Screening Shrubs for Shady Areas
Do you have a view that you’d rather not see somewhere on your property? Maybe it’s a neighbor’s unattractive chain-link fence, or a too-close road. What if the area is also shady—what will survive there? Here are a few suggestions to create an evergreen screen to block unwanted views. As an added bonus, they are drought tolerant once established. Click the green text links for more information.
Relatively slow-growing to 4-6’ tall and wide, Aucuba is a great plant for shade, preferring to get little if any sun at all. Though available in green-leafed form, the more common variegated varieties brighten up shady areas. If you have male and female plants planted together, the bright red berries are added interest in winter.
Hick’s Yew and Brown’s Yew (Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’ & ’Brownii’) are beautiful, dark green shrubs that will tolerate shade. Yews can be kept tightly trimmed for a formal appearance, or allowed to develop a feathery, natural form. ‘Brownii’ grows to about 6’-8’ high and wide in 10 years, and ‘Hicksii’ has an upright habit to 10’-12’ high and 3’-4’ wide. Female plants produce attractive red berries (which are toxic, so maybe think twice about planting female plants if you have small children).
Fragrant Tea Olive and Fortune’s Tea Olive (Osmanthus fragrans and O. fortunei) will tolerate even full shade, though their habit may become looser than when planted in brighter areas. The small white flowers are very fragrant, and the slightly spiny leaves are a deterrent to trespassers. Flowers form on older growth, so a formally pruned Tea Olive may not bloom as profusely as one left with a more natural shape. Can reach 15’ or more in height and width.
Our native rhododendron, R. catawbiense , makes an excellent screen material in shady areas, especially if you want an informal appearance. Catawbas bloom in late spring in shades of lavender-pink to white, depending on the cultivar. Older plants develop interesting forms and can reach 20’ in height, although around 10’ is more common. Amend soil well when planting any Rhododendrons to provide good drainage-they do not tolerate wet soils and may develop Phytothphora root rot if kept too wet. If in a fairly shady area, they are quite drought tolerant once established.
Similar in appearance to the yews are the False Yews. False yews have slightly coarser needles than true yews, and come in a few forms from prostrate to upright. The new spring growth is a beautiful, soft pale green emerging from the tips of the branches. For screening, rounded Cephalotaxus harringtoniana or upright C. ‘Fastigiata’ work best. Both reach 6-10 feet and grow slowly.
Nandina tolerates a fair amount of shade and if pruned correctly can remain full from top to bottom for screening. The foliage is lacy and attractive, turning red in fall (though the brilliant fall color may be muted in very shady areas.) For height, choose the straight Nandina domestica or ‘Royal Princess’, as opposed to the more compact cultivars like ‘Harbor Belle’ which only reach a few feet tall. (The popularity of compact Nandinas can make finding taller varieties difficult)
Finally, what’s a southern garden without Camellias? Despite their delicate-looking flowers, Camellias are tough plants that bloom in shady areas with minimal care, reaching 12’ in height with somewhat narrower width. Camellia sasanqua is more drought (and sun) tolerant than C. japonica. Depending on the species and variety they will bloom in fall/winter or winter/spring. Mature plants have a relatively long bloom period of several months. Camellias can be allowed to grow into a natural shape, or pruned more formally.