Shade Loving Conifers – Selecting Conifers For Shade Gardens

shade conifer
shade conifer
(Image credit: Morlaya)

If you want a year-round ornamental tree in a shady corner of your garden, a conifer could be your answer. You’ll find more than a few shade loving conifers, and even more shade tolerant conifers to select between. Before you plant conifers in the shade, you’ll want to get a short list of trees that might work. Read on for a description of a few you should consider.

Conifers in the Shade

Conifers are evergreen trees that have needle-like leaves and bear seeds in cones. Like other types of trees, conifers don’t all have the same cultural requirements. Some grow best if planted in sun, but you can also find conifers for shade. Conifers have a reputation of requiring a sunny location to thrive. This may stem from a few, prominent sun-loving members of the conifer family like pine trees. But if you look around a little, you’ll find confers for shade.

Dense Shade Loving Conifers

Shade comes in many different intensities, from filtered sun to full shade sites. For dense shade areas, you’ll definitely want to consider yews (Taxus spp.) as shade loving conifers. You can find lots of variety in yew heights and growth habits, but most have very dark green needles. Female yews grow red, fleshy aril fruits. Select a species that fits your needs, from groundcover to full-size tree. Be sure you provide excellent drainage and protect yews from deer. The second tree on our list of shade loving conifers is called plum yew (Cephalotaxus spp.), and despite its common name, it’s a completely different plant. Plum yew’s foliage is rougher and coarser, and a softer green than the yew. These conifers for shade are not as picky about soil as the yew.

Light Shade Tolerant Conifers

Not every type of shade tolerant conifers can thrive in full shade. Here are some options for shade tolerant conifers that can grow in light shade or filtered sun. Canada hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) words as a conifer for shade as long as the shade is fairly light. You can find weeping varieties or opt for the graceful pyramid shaped trees. American arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) and western red cedar (Thuja plicata) are both Native American trees that can thrive in sun or in high shade. If you want conifers for shade with mounded shapes and a loose growth habit, consider variegated elkhorn cedar (Thujopsis dolabrata ‘Nana Variegata’). It grows slightly taller than an average gardener and offers cheerful green and white foliage. This conifer also needs good drainage and deer protection.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.