Evergreens and Conifers for Shade

By Susan Eyre

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

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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.