Small Ornamental Shade Trees: Learn About Ornamental Trees That Grow In Shade

onramental shade
onramental shade
(Image credit: ErikaMitchell)

You don’t need a garden that bakes in the sun all day to grow ornamental trees. Choosing small ornamental trees for shade areas is a great option, and you’ll have quite a variety to choose from. What to look for when you want ornamental trees that grow in shade? Here are some tips about selecting ornamental shade trees.

About Ornamental Shade Trees

If you live in a city, you may have a typically small urban lot that gets shade from nearby structures. These are perfect sites for ornamental trees that grow in shade. Even rural areas have shady spots where small ornamental shade trees might work perfectly. Before you start selecting among ornamental trees that grow in shade, figure out which hardiness zone you live in. The Department of Agriculture has developed a zone system for the nation based on the lowest minimum winter temperatures, running from very cold zone 1 to very hot zone 13. You’ll want to be sure to pick ornamental shade trees that grow happily in your zone. You might also want to take a look at shade trees that are native to your area. Native trees tend to have less disease and pest issues than exotic cultivars. Narrow down your search when you want to find what ornamental tree likes shade. Determine how tall you’d like your shade tree and whether fall color is important to you.

What Ornamental Tree Likes Shade?

You may believe that it’s hard to start locating and choosing small ornamental trees for shade. What ornamental tree likes shade? As it happens, you’ll find quite a few ornamental trees that grow in shade available in commerce. Note that some of these trees might also grow in sunny locations. However, all of the trees mentioned here grow well in some shade. If you are looking for a really small tree, one under 10 feet (3 m.) tall, consider vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) which tops out at 6 to 10 feet (2-3 m.) tall. It grows bright, yellow blossoms in early spring, even in filtered shade. For an ornamental that tolerates very heavy shade, think about American bladdernut (Staphylea trifoliata). It grows to between 5 and 15 feet (1.5-5 m.) high and is a native plant. Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata) approaches the same height and offers lovely dark foliage. Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) is a native that grows to 18 feet (5.5 m.) in filtered shade. If you want slightly taller ornamental trees, look at speckled alder (Alnus rugosa), Juneberry (Amelanchier arborea), or Allegheny serviceberry (Amelachier laevis), all of which grow to between 15 and 25 feet (5-8 m.) tall. Blue beech (Carpinus caroliniana) thrives in heavy shade and offers beautiful fall cover. Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana) is another native tree that likes heavy shade.

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.