Shade Growing Trees

Shade growing trees can thrive in the shade of other plants or buildings. There are a few trees that do especially well in shade, growing happily in these conditions.

Here is a list of my top 5 favorite shade growing trees. All of them are generally easy to find at your local garden center.

Golden Deodar Cedar (Peter A. Hogg Photography)

Cedar (Thuja spp.)There are several species of cedar to choose from. They will grow from 3 to 25 feet tall, depending on the species. Cedar thrive in full to part shade and are evergreen. Their branches are covered in green, flattened branchlets arranged in fan-like shapes.

Cedar needles resemble scales and their blooms are produced at the end of the branchlets. Seed cones develop and mature every season. Cedar trees do best in temperate climates, in zones 3 through 9 for most species.

The cedar pictured at left is the Golden Deodar Cedar. It has a distinctive pyramid form with graceful, arching branches. The needles start out a golden-yellow color, maturing to golden-green. There is also a silver-blue form of the Deodar Cedar which is also lovely. Other beautiful cedars are the Blue Atlas Cedar (25 – 30 feet tall), the Gyokuryu Japanese Cedar (about 8 feet tall) and the Dwarf Japanese Cedar (only about 3 feet tall).

shade growing hawthorn
Hawthorn (Crataegus)

Related to roses, hawthorns can grow up to 25 feet tall. They do well in sun, but will also tolerate shade very well.

Hawthorn trees are not picky about soil, and make an attractive addition to any yard. The leaves are rather small and toothy. Branches are covered with thorns.

In the spring, they bloom heavily with either white or pink flowers that are in small clusters. By fall, they have grown into brightly colored haws (berries) of either red, orange or yellow. Hawthorns are hardy to zone 5, sometimes zone 4. The biggest weakness with hawthorns are the number of pests and diseases that seem to seek them out.

Mountain Ash (Sorbus spp.)
Also known as a rowan, the mountain ash is a deciduous tree with silvery bark and pinnate, serrated leaves. White flower clusters create small, bright red berries in the late summer. The tree grows to a height of about 16 feet. They are hardy to zone 3 and do well in mountainous conditions.

Nannyberry (Viburnum)
This tree grows to a height of 15 feet and does well in part shade. In the spring, the tree is covered by 2-3″ clusters of creamy white flowers. By late summer, mature black berries decorate the glossy green foliage. In fall, the leaves turn a deep maroon to red. Viburnums are tolerant of many different soils and light conditions. If you have poor soils due to compacting from construction, try viburnums. Being rugged and hardy, they perform where other plants fail. Hardy to zone 3.

Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lentago)
This nice little tree usually matures to about 8 feet tall and will grow wider than it is tall unless it is pruned. Creamy white flowers bloom in May in large, flat-topped cymes. It does well in sun or part shade, and requires only low maintenance to look its best. The flowers attract birds and butterflies. In July, orange-red berries appear and make a nice show for about a month before ripening to a deep black. The dark green leaves change to a reddish purple in the fall. This tree grows well in zones 4 through 8.