Made in the Shade

Ah, shade. Especially at this time of year we humans love the shade. Cool respite from the sun relaxes us and creates such beauty in the world. However, our plant friends have different preferences for sun. Some like it sunny, some like it shady. Here in the Appalachian Mountains and Piedmont there is a lot of shade. If you seek plants that will thrive in the shade of your landscape, here are my suggestions:

Seven mid-size shrubs

The understory, or midsize plants (6-15’), offer a variety of benefits in the landscape. Evergreen shrubs provide color throughout the year and can be planted for privacy. They create a visual level between the ground or low growing plants and the canopy of trees. They harbor wildlife.  They are “human size” so that their flowers, berries, and leaves are right in front of us for enjoyment and exploration.

Here are seven shrubs for the shade and one mid-sized shrub to pull up and trash before it continues its invasive march. I took these pictures in January of 2023 at a client’s home in Lumpkin County. Note that a number of these native plants have some level of poison characteristics.

1. Leucothe fontanesiana – Dog hobble

Leucothoe fontanesiana

I love the common name of this plant because it describes it so well. Dog hobble grows so densely that even a dog cannot get through it. It is a deer tolerant native evergreen that in its natural setting is often found along creeks. With deep green leaves, the arching plant does best near water. It will not thrive in droughty conditions. Dog hobble can get quite tall, and dense, but it is easy to prune.

2. Illicium parviflorum – hardy anise

Illicium parviflorum

I love the flavor and scent of this shrub! It does well especially in moist situations but seems to tolerate a wide variety of soils. As its common name implies, hardy anise is the most cold-hardy of the illicium species, it is deer tolerant and native. There is also Illicium floridanum which does better in warmer climates. Be careful to get the right variety at the nursery.

3. Pieris japonica – Japanese andromeda

Pieris japonica

As the species and common name tell us, Japanese andromeda is not a native. In its native habitat of Japan, China, and Taiwan, it grows in mountain thickets, so it is no wonder that it thrives in our shady, hilly southeast. Japanese andromeda has very pretty flowers in the spring. There are white varieties and reddish types both of which prefer some moisture, although I have seen these flourish in many different locations. It is deer tolerant.

4. Cleyera japonica – Japanese cleyera


This is another shrub from Japan. It is much more drought tolerant than other evergreens and can also grow in the sun. “In hot southern summers, it appreciates afternoon shade, and it can in fact tolerate almost full shade… Use as a foundation planting, in a shrub border, as a hedge or privacy screen.”

5. Osmanthus heterophyllus – False holly

Osmanthus heterophyllus

Also from Japan, false holly prefers moist well drained soils but can withstand some drought. Its sharp, pointy leaves make it deer resistant. “This plant…offers fall interest and is a holly alternative. Due to its size, it would be best to avoid using this shrub as a foundation planting; however, smaller cultivars are available.”

6. Osmanthus fragransTea olive


Another Asian native, tea olive is one of my favorite shade shrubs. It is a tough plant, but it was severely damaged by the December’s deep freeze. To prove it’s toughness, it has resurged. The smell on this shrub is heavenly, so I will continue to plant it. It tolerates sun and some drought and is deer resistant. Plant this shrub in full sun to partial shade and in moist soils with good drainage.

7. Ilex glabra – Ink berry holly


This native evergreen holly is deer resistant It is usable for that swampy site in the shade. It also does well in the sun. Only grows slowly up to 6-8’ high.,marginal%20teeth%20near%20the%20apex.


Mahonia bealei – Leatherleaf mahonia. Photo by the North Carolina Extension Service (Barbara Goodman)

This looks like a good shrub, it has spiny leaves so the deer leave it alone, and it produces pretty, red berries in the fall, but it is on the invasive species list so it spreads all over the woods. Like other invasive shrubs, it supplants native shrubs and offers no nutritional food for birds and wildlife. Please do not plant this, and if you find it on your property, remove and destroy it.

In Conclusion

Living in Northeast Georgia, we really do have it made in the shade, which can be both a blessing and a challenge when it comes to landscaping. Rather than fight the shade, identify shade-loving shrubs that will thrive in our lush, rainforest setting. Need help with that? Contact Art of Stone Gardening, We look forward to working with you!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Sign up for our monthly newsletter of gardening and stonework tips from our blog. You may unsubscribe at any time and we will not add you to any other mailing list.