17 Shade Tolerant Evergreen Trees For Shady Garden Spaces

Are you looking for a shade-friendly evergreen tree that you can plant in a shaded area of your yard or garden? There are many different evergreens that will keep their beautiful green foliage while thriving in the shade. In this article, we look at our favorite shade loving evergreen trees.

evergreen trees for shade

Do you have a shady spot in your garden or home landscape that’s just begging for a tree? And do you want that tree to keep its green foliage year round? Well, you are in luck! There are a number of different shade tolerant evergreen trees that can grow in a wide variety of hardiness zones.

Yes, many evergreens prefer to grow in an area with ample sunlight. But if you have a garden space in deeper shade, or even dappled shade, there are plenty of trees that can thrive in these conditions and keep their green leaves all year.

We’ve hand-picked our favorite evergreen trees that can thrive in the shade, with names and pictures of each in the article below. You’ll also find preferred hardiness zones, as well as their approximate growing sizes. Ready to learn more? Let’s dig in!

American Holly

Ilex opaca
American Holly produces dark green spiky leaves and bright red berries.
Scientific Name: Ilex opaca
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern United States
  • Plant Size: 25-60 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Shade, partial shade, sun
  • Plant Zone: 5-9

American holly, also known as Christmas holly, has dark green spiny, non-glossy leaves, and the female plants produce bright red berries. With less sunlight, it may grow in a short, multi-trunked form with light gray bark.

To have berries on your holly, you must have both a male and female plant of the same holly species unless there is a wild male plant growing nearby.

While the berries attract many birds and mammals, they are toxic to humans if ingested, so be aware of the potential for children to access the berries if you plan to plant holly in your garden.

The thick branches of American holly grow very slowly. The plant prefers slightly acidic soil that is well-drained and with a high amount of organic matter. Holly is also valuable for honey bees.

Boxwood

 Buxus sempervirens
Boxwood is a fast-growing evergreen plant widely used to create curly hedges.
Scientific Name: Buxus sempervirens
  • Geographic Origin: North America, Europe, Asia, North Africa
  • Plant Size: 15 to 20 feet
  • Sun Exposure: full sun to partial shade
  • Plant Zone: 5-8

Named for the four-sided branches, boxwood is a relatively fast-growing evergreen that can grow well in partial shade. Boxwoods can be pruned into a tree, but are more commonly grown as an evergreen shrub or used as hedge plants.

Though boxwoods can grow in full sun, these conditions can make them lose their green color and turn orange. They prefer dappled light coming through other foliage or a limited amount of direct sunlight in the morning or evening. The hybrid “Green Mountain” can grow in full shade, though it may not grow as dense as if it had at least partial sun.

Boxwoods can withstand heavy pruning and have long been used for shaped hedges and topiaries in formal gardens.

When planted in shade, boxwood can be more susceptible to disease, but this can be mitigated through thinning excess foliage to allow light and more air circulation in the interior of the boxwood.

Well-drained and neutral to acidic soil is ideal for boxwoods, and taking extra care with mulching will help them thrive in shadier areas. In areas with a high deer population, boxwood is a great choice for a garden since it is one of few evergreens varieties that deer find unappetizing.

Colorado Blue Spruce

Picea pungens
Colorado Blue Spruce is a slow-growing plant that has a pyramidal shape.
Scientific Name: Picea pungens
  • Geographic Origin: Central to the southern Rocky Mountains
  • Plant Size: 115 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Sun to moderate shade
  • Plant Zone: 2-8

If you want to grow Christmas trees in your shady garden, the Colorado Blue Spruce can fulfill that wish. Though it can grow to be a large tree when in shady conditions, it will not reach its maximum height or diameter. It is also slow-growing, so you don’t need to worry about it overwhelming your garden anytime soon.

The Colorado blue spruce has the pyramidal shape Christmas trees are known for and silvery-blue needles. It is a popular ornamental tree due to its eye-catching color and shape and is also common in windbreaks or small stands.

Deodar Cedar

Cedrus deodara
Deodar Cedar has bluish-green or grayish-green needles.
Scientific Name: Cedrus deodara
  • Geographic Origin: Western Himalayas
  • Plant Size: 40-70 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • Plant Zone: 7-9

Deodar cedars are the national tree of Pakistan and the Royal Horticultural Society gave the tree the Award of Garden Merit. They are often seen in parks or lining streets.

Their 1 to 2-inch long bluish-green or grayish-green needles form whorls, and the branches droop gracefully.

Deodar cedars are a low-maintenance tree with pruning only necessary if there are branches that have died or become diseased or damaged. It has the highest tolerance to heat and humidity of all varieties of cedars.

Mature deodar cedars are quite drought tolerant, though young seedlings require ample water. Good drainage is necessary because these trees do not like to have their “feet” wet. Beyond the drainage, deodar cedars are not fussy about the type of soil they grow in.

Eastern Red Cedar

Juniperus virginiana
Eastern Red Cedar tolerates shade, resistant to heat and cold.
Scientific Name: Juniperus virginiana
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern North America
  • Plant Size: 80 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • Plant Zone: 2-9

The eastern red cedar is not a cedar at all. It is a relative of the juniper. It grows readily in fencelines, abandoned properties, and pastures that are not mowed. States like Oklahoma and Kansas have documented it as a threat to the prairie.

However, the eastern red cedar can resist just about anything nature throws its way – heat, cold, drought, wind, a range of soil types, and any amount of light except full shade. It can also tolerate shade relatively well compared to most junipers. It is also a significant source of shelter and food for birds and wildlife.

Eastern red cedars have scale-like foliage that is fragrant and sticky to the touch. It can vary in color from dark green to blue-green and even gray, and it tends to become more bronze during the winter. The female trees produce whitish-blue berries, and the male trees have brown cones on the tips of their branches that disperse pollen.

Emerald Arborvitae

Thuja occidentalis
Emerald Arborvitae grows well in the garden in partial shade.
Scientific Name: Thuja occidentalis
  • Geographic Origin: Northeastern United States
  • Plant Size: 10-15 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • Plant Zone: 2-8

Emerald arborvitae is one of the species of arborvitae that can thrive in partial shade. It may grow more slowly and not be as lush as if it had full sun, but it will still do well in a garden with partial shade.

Since it can be pruned into various sizes and shapes, arborvitae is a popular choice for living fences and privacy hedges. It does not require pruning, however, and will also grow nicely when left alone.

Emerald arborvitae prefers soil that is moist but also well-drained so that it is not soggy. It also likes a pH range of 6 to 8 and loamy soil, but it can tolerate a variety of soil conditions.

Giant Arborvitae

Thuja plicata
Giant Arborvitae is a shade-loving tree that produces tiny, scaly leaves.
Scientific Name: Thuja plicata
  • Geographic Origin: Western America
  • Plant Size: 50 to 60 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full sun
  • Plant Zone: 5-9

Giant arborvitae is one of the more shade-loving trees among arborvitae varieties. They are an evergreen with tiny, tightly packed, scale-like leaves that are glossy green in spring and summer and turn darker and bronze in winter.

These trees grow quickly and maintain their shape without pruning. They are often planted singularly as accent trees or in groups to create natural wind and sound-breaking fences.

Giant arborvitae is a hardy tolerant plant that can withstand different soils, insects, wind, drought, and disease. In ideal growing conditions, they can live up to 40 years.

Golden Irish Yew

Taxus baccata
Golden Irish Yew produces decorative gold and green variegated needles.
Scientific Name: Taxus baccata
  • Geographic Origin: Europe
  • Plant Size: 25 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Shade to full sun
  • Plant Zone: 6

Also known as “common yew,” golden Irish yew has ornamental gold and green variegated needles that turn to chartreuse in the fall and winter. It also features red berries. It is a narrow tree with a low canopy that is often only 2 feet above the ground.

Yews tend to be shade-loving trees, and this one is no exception. Though it can also be planted in full sun, it does not like hot, dry locations with direct afternoon sunlight. It also can’t tolerate standing water and does best in average to moist soil, though the soil type and pH don’t matter much.

Parts of the common yew are toxic to humans and animals, and care should be taken if planting it in an area frequented by children or pets.

Hemlock

Tsuga
Hemlock is a shade tolerant tree that prefers to grow in moist and well-drained soil.
Scientific Name: Tsuga
  • Geographic Origin: North America, Europe
  • Plant Size: 100 feet
  • Sun Exposure: full to partial shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

Hemlock is considered the most shade tolerant tree and can grow suppressed in an understory for 400 years. Hemlocks thrive in moist but well-drained soil.

Hemlocks grow slowly, especially in shade, and can take 250 to 300 years to reach maturity and live for 800 years. The oldest recorded hemlock tree is 988 years.

Historically, hemlock was important for its bark, which contains high amounts of tannins. Used for treating animal hides to preserve them, the term “tanning” was derived from the word “tannins.” It is known for giving the leather a dark red-brown color.

Numerous songbird and owl species focus on hemlock, so depending on the birds in your area, planting these shade-loving trees could attract birds to your garden.

Japanese Yew

Taxus cuspidata
Japanese Yews prefer fertile soil and plenty of moisture.
Scientific Name: Taxus cuspidata
  • Geographic Origin: Japan
  • Plant Size: 20 to 50 feet
  • Sun Exposure: partial to deep shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-7

Japanese Yews have dark green needles with rounded tips that are not sharp or scratchy like many other conifers. The female plants produce bright red berries.

Yews are quite tolerant of moderate to deep shade, though they do require some sunlight in the spring. They are often planted as a foundation plant on the north or east sides of homes and make good natural or formal hedges. The many dwarf varieties are commonly in rock gardens.

Yews require plenty of moisture, fertile soil, and shelter from strong winds. They don’t like to compete with other shallow-rooted trees. When growing in deeper shade, they may require more pruning to compensate for a more open growth pattern.

Longstalk Holly

Ilex pedunculosa
Longstalk Holly grows well in shady gardens and tolerates pruning in late winter.
Scientific Name: Ilex pedunculosa
  • Geographic Origin: Japan and China
  • Plant Size: 20 feet
  • Sun Exposure: part shade to full sun
  • Plant Zone: Through zone 5

While the longstalk holly prefers some sun, it can also be grown in partly shady gardens. It likes moist soils but can tolerate drought once it is established. Holly is very tolerant of pruning, which is best done late in the winter. It is also one of the most cold-tolerant species of holly.

Longstalk holly is a hardy evergreen with showy, spineless foliage. It produces small flowers that have a pleasant aroma before producing red berries.

Holly plants are either male or female, and both are required within 200 feet or so in order to produce berries. The flowers of the plants attract bees, and the berries attract birds, although they are mildly toxic to humans.

Serbian Spruce

Picea omorika
Serbian Spruce produces gracefully hanging branches and prefers full sun.
Scientific Name: Picea omorika
  • Geographic Origin: Southeastern Europe
  • Plant Size: 60-70 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Tolerates light to moderate shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-7

The Serbian spruce is an attractive tree that is narrower than most other spruces with branches that elegantly droop. Its green needles feature white bars underneath, giving it a shimmering glow similar to snow that is backlit by the sunset.

Like most spruces, it prefers what sun it can get and regular, adequate moisture. It is a hardy tree and smaller than many of its native spruces.

Shore Pine

Pinus contorta
Shore pine is a sprawling tree that grows pine nuts, which feed on birds.
Scientific Name: Pinus contorta
  • Geographic Origin: Central to northern California
  • Plant Size: 50 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • Plant Zone: 6-8

Shore pine, also known as lodgepole pine, is a small to mid-size tree with darker-colored bark and leaves. It has short needles compared to many related species. It is a sprawling, irregular-shaped tree, seldom growing straight up to its full height.

Birds enjoy the small pine nuts produced by shore pines, though deer tend to avoid the tree. It does not take well to pruning, but it makes some of the best-unpruned hedges compared to other pines. Shore pines tend to look better planted in groves or rows than singly.

Shore pines are more adaptable to soil moisture than many other pines and can thrive in full sun to partial shade.

Southern Magnolia

Magnolia grandiflora
Southern Magnolia blooms with fragrant creamy white flowers.
Scientific Name: Magnolia grandiflora
  • Geographic Origin: southeastern United States
  • Plant Size: 60 to 80 feet
  • Sun Exposure: part shade to full sun
  • Plant Zone: 1-9

The evergreen magnolia is tree that produces fragrant creamy-white flowers. Their blooms can grow to 8 inches in diameter. They flower from late spring until fall. The evergreen leaves are shiny and dark green on top and copper or tan underneath.

The tree grows quickly but is long-lived. It provides food and shelter for many birds, such as woodpeckers, doves, quail, and small mammals.

Magnolia can tolerate a variety of soils from sandy to heavy clay and acidic to neutral, but it does not do well with either extreme drought or excess moisture.

Strawberry Tree

Arbutus unedo
Strawberry Tree produces edible red and orange fruits.
Scientific Name: Arbutus unedo
  • Geographic Origin: Mediterranean and western Europe
  • Plant Size: 15-30 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-9

The strawberry tree can be grown as either a small tree or a shrub. It has dark green oval-shaped evergreen leaves. This flowering tree blooms with white to pinkish flowers from October to December, and red to orange edible fruits that ripen in the fall.

The fruits are often used to make wines, liqueurs, and preserves and are also an important food source for birds and animals.

Strawberry trees are slow-growing whether planted in partial shade or full sun. It likes well-drained, acidic clay soil. Once established, they can tolerate some wind and drought.

Wheel Tree

Trochodendron aralioides
Wheel Tree blooms in spring with clusters of green flowers in the form of stars.
Scientific Name: Trochodendron aralioides
  • Geographic Origin: Asia
  • Plant Size: 10-20 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to dappled shade
  • Plant Zone: 6-7

The wheel tree is the only surviving species in its genus, and it can be grown as either a tree or a shrub.

It has glossy leathery leaves which grow in whorls around a bud, giving it an umbrella-type shape. In the spring, it produces clusters of greenish flowers shaped like stars. The stamens of the flowers spread out similar to the spokes of a wheel, giving the tree its name.

Wheel trees can grow in a variety of soils and prefer dappled shade. It needs moist but well-drained soil and cannot tolerate drought.

White Spruce

Picea glauca
White Spruce is an excellent plant whose smell will keep deer away from your garden.
Scientific Name: Picea glauca
  • Geographic Origin: United States and Canada
  • Plant Size: 140 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full sun
  • Plant Zone: 2-6

If you’re concerned about deer predation in your garden, white spruce is a great choice. When its needles are crushed, they give off an unpleasant scent, which deer do not like.

White spruce don’t have a more irregular shape than a traditional Christmas tree, and they are a truer green color. They prefer acidic, well-drained soil and are often found near streams and other sources of moisture.

You Have Options for Shade-Loving Trees

Finding the perfect evergreen tree that can tolerate shade shouldn’t be a chore. There are many different options to choose from, and most of the trees on this list can tolerate a variety of sun & shade planting conditions. Many of them can also double as a shrub, if you prefer to keep them a bit on the smaller side.

Ultimately, any of these popular options should be a fantastic fit for your garden. Remember to double-check your hardiness zone, and provide plenty of TLC for best results!

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