There are many shrubs that will grow well in shade on Cape Cod, especially if the location either gets a couple of hours of direct sun, or dappled sun through trees during the course of the day. Most shade-tolerant shrubs actually do best if they are receiving a little sun at some point. Blue mophead Hydrangeas, for example, bloom best when they get at least two hours of direct sun, be that all at one time or through the canopy of trees throughout the day.
Choose plants according to how tall they will grow so that you won’t have to fight their genetics with pruning. We’ve shown a few shrubs here, in this blog post, but you can
download a more complete list, sorted by size, by clicking here.
Male Skimmia is a short evergreen that not only does well in shade, but it has reddish buds all winter long. These open in the spring to be white flowers. The female Skimmia have red berries. Skimmia makes a good plant for shady foundation beds, but make sure the soil is acidic and fertilize with Holly-tone.
Otto Luyken Cherry Laurel is very shade tolerant on Cape Cod. This evergreen has fragrant flowers in May and spreads wide but doesn’t grow too tall.
Rhododendrons and red-leaf maple trees do well in places where there is filtered light through the canopy of trees. These Rhododendrons are all varieties that grow tall. Use taller plants for screening, and shorter varieties for close to the house.
Pieris japonica is commonly called “Andromeda” on Cape Cod. This one is Dorothy Wycoff, and the flowers are pinkish in color.
Kerria japonica is a medium-sized shrub that has sprays of bright yellow flowers in the spring. The canes arch out to the sides, so allow plenty of space so that the shrub can keep its natural shape. Kerria’s stems stay bright green in winter, and look almost grass-like in those months.
If you have a large space to fill with a shade-lover that is so dense that the weeds don’t grow underneath, try the bottle brush buckeye. This stunning plant gets huge, but when it’s in bloom the shrub is a show-stopper.
Boxwood can be sheared into more formal shapes, as in this lovely landscape, or it can be left to grow in a natural form.
Fothergilla thrives in dappled shade, but like the oak-leaf Hydrangea, the foliage takes on more fall color when the plant gets at least four hours of direct sun.
The blue Hydrangeas that are Cape favorites thrive in dappled shade or morning sun. Behind this blue Endless Summer is one of our native smooth hydrangeas, arborescens. The smooth group can have white, lime, pink, or mauve colored flowers according to the variety. They are also available in assorted sizes so you can choose the smaller Mini-Mauvette for your foundation plantings, and the Incrediball or Annabelle for larger spaces away from the house.
The University of Massachusetts has more lists of suggested plants for specific locations here.