of 4 golden ribbon-like, slightly-twisted, crinkled petals. Clustered along the arching branches, the flowers emerge when you least expect it and may linger on the branches into December. This Witch Hazel sports smooth, broadly oval leaves, which open light green before turning dark green. They warm up to brilliant golden yellow shades in the fall. Smooth gray bark, handsome architecture, colorful fall foliage and floral splendor make Hamamelis virginiana a great addition to the landscape.
State flower of Connecticut, Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel) is a broadleaf evergreen shrub that gets covered with abundant clusters of bright pale pink flowers, opening from deeper pink buds and lasting for several weeks in late spring and early summer. Very showy, the blooms are bell-shaped, white to pink with deep rose spots inside, and give way to brown fruits that persist into winter. The quality year-round foliage of oval, leathery, glossy leaves changes from light-green to dark-green to purple throughout the year and is reminiscent of the leaves of rhododendrons. Grows in a dense and bushy rounded shrub.
Noted for its green winter stems and yellow spring flowers, Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora' (Japanese Kerria) is a vigorous suckering deciduous shrub of great beauty. In spring, it gets covered with bright yellow, pom-pom-like flowers, 2 in. across (5 cm). Borne on slender, arching stems, the blossoms resemble small roses. The foliage of prominently veined, narrow, light green leaves unfolds in the spring. It warms up to yellow in the fall, before falling to the ground, revealing attractive, bright green, winter stems. Highly popular, Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora' is a tough, but graceful flowering shrub that is pleasant in every season.
Beloved for its extraordinarily fragrant winter blooms, Lonicera fragrantissima (Sweetest Honeysuckle) is a bushy deciduous shrub. In late winter to early spring, a profusion of highly fragrant, short-tubed, creamy-white flowers line up along each stem, before the leaves emerge. The flowers give way to small, red berries which mature in late spring to early summer. Bushy, this multi-stemmed flowering shrub enjoys a spreading habit and sports smooth, oval, dark green leaves, which generally remain most of the winter unless the weather gets unusually cold. The rough-textured, pale tan or gray bark on old stems becomes prominent in winter for additional appeal.
Adding color and splendor to the shade garden, Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape Holly) is a striking evergreen shrub with multi-season interest. In spring, racemes of cheerful, bright golden-yellow flowers appear just above the leaves. Lightly fragrant, they attract pollinators before giving way to clusters of dark blue-purple, edible berries in late summer. Resembling small grapes, they attract birds and wildlife. They may be eaten fresh off the plant and make excellent jellies. The lustrous evergreen foliage of holly-like, leathery leaves, emerges bronze-red in spring, matures to glossy dark green by summer before turning deep burgundy in fall. This small ornamental shrub is the State Flower of Oregon.
Noted for its spectacular red berries and excellent foliage color, Nandina domestica (Heavenly Bamboo) is an attractive, small, evergreen or semi-evergreen shrub adding multi-season beauty to the garden. In spring, a profusion of tiny, white flowers adorned with golden anthers appear in long arching panicles at the tips of the branches. Rich in nectar, they attract bees and other pollinators. The flowers are followed by abundant clusters of green berries which ripen to bright red and persist throughout fall and winter. Ornamental and adding winter interest to the landscape, they are held against the lacy foliage which emerges purple, matures soft green and turns purple to reddish-purple in fall. Highly popular in the landscape, Heavenly Bamboo is one of the toughest and most adaptable plants, its berry-laden branches providing a pleasing vertical accent.
Regarded as one of the most fragrant of all Mock Oranges, Philadelphus 'Avalanche' is a multi-stemmed deciduous shrub of great beauty when in bloom. In late spring to early summer, its pleasantly arching branches bear clusters of cup-shaped, 4-petaled, white flowers, 1 in.across (2.5 cm), at their tips. The blossoms stand out against the foliage of oval, dark green leaves. Introduced in 1896, 'Avalanche' is a lovely flowering shrub that deserves a spot where its fragrance can be enjoyed.
An excellent choice for the landscape, Pieris 'Brouwer's Beauty' is a dense, compact, evergreen shrub that provides desirable winter interest, abundant spring blooms and a delightful foliage which holds its color across the seasons. It features deep purplish red flower buds in winter, which contrast nicely with the shiny, dark green foliage, transitioning to a profusion of urn-shaped, pendulous, creamy white flowers held in horizontal trusses at the tips of the branches.
Award-winning Rhus Tiphina Tiger Eyes® is a real standout! Changing with every season, the cut-leaf foliage of this deciduous, suckering shrub emerges chartreuse in spring, matures to bright yellow in the summer and eventually acquires striking orange and scarlet tones in fall. The leaves contrast extremely well with the purplish branches and stems. Cone-shaped panicles of green-yellow flowers bloom in early summer, followed on female plants by dark red fruit in fall.
Perfect for shady gardens, Skimmia japonica (Japanese Skimmia) is a lovely, dense, mounded, evergreen shrub, prized for its fragrant flowers, aromatic leaves and showy fruits. In mid spring, large clusters of fragrant, star-shaped, creamy white flowers, occasionally tinged pink, appear at the branch tips. The pretty blooms of female plants give way to ornamental, glossy, bright red berries that ripen in fall and persist through winter. They contrast beautifully with the evergreen foliage of leathery, lance-shaped, rich green leaves, which is clustered in whorls at the branch ends. When crushed, the aromatic leaves exude a pleasant scent.
Camellia japonica is the predominant species of the genus and counts over 30 000 cultivars in a wide array of flower forms and colors. Its shapely habit, handsome, glossy foliage and fabulous flowers have attracted gardeners for hundreds of years in Japan, China and Korea. The blooms can reach 5 in. across (12 cm) and create a gorgeous floral display usually from late winter to spring. They range in color from purest white to soft pink to darkest red and may be single, semi-double, double, formal double or full peony form.
Camellia sasanqua is one of the loveliest fall flowers, graceful in form, tender in color and pleasing in fragrance. As summer fades and the leaves begin to turn, this camellia opens, with aplomb, the camellia season. The flowers, mostly single or semi-double, are not quite as large and showy as those of Camellia japonica, but they are born in such profusion that a camellia sasanqua in full bloom becomes one of the glories of the fall garden. Never bigger than 3-4 in. (7-10 cm), the scented blooms enjoy fluted, ruffled petals and are usually adorned with a central burst of bright golden-yellow stamens.
Selecting the right shrub variety might be daunting for Mid Atlantic gardeners. If you are looking for beautiful, low-maintenance and hardy plants that thrive in the Mid Atlantic region, you may want to review the guides below. They will assist you in finding the top performing shrubs that are perfectly suited to your garden.
The following is a list of Azaleas and Rhododendrons recognized as proven performers in the Mid-Atlantic region. Most of them have received the Rhododendron of the Year Award of the American Rhododendron Society.
Hardy shrubs are important elements in Mid-Atlantic gardens. They add depth and character to any garden and not only provide lovely blooms, but also attractive berries, showy fall color and food for the birds.
Plant one of these shrubs or small trees and enjoy a spectacular display from late summer through winter. They all possess brightly colored fruits and are an excellent way to brighten the drab winter garden, turning sorry spots into beautiful focal points.
seaonweb / 123RF Stock Photo
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.
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