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Shady Characters (Flowering Shrubs for Shade)

Maria is a master gardener and master of public health. She & her husband, known online as The Gardener & The Cook, live in coastal Alabama.

These are just a few of the gorgeous flowering shrubs that need shade. Top row: hydrangea, azalea, camellia japonica. Middle row: camellia sasanqua, azalea, camellia. Bottom row: hydrangea, rhododendron, hydrangea.

These are just a few of the gorgeous flowering shrubs that need shade. Top row: hydrangea, azalea, camellia japonica. Middle row: camellia sasanqua, azalea, camellia. Bottom row: hydrangea, rhododendron, hydrangea.

Who doesn’t love flowering shrubs? They often do double duty by adding beauty to the garden while also providing privacy screens. Many shrubs prefer sun, but while researching this article, I saw there are more flowering shrubs that need shade than I first realized.

While most of them bloom in spring and summer, there are a few that bloom in late autumn and winter. Having winter color is especially nice on those cold, gray days.

This is one of the prettiest hydrangeas I have seen. Of course, they are all gorgeous. Unfortunately, I don’t have the botanical name for this one.

This is one of the prettiest hydrangeas I have seen. Of course, they are all gorgeous. Unfortunately, I don’t have the botanical name for this one.

Hydrangea

There are so many hydrangeas, it is difficult to keep count of them. Unlike most other flowering shrubs, hydrangeas are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in winter. All have large clusters of smaller flowers, and all make great dried flowers.

Some bloom on old wood. Others bloom only on new wood. It depends on the type of hydrangea you have.

This mophead was here when we bought our home, and suffering from neglect and poor plant sanitation. After a year of TLC, it showed signs of recovering beautifully.

This mophead was here when we bought our home, and suffering from neglect and poor plant sanitation. After a year of TLC, it showed signs of recovering beautifully.

Mopheads

The mopheads, shown above, are also known as French hydrangeas. Many of these tolerate salt spray and cold temperatures, so they are especially popular in the northern states, and coastal regions. Many of the newer ones in this variety will bloom on new growth, as well as last year's wood.

This is a white lacecap. It has the characteristic open flowers around the rim of the flower head with the center ones opening later.

This is a white lacecap. It has the characteristic open flowers around the rim of the flower head with the center ones opening later.

Lacecap Hydrangea

The lacecap hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) has a central cluster of small fertile flowers surrounded by larger colorful blossoms. They are frequently scented but last a shorter time than other hydrangea flowers.

The name “lacecap” comes from the lace-edged cap of maids in high-society Victorian-era homes.

This is a smooth hydrangea that was in our yard in a former home. The white flowers gradually turned green. They  made beautiful dried flowers that lasted for several years.

This is a smooth hydrangea that was in our yard in a former home. The white flowers gradually turned green. They made beautiful dried flowers that lasted for several years.

Smooth Hydrangea

Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) is also known as wild hydrangea, Hills of Snow, and Sevenbark. It is another one that is popular for its cold hardiness, as it blooms only on new wood. It is native to ravines, creekbanks, and wooded, rocky slopes with moist soil. It is the most common hydrangea found in North Carolina. It is hardy in Zones 3–8.

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Another wild hydrangea is the Oakleaf (Hydrangea quercifolia). It is native to woodland settings and is especially popular due to the large white flower clusters that turn green as they age. The leaves of this one actually resemble the leaves of some oak trees.

The oakleaf hydrangea is native to eight of our southeastern states, including Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina, plus the District of Columbia.

It produces panicles, as does its sun-loving cousin, Hydrangea paniculata, which is discussed in my article, Sun Lovers - Flowering Shrubs for Sun.

The beautiful flowers of North Carolina’s mountain laurel. This photo was taken by my childhood friend and avid hiker  Nancy Schafner Ricciardi.

The beautiful flowers of North Carolina’s mountain laurel. This photo was taken by my childhood friend and avid hiker Nancy Schafner Ricciardi.

Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is a broadleaf evergreen shrub that can grow into a small tree. It is in the Ericaceae (blueberry) family native to eastern North America, where it is found in a variety of habitats such as mountain slopes, acidic forests, rocky or sandy woods. It grows slowly into a dense, rounded shrub, reaching 6-10 feet in height and developing gnarly branches as it ages. It is hardy in Zones 5-9.

Mountain laurel grows best in partial shade (morning sun with early to mid-afternoon shade) but can tolerate a wide range of light conditions, from full shade to full sun. It prefers cool, moist, acidic, humus-rich, well-drained soils. Mulch it well to retain moisture and keep its roots cool.

This plant does not grow well in heavy clay soils or wet soils. In heavy soils, raised plantings should be used to promote better drainage. To promote bushy growth, remove spent flower clusters, and prune branches lightly after bloom cycles are complete.

This is one of my dad’s azaleas that I took cuttings of before selling his home a few years ago.

This is one of my dad’s azaleas that I took cuttings of before selling his home a few years ago.

Azalea

While there are now cultivars of azaleas that can take sun, and bloom in both spring and fall, the original azaleas bloom only in spring, and need to be shaded from the harsh afternoon sun.

The shade-loving azaleas are the older cultivars that I call “traditional” azaleas. They are native to Asia and bloom only in spring or very early summer. They need rich, acidic, and moist but well-drained soil. While they can take morning sun and dappled light, they need mostly shade. They are available in a multitude of colors from white, pink, coral to orange, deep red, purple, and lavender.

Some of their names are Snow, Pink Pearl, Coral Bells, Golden Flare, and Hino Crimson. There are many others in variations of these colors. All are hardy in Zones 5-9.

This is one of two Formosa azaleas that we have installed in our garden. They are gorgeous for a few weeks each spring.

This is one of two Formosa azaleas that we have installed in our garden. They are gorgeous for a few weeks each spring.

Camellia

While the camellia is not native to the United States, it is beloved by most of us. It is even the state flower of Alabama. Native to many parts of Asia, they were first taken from China to Europe around the end of the eighteenth century, then brought to the United States.

The best thing about camellias?

They provide late autumn and winter color!

This japonica is called "High Fragrance", and it does have a lovely fragrance in winter.

This japonica is called "High Fragrance", and it does have a lovely fragrance in winter.

Camelia Japonica

Depending on where it is growing, Camellia japonica blooms in December through February. Unfortunately, late-winter freezes often kill the beautiful flowers just as they are beginning to open. When we lived in Zone 7b, I often saw these shrubs with glossy green leaves and black or brown flowers and flower buds. It was so disappointing whenever that happened. Fortunately, here in Zone 8b, that rarely happens.

This japonica is called “Pink Perfection”.  Its petals are so perfectly arranged, it almost appears to be an artificial flower, but it is very real, and absolutely gorgeous.

This japonica is called “Pink Perfection”. Its petals are so perfectly arranged, it almost appears to be an artificial flower, but it is very real, and absolutely gorgeous.

Camelia Sasanqua

The autumn-blooming Camellia sasanqua blooms from late October through December, again, depending on the zone. As I write this, my sasanqua, shown below, has fat buds that will open any day now.

This photo was taken in mid-November last year. It is now budded, and those gorgeous flowers should open in a couple of weeks.

This photo was taken in mid-November last year. It is now budded, and those gorgeous flowers should open in a couple of weeks.

This sasanqua is loaded with buds, and today, I found the first bud of the season that is showing color.

This sasanqua is loaded with buds, and today, I found the first bud of the season that is showing color.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 MariaMontgomery