Southwest Regional Reports

Regional Picks: Shrubs for Shade – Southern Plains

Fine Gardening - Issue 188
Soft Caress Mahonia

Shade in the garden might seem like a limitation, but the seasoned gardener knows this is just an opportunity to utilize plants that would wilt in a sunny spot.

As Andrew Bunting says in his article on shrubs for shade, there are plenty of options for bringing interest to your shade garden: “If you take a dim view of the shady spots in your garden, it may be because you haven’t found the right plants to make those areas shine. A few well-chosen shrubs can transform a shadowy area into a showcase, and there are more choices available than you might imagine.”

Find four picks for the Southern Plains below, and find even more shrubs for shade in Andrew’s article, 9 Great Shrubs for Shade.


1. Baby Jade™ Boxwood

Baby Jade Boxwood
Photo: courtesy of Greenleaf Nursery

Name: Buxus microphylla var. japonica ‘Grejade’

Zones: 5–9

Size: 3 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Japan

Baby Jade™ is not your average boxwood. Its cool, jade green color, the upright growth habit of its branches, and its natural small size have made it a favorite evergreen for shade gardens. This variety has good heat tolerance and a moderate growth rate, making it versatile as a foundation planting under a window or when layering plants in a larger bed. I’m partial to the way colorful shade perennials and annuals pop in front of the dark green background of Baby Jade™.


2. Mountain Snow™ Andromeda

Mountain Snow Andromeda
Photo: courtesy of Southern Living® Plant Collections

Name: Pieris japonica ‘Planow’

Zones: 4–8

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; well-drained soil

Native range: Japan, Taiwan, eastern China

Mountain Snow™ andromeda impresses in spring with new growth that is a bright bronze. The leaves turn a glossy dark green going into summer, followed by the appearance of multiple, pendulous flower buds. These clusters of buds remain in place through fall and winter before opening into beautiful white flowers early the following spring. Weather in the Southern Plains can be extreme, and Mountain Snow™ proves it can handle the excessive hot temperatures of our summers as well as the occasional surprise snaps of extreme cold in winter.


3. Yewtopia® Plum Yew

Yewtopia Plum Yew
Photo: courtesy of Southern Living® Plant Collections

Name: Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Plania’

Zones: 6–10

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; well-drained soil

Native range: Japan

Got deep shade? The beautiful, dark green Yewtopia® plum yew may be your answer. This soft-needled evergreen grows into a wonderful compact shrub with few pest problems. With the benefit of being deer resistant, the new growth emerges in spring with small, light green branch tips that brighten up the shade until they turn dark green in summer. You can expect greater heat tolerance and drought resistance from this cultivar too. Yews as a group resent standing water, so when siting them, ensure that the soil is well drained.


4. ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia

Soft Caress Mahonia
Photo: Steve Aitken

Name: Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’

Zones: 7–9

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

Native range: China

‘Soft Caress’ mahonia is a striking, relatively new option for the shady landscape. When the days begin to shorten in fall, impressive yellow racemes of blooms appear like bright candles atop a feathery mass of soft green leaves. This shrub’s fine-textured foliage provides a wonderful contrast to the large leaves of colorful heucheras (Heuchera spp. and cvs., Zones 4–9) and the broad foliage of camellias (Camellia spp. and cvs., Zones 8–10). Drought tolerant once established, ‘Soft Caress’ looks great in containers, especially around a pool to add a tropical feel.

Michelle Medlock is a landscape designer with Lawnovations in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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