Evergreens and Conifers for Shade

By Susan Eyre

Make the best of sheltered spots in your garden with our list of shade-loving conifers.

Weiye tan i Huq Zk8 N Zo0 unsplash

Conifers made for full, deep, dark shade: 3 hours or less of sun

Taxus baccata

- ‘Dwarf Bright Gold’: irregular upright yew with golden color

Taxus cuspidata

- ‘Nana Aurescens’: low flat yew with golden edges

- ‘Amersfoort’: vase-shaped habit with rounded leaves

Taxus x media

- ‘Viridis’: narrow dwarf form

- ‘Stovepipe’: seedling of Hick’s yew

The conifer, Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis 'Albo-spica')
The conifer, Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis 'Albo-spica')

Tsuga canadensis

- ‘Albo-spica’: intermediate spreader with pure white tips

- ‘Bennett’: low spreading, graceful dwarf hemlock

- ‘Cole’s Prostrate': prostrate, dark green needles, exposed branches

- ‘Everitt Golden’: dwarf upright with bright golden foliage

- ‘Gentsch White’: slow-growing, globose with white tips

- ‘Horsford Contorted’: dwarf hemlock with twisted branches

- ‘Jeddeloh’: bright green spreading mound

- ‘Jervis’: extremely slow-growing upright, congested growth

- ‘Kelsey Weeping’: strongly asymmetrical form

- ‘Pendula’: graceful dark green cascade; stake to desired height

- ‘Stewart’s Gem’: bun-shaped dwarf with cinnamon tips

- ‘Stockman’s Dwarf’: dwarf horizontal grower

Tsuga caroliniana

- ‘Mountain Mist Sister’: superb weeping hemlock, longer needles

Tsuga diversifolia

- Dark green foliage, known as the rice hemlock from Northern Japan. Grows wide as tall and does not burn in sun

• Evergreen broadleafs

- Buxus ‘Green Mound’

- Rhododendrons and Azaleas

The conifer, Norway Spruce (Picea abies 'Acrocona')
The conifer, Norway Spruce (Picea abies 'Acrocona')

Conifers made for partial shade: 4–6 hours of sun

• Picea abies

- ‘Acrocona’: irregular weeping form with purple pink cones on branch tips in spring

- ‘Pusch’: witch’s broom of Acrocona, tiny pink cones in spring

- ‘Clanbrassiliana Stricta’: superior pyramid for the landscape

- ‘Cobra’: bizarre tree with rat-tail branches; forms a skirt

- ‘Elegans’: low flat, nesting spruce with early bud break

- ‘Hillside Upright’: irregular form, dark green congested needles

- ‘Weeping Blue’: upright grower with pendulous branches

Pinus strobus

- ‘Blue Shag’: soft, blue-green needles, with slow mounding habit

- ‘Fastigiata’: narrow upright form that becomes large

- ‘Hershey’: dwarf form from witch’s broom at the Hershey Estate, PA

- ‘Horsford’: slow-growing globe, mounding habit on standard

- ‘Niagara Falls’: dense habit with pendulous cascading branches

Pseudotsuga menziesii

- ‘Emerald Twister’: upright form with twisted branches

- ‘Fletcheri’: blue-green, irregular upright dwarf

- ‘Fastigiata’: narrow upright form

- ‘Graceful Grace’: blue-green, upright dramatic weeping form

The conifer, Dwarf Eastern Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis 'Linesville')
The conifer, Dwarf Eastern Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis 'Linesville')

• Thuja occidentalis

- ‘Degroot’s Spire’: tight, dark green upright, narrow dwarf

- ‘Yellow Ribbon’: narrow upright, tight with bright yellow color

- ‘Hetz Midget’: dwarf dense green globe

- ‘Linesville’: aka ‘Mr. Bowling Ball’: globe with juvenile

Conifers made for morning sun (area that gets cool morning sun and is shaded in afternoon from hottest sun)

• Abies koreana

- ‘Aurea’: spectacular golden pyramid

- ‘Green Carpet’: prostrate form with purple cones in spring

• Picea glauca

- ‘Conica’: dense conical, dwarf Alberta spruce

- ‘Jeans Dilly’: superior dwarf form of Alberta spruce

The conifer, Dwarf Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca 'Conica')
The conifer, Dwarf Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca 'Conica')

• Picea orientalis

- ‘Connecticut Turnpike’: irregular windswept habit

- ‘Fat Boy’: dwarf pyramidal form, dark green foliage

• Pinus cembra

- ‘Glauca Nana’: great blue-green with a slower growth rate

- ‘Pygmaea’: dwarf compact form with great blue color

- ‘Stricta’: columnar form with fastigiated branches

• Pinus parviflora

- ‘Bergman’: unique Japanese white pine with twisted needles

- ‘Fukuzumi’: compact, wide spreader

The conifer, Japanese White Pine (Pinus parviflora 'Bergman')
The conifer, Japanese White Pine (Pinus parviflora 'Bergman')

Japanese Maples & deciduous trees and shrubs

• Acer griseum

- Paperbark maple, cinnamon exfoliating bark, red fall color

• Acer palmatum

- ‘Red Emperor’: dark red foliage all summer

- ‘Twombley’s Red Sentinel’: narrow form, great color, bright
red in fall

• Acer palmatum var. dissectum

- ‘Seiryu’: green leaves, reddish tips in spring, crimson in fall

• Acer japonicum

- ‘Aconitifolium’: green in summer, yellow-orange-red in fall

• Acer shirsawanum

- ‘Aureum’: full moon maple, yellow palm-shaped leaves, orange-red in fall

• Aesculus parviflora

- Bottlebrush buckeye with white flowers in mid-summer

• Cercidiphylum japonicum

- ‘Pendula’: Graceful pendulous branches, dramatic

• Fagus sylvatica

- ‘Purpurea Tricolor’: fabulous European beech, a must-have in your garden

• Ginkgo biloba

- ‘Mariken’: slow-growing compact round form of Ginkgo

Hamamelis x intermedia

- ‘Firecracker’: a witchhazel which blooms reddish-orange in early spring

Perennials for shade

Hosta, Astilbe, bleeding heart, perennial geranium, fern, Pulmonaria, Hakonechloa grass, Heuchera.

Planting in the understory of existing trees: Roots of existing trees will compete for water, so you must remember to water frequently for more than the first year. Trying to get established in existing root masses can take longer.

Check growth rates and hardiness zones of trees on our website at Rich's Foxwillow Pines Nursery. Sign up for our newsletter and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

Conifer photographs from Rich's Foxwillow Pines Nursery. Thumbnail photograph by Weiye Tan on Unsplash.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of Conifer Quarterly. Join the American Conifer Society to access our extensive library of conifer-related articles and connect to a nationwide group of plant lovers! Become a member for only $40 a year and get discounts with our growing list of participating nurseries in our Nursery Discount Program.


Mary Stasson

I'm looking for a pine, fir or yew to add to my hedgerow for birds and pollinators. I need something 6 to 12' tall that can handle part sun. Will be planted with Eastern Wahoo, Viburnum Trilobum, and a row of dogwoods. Can you help me? Nothing too large!

Maxwell Cohn

all of the plants in the list above will work for you. You should try going to a good garden center and see what's available locally.


Hi there. Loving this page with great information! Can you help clarify some things that I'm looking for. I live in MD, zone 6 or 7 I believe. Do any of these at 3ft or higher do well in a container? I just don't have much yard. It's a small space with almost all patio. Looking for a cool conifer to offer a little privacy. Thank you!


Maxwell Cohn

yes ... any conifer will work in a container for a few years and indefinitely if you apply Bonsai techniques such as root pruning and judiciously shifting pot size as they grow.


Hello I have a Pinus parviflora 'Bergman' that I bought it is 6 feet tall, and 4 feet wide from Iseli.

On their website it says full sun. Here it says morning sun (area that gets cool morning sun and is shaded in afternoon from hottest sun).

I am a bit confused. I thought that full sun is sun from morning sun to sunset?

I would like it to keep a good balance of deep green and blue needles.

Thank You for the help!


Morning light is the quintessential site for most gardeners. Full sun is a plants ability to withstand full sun. Superior color is soil nutrient driven.

Mavis Deeley

Hello! Hope you can advise me please. We have a small garden with a large building on the east which causes partial shade for several hours a day. Can you please recommend a single evergreen conifer with dense green foliage. Ideally we would like a "Christmas tree" shape of about 3 feet to plant now but one which would grow reasonably slowly, thus providing a feature among other shrubs. I would be grateful for your help. Many thanks.

Maxwell Cohn

you should try one of the dwarf Sciadopitys ... they're naturally an understory plant.

Cynthia Pugh

I am looking for one or two varieties of evergreen trees to plant on the edge of a narrow wood that borders our yard. I am hoping for specimens that would be beautiful/interesting among tall deciduous trees (30+ feet). They would get very limited afternoon sun (less than 3 hours). I live in zone 7, in Bethesda Maryland. I am happy talk more about the sites, if you like.
Thanks so much for your help!


Do any of the above get cones or berries? Do any of them require both male and female tree for cones or berries?

Maxwell Cohn

yes; most of them will develop seed cones at some point. Cross pollination is only really necessary if your goal is fertile seed in the cones.

Steve H

Any suggestions for a smallish (can grow tall, but only approx. 6 ft wide) deer resistant (as possible: I have a lot of deer!) native, narrow, lots of shade tolerant conifer (easy, huh?!). Cultivar is fine.



Tough situation. Where are you (zone)? Red spruce isn't exactly narrow but is quite slow growing so will take many years before it may outgrow your space. Not native but I'd personally go with a Silberlocke Korean fir. Beautiful, moderate grower, doesn't need much sun, quite deer resistant. Care free. Just keep an eye out for red squirrels chewing off branches with the awesome cones.


I see you're saying LOTS of shade so the Korean fir might not be appropriate. Some of mine get 4 hours of sun and are doing great. The Red spruce will work though.

Gabe Santoriello

First time on this site and so excited this exists. I love conifers!
Question. I am designing a landscape for an apartment building in the Bronx.
The front bed is about 1.5' by 10'. It gets some dappled sun throughout the day (mostly shade really) but then will get almost full sun in winter when the deciduous trees on the block drop their leaves. Will the deep shade plants work here? Or just some?

Susan Eyre

If you have 3 hours of sun or less per day, use boxwoods, hemlocks, or yews. Don't worry about winter sun. The trees are dormant. There are many dwarf varieties to choose from. Hostas and other shade perennials would be appropriate also.