Small tree for shade

Best Trees For Shade: Common Trees For Shady Areas

Medium shade areas are those that receive only reflected sunlight. Heavy shade means areas that get no direct sun at all, like areas permanently shaded by dense evergreens. Trees for shady areas do not all have the same shade preferences. Each species of tree has its own range of shade tolerance. Read on to learn more about growing trees in shade and which ones are most suitable.

Trees That Grow in Shade

Few, if any, trees do better in shade than in sun, but many tolerate shade. When you are growing trees in shade, it is easiest to find trees that accept light shade. It is hardest to find good tree choices for heavy shade areas.

If you search for a tree for a light-shade area, you have many to choose from, including evergreens, conifers and deciduous broad leaf. For example, you might plant:

  • Flowering dogwood
  • Eastern redbud
  • American holly

For medium or moderate shade areas, try the following trees:

  • European beech
  • Japanese maple
  • Sugar maple
  • Black alder
  • Staghorn sumac

If you plan to install a tree in heavy shade, you still have options. The following trees that grow in shade will tolerate heavy shade fairly well:

  • Pawpaw
  • American hornbeam
  • Allegheny serviceberry

About Shade Loving Trees

Remember that not all trees that tolerate shade can be said to be shade loving trees. A tree may survive in shade yet lose some of its decorative features.

For example, some trees that flower generously in sunshine may produce far fewer flowers in shade. And deciduous trees that provide brilliant autumn displays when grown in sun may not change leaf color dramatically when grown in shade. Japanese maple is a good example.

Now that you know a little about some of the best trees for shade, you can tuck them away in shady spots of the landscape.

10 of the best fruit crops for shade

If you only have a shady spot in your garden in which to grow fruit, don’t worry – many fruit-bearing bushes, including gooseberries and blackcurrants, grow and crop well in partial shade, particularly during warm summers.


Find out more about the different types of shade.

The harvest might be a little smaller and less sweet than on plants in a sunny location, but still delicious enough to make growing them worthwhile.

Find out more about fruit crops for shade, below.

Many fruit-bearing bushes, including gooseberries and blackcurrants, grow and crop well in partial shade, particularly during warm summers. 1


Ripe morello cherries on the tree

Acid cherries fare best in shady plots as they don’t need the sun to sweeten them. They look great trained on a north-facing wall, with their spring blossom, glossy fruits and colourful autumn foliage. ‘Morello’ is the most widely sold. Watch our video guide to planting a cherry tree.



Gooseberries ripening on the bush

This easy shrub will grow in many types of soil and can cope with shade. Strong-growing culinary varieties such as ‘Invicta’ and ‘Greenfinch’ do well. Dessert varieties will crop in shade but may be less sweet than when grown in sun. Read our gooseberry Grow Guide.



Harvesting rhubarb

Rhubarb is a useful, trouble-free and good-looking crop for a shady spot. Vigorous, early varieties such as ‘Timperley Early’, ‘Stockbridge Arrow’ or the ever-popular ‘Victoria’ will fare best. Plant in soil that has been enriched with well-rotted manure. Discover how to plant rhubarb.



A branch of ripe and ripening blackberries

The best soft fruit for shade, blackberries can be trained against a wall or fence. Cultivated varieties give bigger, earlier fruit than wild plants. Try a thornless variety such as ‘Loch Ness’ or ‘Helen’. Read our blackberry Grow Guide.



Strings of ripe blackcurrants ready to pick

These plants are easy to grow and produce a heavy crop of glossy currants that are rich in vitamin C. Plants tolerate light shade and can be grown in the ground or in pots. Prolific croppers include ‘Ben Connan’ and ‘Ben Hope’. Find out how to grow blackcurrants.



Picking raspberries

Most varieties of raspberry will give a useful harvest in a shady spot and are low maintenance. Try ‘Malling Jewel’ (early fruiting), ‘Glen Magna’ (late), ‘Octavia’ (very late) and ‘Autumn Bliss’ (autumn). Find out more in our raspberry Grow Guide.



A crop of pears ready to harvest

Pears do need some sun, but they’ll crop in partial shade. Early varieties such as ‘Beth’ should be fine in a west-facing spot, where they’ll get a few hours of sun in the afternoon. Once a pear tree is established, it should need little care.


Redcurrants and whitecurrants

Strings of ripe redcurrants

Redcurrants will give a good crop, even trained onto a north-facing wall. They’re related to blackcurrants, but can be grown like gooseberries, in partial shade. The fruit tastes sweeter when grown in sun. ‘Rovada’ and ‘White Grape’ are good choices.



A cluster of ripe plums on the tree

Culinary varieties such as ‘Czar’ are your best option and can be grown in spots that get morning sun and afternoon shade. They like moist soil, but hate ground that is too wet. They should ideally be planted as a bare-root tree, when dormant.


Alpine strawberries

Small alpine strawberry fruit ripening

Alpine strawberries such as ‘Alexandria’ are much tougher than normal strawberries and will grow in shade. They are low maintenance and need little care once planted. Grow several plants for a good crop.

Looking to grow veg in a shady spot? Discover the 10 best vegetable crops for shade.


So Shady: 10 Crops That Can Be Grown Without a Lot of Sun

Shade tolerance in fruits and vegetables is a matter of degree. The only edibles you can grow under in deep, deep shade are mushrooms. But there are plenty tasty things that grow in “part shade,” generally defined as two to four hours of direct sun. With four to six hours of sun – “part sun” – the list expands considerably. There are even a few edibles that grow and produce in areas that receive less than two hours of direct sun – “full shade.”

There are many other variables: Part shade on a north-facing slope, or on the north side of a building, is much shadier than on a southern exposure. The density of the tree canopy also factors in: Pine trees, with their slender needles and a branching pattern that tends to hold the foliage at the very top of the tree, cast much less shade than a broadleaf tree with low spreading branches. Ambient light makes a difference, too, so a garden with a single big tree is generally not as shady as a space with numerous trees of all sizes, shrubbery, and buildings all around. Finally, evergreens make shade year-round, while deciduous trees cast virtually no shade in early spring, providing a window of sunlight that an understory of edibles can take advantage of.

Mint – USDA Zones 3-10

Mojito, anyone? Spearmint is the variety of choice for the classic Cuban cocktail, but there are many other mints with which a refreshing drink of one sort or another can be made (to enjoy in your shade garden, of course): peppermint, chocolate mint, apple mint, ginger mint, and many others. Lemon balm, a closely related and shade-tolerant species adds citrus notes to the mint cornucopia. All mints like rich moist soil and tend to spread, so keep them in a pot unless you plan to establish a mint groundcover in the garden.

Survives in full shade, thrives in part shade.

Salad Greens – Annuals/All Zones

Lettuces and most other edible greens, including kale, chard, collards, Asian greens, and mesclun mix, fair poorly in hot sunny conditions, but grow happily in as little as three hours of sun each day. They “bolt” – that is, send up flower stalks and prepare to set seed, leaving the edible greens bitter – once daytime temperatures settle into the upper 80s. That combination of traits makes them a perfect fit for planting beneath deciduous trees. They will have plenty of sun while the weather is still cool and by late spring will be glad for the shade that the trees provide, thus preventing them from bolting and prolonging the harvest.

Survives in part shade, thrives in part sun.

Currants and Gooseberries – USDA Zones 3-8

The wild relatives of most berry crops originated on the forest floor, though millennia of cultivation and breeding has led to berry bushes that are suited to the field – in other words, to full sun. Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and the like tolerate part sun, though with diminished yields. Currants and gooseberries, on the other hand, thrive in fairly shady conditions and feel scalded when planted in full sun. European homesteaders typically plant these waist-high shrubs in the dappled shade of their fruit trees, though North American tastes have never really caught on to the trend. Gooseberries have a hard-not-to-like sweet-tart flavor and a texture that “pops” in your mouth, while it has often been said that fondness for the flavor of currants (a related species) must be “acquired,” which is why they are often combined with sugar and incorporated in pastries and preserves.

Thrives in part shade or part sun.

Alpine Strawberries – USDA Zones 2-9

This forest berry also prefers dappled light, though it grows as a groundcover rather than a shrub. Alpine strawberries are a wild type of strawberry that has been cultivated for size and flavor. Native to Europe, where they can be found in supermarkets, Alpine strawberries are less than half the size of the average supermarket strawberry in North America, though they pack twice the flavor – notes of pineapple and rose explode not-so-subtly on the palate. They are easily grown from seed, and once established tend to seed themselves in the understory of deciduous trees.

Thrives in part shade or part sun.

Kolomitka Kiwi ”“ USDA Zones 3-9

Ralf Roletschek, Wikimedia Commons

This forest-dwelling vine from Asia is a smaller fuzz-less cousin of the common kiwi found in supermarkets. Not only do they prefer to grow in the shade, they do so in dramatic fashion: The leaves of the kolomitka kiwi are splotched with white and pink, as if a divine artist had spilled their paint in the forest. Kiwis require cross-pollination, so make sure to plant a male and a female variety together.

Thrives in part shade or part sun.

Watercress ”“ USDA Zones 5-9

Watercress is an unusual vegetable: shade tolerant, grows in the water, and tastes like a mash-up of wasabi, black pepper, and arugula. If you have a fountain or garden pond, grow it in a pot with the soil line just beneath the water’s surface – it will spread like mad. Otherwise, grow it like any other vegetable, but water it constantly. Growing watercress in a pot set in a pan of water is a good way to keep it waterlogged through the heat of summer. Rather than fiddle with seeds, pick up a bunch of watercress the grocery store and leave the stems in a cup of water for a couple weeks. They will form roots and can then be transplanted to a permanent location.

Thrives in part shade or part sun.

Fiddlehead Ferns ”“ USDA Zones 3-8

Fiddleheads, the fleshy spiral of a fern frond before it unfurls, is one of the great delicacies of spring. Generally considered a wild foraged food, fiddlehead ferns are easy to grow at home. Not only edible, they are beautiful. That primordial-looking foliage is right at home alongside hostas, hydrangeas, and other shade-loving perennials. The fronds of most fern species start off in a spiral shape, causing confusion as to which are truly edible. Some ferns are mildly toxic and many are unpalatable. Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), a native North American species, is the fern of choice for harvesting fiddleheads. You can find it at online nurseries where it is occasionally sold as an ornamental plant.

Thrives in full shade or part shade.

Hazelnuts ”“ USDA Zones 5-8

Hazelnuts, also known as filberts, are a small understory tree found in the deciduous forests of Europe and North America. While they produce more nuts in full sun, they are the only nut tree that thrives, let alone produces a harvest, in the shade. And they like cool weather, so a bit of shade is a must for growing them in hot climates. Plant multiple hazelnut varieties to ensure cross-pollination.

Survives in part shade, thrives in part sun.

Pawpaw ”“ USDA Zones 5-9

The much celebrated pawpaw has the largest fruit of any plant native to North America, and it prefers to grow in the shade. A distant relative of cherimoyas and other tropical fruits, pawpaws have sweet custardy flesh with a flavor often described as some combination of banana, mango, pineapple, cantaloupe, and any number of other fruits. In other words, the flavor is hard to describe; and it often varies from tree to tree. Plant multiple pawpaw varieties to ensure cross-pollination.

Survives in part shade, thrives in part sun.

Huckleberry – Zones Vary by Species

Huckleberries are another wild edible worth growing in the shade garden. These handsome head-high shrubs produce pea-sized fruits that taste much like blueberries, to which they are closely related. There are numerous native huckleberry species found throughout North America, including an evergreen species found in western forests and a black-fruited variety common in the East. Check your local native plant nurseries for the huckleberry best suited to your region.

Survives in full shade, thrives in part shade.

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