10+ low maintenance shrubs for shade landscaping

Not many of us have the time required to keep a perfectly manicured yard (and nor do we want to). If your yard has a shady spot that could do with a bit of low-effort landscaping, here are some low-maintenance shrubs for shade to consider. These lovely plants are easy to take care of without any special gardening skills. Other than watering, most require only optional maintenance like annual pruning, mulching, and the occasional fertilizer application.

Boxwoods in the shade

1. Boxwood

Boxwood (Buxus spp.) is an excellent choice for homeowners seeking a low-maintenance option for shaded areas. Its ability to thrive in both partial and full shade makes it versatile for various landscaping scenarios, such as under trees or near buildings.

Boxwoods require minimal care, typically involving annual pruning to maintain their shape and a spring fertilizer application for healthy growth. This ease of maintenance, combined with their resilience in various climates (USDA zones 5 through 9), makes growing them a practical choice for those with limited time or gardening expertise​​.

In addition to their low maintenance appeal when compared to other shrubs for shade, boxwoods are popular in landscaping for their dense, compact foliage. This evergreen shrub provides year-round greenery (and does not require raking up leaves in the fall). The overall durability and decorative appeal of boxwoods make them a favored choice among homeowners looking to balance ease of care with visual appeal in their landscaping​

Yew hedge

2. Yew

Yew (Taxus spp.) stands out as a prime choice for homeowners seeking a low-maintenance plant for shaded areas. These incredibly long-lived shrubs adapt well to various soil types and shaded environments, including full and partial shade. Yews require minimal upkeep, generally involving annual pruning to control size and shape, ideally in late winter or early spring. In poorer soils, a spring application of evergreen fertilizer suffices. Yew grows best in zones 4 through 7.

Homeowners often favor yew shrubs for their dense, needle-like foliage and striking red berries, which provide year-round visual interest. Their ability to withstand heavy pruning makes them highly versatile for creating hedges. The yew’s ornamental qualities, coupled with its durability and ease of maintenance, make it a popular choice for those looking to enhance their landscape with minimal effort

Pruning a euonymus - mary jane duford

3. Euonymus

Euonymus (Euonymus spp.) is an ideal selection for a plant that will flourish in shaded conditions, such as under trees or on north-facing walls (as pictured above). This shrub requires relatively little care, benefiting from occasional pruning to shape the plant and encourage fuller growth.

Homeowners often choose Euonymus for its attractive foliage, which adds color and texture to shaded garden areas. The variety of Euonymus species offers a range of colors and patterns, allowing for creative landscaping designs. This ornamental appeal, combined with the plant’s adaptability and low care needs, makes Euonymus a popular choice for enhancing the aesthetic of shaded areas in residential landscapes​

Blue princess holly plant

4. Holly

Holly (Ilex spp.) is adept at thriving in lower light conditions while still maintaining their vibrant foliage and fruit. This makes them particularly valuable for bringing color and life to shaded parts of the garden. Their care is straightforward, typically involving annual pruning in late winter or early spring and the application of balanced fertilizer in the spring to promote healthy foliage and berry production​​.

The classic look of holly, especially around the holiday season, adds a festive touch to gardens. It’s important to note that hollies are dioecious, meaning both male and female plants are needed for berry production. Most are sold with the female and male plants labeled (such as Blue Prince beside Blue Princess). One male plant can pollinate up to six (or so) nearby female plants.


5. Viburnum

Viburnum (Viburnum spp.) can tolerate and thrive in partial to full shade, making them a versatile choice for different garden spots. They generally prefer well-drained, fertile soil and are hardy in a wide range of climates (USDA zones 2 through 9).

Annual maintenance is relatively simple, primarily involving the occasional watering during dry spells​​. You can also prune the shrub after flowering to maintain shape and encourage bushier growth. Lastly, as this shrub is deciduous, you’ll have to rake up its fallen leaves in autumn.

Huckleberry (vaccinium)

6. Huckleberry

Huckleberry (Vaccinium spp.) prospers in dappled sunlight or partial shade, as it is naturally accustomed to understory habitats. Hardy in cooler climates (USDA zones 3 through 7), these plants require minimal care, focusing mainly on mulching to retain soil moisture and light pruning to remove dead or overcrowded branches. You’ll also have to rake up the leaves in the fall.

Apart from its low maintenance qualities, homeowners are drawn to Huckleberry for its dual purpose of attractive foliage and edible berries. The plant adds a natural, rustic charm to landscaping, and the berries it produces are not only visually appealing but also a delightful bonus for home gardening.

Buying arborvitae shrubs

7. Arborvitae

Arborvitae (Thuja spp.) is an excellent option for homeowners seeking a low-maintenance, shade-tolerant plant. Although it prefers sun, certain varieties of Arborvitae can adapt to partial shade, especially in hot climates where afternoon shade is beneficial.

This shrub is hardy in a wide range of climates (USDA zones 2 through 7), and its maintenance is relatively straightforward. It requires minimal pruning, occasional checks for pests or diseases, and a balanced fertilizer application in early spring, making it an easy-care choice for various garden settings​​. The Arborvitae’s ability to serve as a functional and decorative element, combined with its adaptability to different light conditions and minimal care requirements, makes it a favored choice for both practical and ornamental purposes in home landscaping

“Regular watering during dry periods and some fertilizing during the growing season will satisfy the needs of most shrubs.”

Selecting Shrubs for Shady Areas, by U.S. Department of Agriculture

8. Mahonia

Mahonia (Mahonia spp.) is a superb choice for homeowners in search of a low-maintenance, shade-loving plant. Suited to understory conditions, Mahonia flourishes with limited sunlight, thriving in partial to full shade. It requires little care, mainly involving pruning in late winter or early spring to shape the plant and occasional mulching to retain soil moisture. This ease of maintenance, along with its hardiness in USDA zones 5 through 9, makes it an appealing option for shaded garden areas​​.

Homeowners are often attracted to Mahonia for its striking, holly-like leaves and bright yellow flowers, which add a splash of color to shaded spots in the garden. The plant’s natural resilience and unique ornamental qualities make it an attractive choice for adding visual interest and diversity to landscapes. Additionally, Mahonias require little to no added fertilizer, further enhancing their appeal as a low-maintenance yet visually impactful option for residential landscaping​


9. Abelia

Abelia (Abelia spp.) is another shade-tolerant flowering evergreen to consider. It thrives in well-drained soil and is hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 9. Its ease of maintenance is a significant draw, requiring only annual pruning in late winter or early spring to promote new growth and maintain the desired shape.

Homeowners often select Abelia for its ornamental value, particularly its small pink flowers and long blooming period. The shrub’s arching branches contribute to a graceful and attractive appearance in the landscape. Its capacity to provide continuous blooms and vibrant foliage in less sunny areas makes it a popular choice for brightening up shaded corners of the garden.

Sarcococca - sweet box

10. Sweetbox

Sweet box (Sarcococca) is a low-growing evergreen that thrives in partial to full shade, making it ideal for understory planting or dark corners of the landscape. It requires minimal care, typically involving light pruning after flowering to maintain its shape and encourage healthy growth.

In addition to its low-maintenance appeal, homeowners are drawn to sweet box for its fragrant winter flowers and glossy leaves. The sweet fragrance of its blooms during the colder months provides a sensory delight, rare in winter-blooming plants.

Cornus canadensis - bunchberry

11. Bunchberry

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is an excellent choice for homeowners looking for a low-growing plant that excels in shaded conditions. It naturally thrives in dappled sunlight or full shade, making it well-suited for shaded woodland areas.

Its maintenance is minimal, primarily involving keeping the soil consistently moist and occasionally thinning the oldest branches to maintain its health and appearance. This low-demand care routine, combined with its adaptability to cooler climates (USDA zones 2 through 7), makes Bunchberry an ideal choice for gardeners seeking simplicity and effectiveness in their shaded garden spaces​​.

Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a quintessential Canadian gardener. An engineer by trade, she tends to an ever-expanding collection of plants. In her world, laughter blooms as freely as her flowers, and every plant is raised with a dash of Canadian grit.

Mary Jane is a certified Master Gardener and also holds a Permaculture Design Certificate. She's also a proud mom of three, teaching her little sprouts the crucial difference between a garden friend and foe.

When she's not playing in the dirt, Mary Jane revels in her love for Taylor Swift, Gilmore Girls, ice hockey, and the surprisingly soothing sounds of bluegrass covers of classic hip-hop songs. She invites you to join her garden party, a place where you can share in the joy of growing and where every day is a new opportunity to find the perfect spot for yet another plant.

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