Woody Plants for Shade Part 5

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

The bright rose flowers of ‘Wine & Roses’ old-fashioned weigela.

Shade gardens are not composed solely of perennials so two years ago I branched out to offer high quality shrubs, vines, and trees to my customers.  In my second Spring 2012 Woody Plant Offer, details here,  I have focused on plants that are late spring or summer blooming and native to our area.  I thought my blog readers who are not customers might be interested in learning about the plants that I would recommend they add to their shade gardens.  And doing an article allows me to add more information and explain why I chose the plants I included so customers might be interested also.

When it blooms in late spring, our native fringe tree is covered with elegant, fragrant flowers.

Fringe tree is a lovely small flowering tree or a large shrub.

I saw native fringe tree, Chionanthus virginicus, in full bloom in the shady woods of Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia recently, and it reminded me of how gorgeous this native tree is.   It is loaded with generous amounts of creamy white, fragrant flowers in May and June.  Its medium green leaves turn a good yellow in the fall.  It may produce showy grape-like fruit attractive to birds.  Fringe tree grows to 12 to 20’ tall and 12 to 20’ wide in sun to part shade, although the tree in Bartram’s Garden was in a very shady site.  It is wet site tolerant, hardy to zone 4, and native to the eastern US, including PA.  It is a  Missouri Botanical Garden Plant of Merit (photos courtesy of MOBOT).


 Our native dwarf summersweet is loaded with fragrant white flowers in summer.

I have seen stands of summersweet growing wild in New England, and it is a beautiful sight.  However, the species gets quite large and suckers into colonies so the native dwarf summersweet ‘Hummingbird’Clethra alnifolia ‘Hummingbird’, is better for most home gardens.  It has very fragrant, bottlebrush, white flowers in June and July that attract butterflies.  Its  lustrous bright green leaves turn a clear yellow in the fall.  It has an excellent compact habit and produces more flowers than the species.

Dwarf summersweet’s habit is much more compact and attractive than the species, and it produces more flowers.

Dwarf summersweet grows to 2 to 4’ tall and 3’ wide in sun to full shade.  It is hardy to zone 4, deer resistant, wet site and salt tolerant, and native to the eastern US, including PA.  It is a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Gold Medal Plant,  click here for details (photos courtesy of the MOBOT Plant Finder, for more information click here).

 ‘Nikko’ dwarf slender deutzia is loaded with white flowers in late spring.

‘Nikko’ lining my rock garden path in full shade.

I have offered ‘Nikko’ dwarf slender deutzia, D. gracilis ‘Nikko’, before, but it is such a useful plant that I couldn’t help including it again.  It is covered with delicate white flowers in April and May.  Its fine-textured and neat green leaves turn an attractive burgundy in the fall.  It is an excellent specimen or flowering groundcover for shade.  I grow it in full shade as a groundcover to edge the path at the base of my winterberry hollies.  ‘Nikko’ grows to 1 to 2’ tall and 2 to 5’ wide in full sun to full shade.  It is hardy to zone 4 and deer resistant.  It is a PHS Gold Medal Plant (for more information click here).

 ‘Invincibelle Spirit’ is a color breakthrough for our native smooth hydrangea.

Native ‘Invincibelle Spirit’ smooth hydrangea, H. arborescens ‘Invincibelle Spirit’, is  a pink-flowered version of the wonderful ‘Annabelle’.  It has very showy large pink snowball flowers that continue to bloom from June into the fall.  ‘Invincibelle Spirit’ grows to 3 to 4’ tall by 3 to 4’ wide in part to full shade.  It is hardy to zone 4, tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions, deer resistant, and native to the eastern US, including PA.  It should be gently pruned in late spring for optimum growth (photo courtesy of the MOBOT Plant Finder, for more information click here).                    

A close up of the large and beautiful flowers and leaves of oakleaf hydrangea.

   Native oakleaf hydrangea in my woodland garden at the base of a black walnut.

The fall color of oakleaf hydrangea.

Our native oakleaf hydrangea, H. quercifolia, is the best all round shrub for shade—everyone should have at least one!  Huge, long-lasting, upright pyramids of white flowers bloom from May through July and change to pink for even longer interest.  It has bold-textured leaves with heart-stopping burgundy-red fall color, and cinnamon-colored exfoliating bark—a true four season plant.  I am offering ‘Alice’ native oakleaf hydrangea, a superior form that has larger flowers, better fall color, and very disease resistant leaves.  It grows to 5 to 8’ tall and 5 to 8’ wide in sun to full shade.  It is hardy to zone 5, walnut and drought tolerant, and native to the southeastern US.  For more information, click here.

The pink mophead flowers of ‘Preziosa’ age to a dark maroon.

‘Preziosa’s’ leaves are gorgeous, here they are starting to turn burgundy in the fall.

‘Preziosa’ sawtooth hydrangea, H. serrata ‘Preziosa’, is now my favorite “fancy” hydrangea for full shade so I am offering it again.  I planted mine in the shade of a white pine under a cherry laurel behind a Japanese maple, and it is thriving and loaded with buds right now.  This wonderful hydrangea produces lovely pink mophead flowers from June to August, which darken with age to a gorgeous maroon.  But I may like the elegant leaves more, especially their beautiful burgundy fall color.   The leaves, deep red stems, flowers, and habit of ‘Preziosa’ are all superior to most other hydrangeas.  ‘Preziosa’ grows to 3 to 4’ tall and 3 to 4’ wide in part to full shade.  It is very tolerant of cold temperatures and hardy to zone 5.  For more information, click here.

 The elegant leaves and flowers of native ‘Blue Muffin’ arrowwood viburnum.

Native ‘Blue Muffin’ arrowwood viburnum, V. dentatum ‘Blue Muffin’,  has lovely flat-topped white flowers in May and June that attract butterflies.  Lots of pea-sized very blue berries appear in late summer and attract birds.  The shiny dark green leaves are beautiful all season and turn attractive shades of orange to burgundy in the fall.  ‘Blue Muffin’ has an excellent and useful narrow, upright habit.  The branches are so straight that the Native Americans used them for arrows. 

‘Blue Muffin’s’ blueberry-like fruit.

‘Blue Muffin’ grows to 5 to 8’ tall and 3 to 4’ wide in sun to part shade.  It is deer resistant and grows in a wide range of soils.  It tolerates salt, drought, and walnuts.  ‘Blue Muffin’ is hardy to zone 3 and native to the eastern US, including PA (fruit photo courtesy of MOBOT, for more information click here).

 The flowers of ‘Wine & Roses’ weigela.

‘Wine & Roses’ old-fashioned weigela, W. florida ‘Wine & Roses’, has copious amounts of eye-catching rose-red flowers in May and June that attract hummingbirds.   The flowers are set off to perfection by the glossy deep burgundy leaves whose color intensifies in the fall.  ‘Wine & Roses’ has an excellent habit—you can prune it immediately after flowering to fit any location.  It grows to 4 to 5’ tall and 4 to 5’ wide in sun to part shade.  Although I recommend some direct sun for better flowers, I have seen weigela blooming in full shade.  It is hardy to zone 4, deer resistant, and tolerant of a wide range of soils.  ‘Wine & Roses’ is a PHS Gold Medal Plant, for details click here.

The silver leaves of ‘Moonlight’ Japanese climbing hydrangea.

The flowers of Japanese climbing hydrangea—here the straight species.

‘Moonlight’ Japanese hydrangea vine, Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’, has very showy 8 to 10” wide white lacecap flowers  in midsummer.  But I really grow it for its elegant silver-painted dark green leaves, which turn yellow in the fall.  ‘Moonlight’ is a self-attaching vine that covers the surface it grows on with silvery leaves.  It reaches 20 to 30’ at maturity in part to full shade—mine is in deep shade.  It is a PHS Gold Medal Plant, for details click here (photo of flowers courtesy of the MOBOT Plant Finder click here).

I hope I have inspired you to order some of these wonderful plants in my offer or search them out at your local independent nursery.  To read the previous posts on woody plants for shade, click one, two, three, and four.


Nursery Happenings: Customers can pre-order woody plants through noon on May 22.  Click here for details.  We have added a third session of our seminar, The Secrets of a Low Maintenance Garden, on Sunday, May 20.  Click here for details. If you are interested in receiving miniature hostas mail order, click here.

If you are within visiting distance and would like to receive catalogues and information about customer events, please send your full name and phone number to carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net.  Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

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Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.

51 Responses to “Woody Plants for Shade Part 5”

  1. Choice selection. Quercifolia is most elegant. Thanks!

  2. Carolyn I just added a fringe tree…I love them too. And I love my Blue Muffin viburnum and so do the birds. I added more native viburnums last year and this year too. And of course weigela. I have many varieties and the hummers do love them. I prune them hard when they are in the sun and they grow right back sporting flowers again..great post.

  3. Hi. i will be looking for the new Invincibelle hydrangea for the new beds in the back garden, it looks great. I have often seen the Blue Muffin for sale but was not sure how it would do in shade near walnuts, now I will try it too. Gee I wish I lived close to you….

  4. As always a most interesting and informative post. You really make me wish I had more shade! Chrisitna

  5. These are stunning! That fringe tree is impressive! And the blue muffin looks so sweet – love those blue berries! I tried growing a climbing hydrangea once. I had grand visions of it covering a wall. But when it was still young, I had a teenage boy come help me weed. Even after I explained to him emphatically to watch for this, and that it was not a weed – you know he weeded it out anyway. Lesson learned.

  6. That oakleaf hydrangea is doing so well by that black walnut. Looks great! Such pretty berries on ‘Blue Muffin’!

    It has been a pleasure meeting you tonight! Looking forward to more fun this weekend and I’m so glad you came!

  7. As always you have include many of my favorites! I have wondered about adding a fringe tree to my wish list for the woodland garden. What is your experience with that shrub and deer? I know Clethra will be OK but I don’t know enough about the fringe tree

  8. Carolyn, I had hectic and busy times in the past two months due to moving to a new home with garden, I will share images and plants from my blog, and I will need time to read catch up with reading your interesting posts and seek for inspiration!

  9. Thank you carolyn – I did not know that weigela, fringe tree, and deutzia were shade tolerant! For some reason I thought all of those should be grown in a lot of sun. I have a lot of shade in my yard so I may try one of those. That oakleaf hydrangea is stunning!

  10. paulinemulligan Says:

    What a wonderful selection of shrubs, had never heard of your Chionanthus virginicus before, but my Plantfinder book tells me it is widely available here. Have just had to take out a bamboo as it had died, was wondering what to replace it with – thanks!

  11. As always, your post is filled with great information! I have several Annabelles growing along my ‘hydrangea walk’. I think Invincibelle Spirit would be a prefect companion!

  12. I have a deutzia that receives full afternoon sun and is thriving but it may be a different variety than yours. I really love fringe tree and hydrangeas and wish I had room for them. Great list of plants.

  13. Your picture of Invincibelle Spirit might make me re-think this plant. We started carrying it when it first came out, and I think its rush-to-market start resulted in many weak and poorly rooted plants. Looking at all the flowers on what you have shown, I might reconsider.

  14. Hi Carolyn, I would never have thought to consider weigela or the deutzia for shade. Good to know. Love the berries on the ‘Blue Muffin’ and the leaves on the ‘Moonlight’ Japanese climbing hydrangea.

  15. To reiterate the above – always thought weigela needed more sun. I do like the one you’ve showcased instead of the more usual pale pinks – the days of wine and roses eh?
    p.s. been drooling again over your hostas in containers – they are a coffee table book in themselves

  16. What a fabulous selection of shrubs. I love Hydrangea quercifolia and got very excited about Chionanthus virginicus as I hadn’t met it before. Sadly we are alkaline here and it is an acid-lover. Will it tolerate alkaline soil, or will it be thoroughly miserable?

  17. We had a great time in NC and I am so glad we met up. As I told you there, I love Blue Muffin. What a great looking Viburnum.

  18. That Blue Muffin is beautiful. I must remember it, in case a spot opens up in my garden. I like trees and shrubs with berries for the birds.

  19. It’s been a while since I’ve grown an oakleaf hydrangea, I’d forgotten how stunning the fall foliage can be. I enjoyed seeing some familiar plants to me. I planted ‘Blue Muffin’ in my mother’s garden some years ago, and it’s done so well for her, as has her summersweet ‘hummingbird’. I don’t see either planted in this part of California, which is a shame, but I suspect it’s too dry for them here.

  20. Susan M. Says:

    I appreciate that you included information about salt tolerance in a few of your recommendations. It’s not always something that is included, and it can be difficult to cross-reference lists of salt-tolerant plants with lists of shade-tolerant plants with lists of native plants with….etc. etc. etc. Thank you!

  21. Glad to see some favorites – Fringe tree and Nikko dwarf slender deutzia – and new ideas for inspiration – Preziosa sawtooth hydrangea…
    Thanks for your question on Garden Sense – I do in fact use straight compost from our municipal recycling center in my containers and it has worked well for me. It has a light consistency and does not get hard. Chris

  22. Hi Carolyn, with regard to your Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’ in deep shade, how has flowering been?

  23. I’ve planted two viburnum in a west facing bed in part shade. One ‘Shasta’ and three ‘Winterthur’. Will the lack of full sun be a problem?

  24. Also, with the three ‘Winterthur’ next to eachother, will they set fruit?

  25. Carolyn this was such an informative post. I am having fun with my dabbled shade garden…so grateful to know that all the things I planted near my walnut trees are tolerant. Thanks again!

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