Growing Plants in Containers in the Shade, Part I- Trees and Shrubs

Skimmia Japonica
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In a previous series in growing plants in containers in the sun, trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals were described and their suitability to been grown in containers. It is now to turn our attention to growing plants in containers who can support the shade, where sunshine can become a premium.

In this first article of the series shrubs and trees that can be grown in containers in the shade will be discussed, in terms of the suitability in containers and their preferred growing conditions. The problem is that the most colourful plants require some sun to bloom, but this does not restrict plants in the shade to leaves, as other flowering plants can flourish in these harsher conditions.

Skimmia Japonica
Skimmia Japonica

For autumn and winter wall planters use some young shrubs which produce pretty buds and berries. Once they outgrow the planter they can be moved to their own individual container. Shrub sizes can be controlled by clipping them into shape.

These shrubs can be underplanted with daffodils and muscari in autumn so that there is a blast of colour in early spring.

It is better to plant some larger shrubs or trees in containers as a sole specimen, to give a focal point of a more permanent structure to your shady container garden design.

What follows are shrubs and trees that will tolerate dark, shady conditions in your container garden:

ACER PALMATUM (Japanese Maple) ‘Bloodgood’

Acer 'Bloodgood'
Acer ‘Bloodgood’

This deciduous tree can grow in full shade or full sun, it seems not to matter. The tree has dark reddish purple, maple-like leaves. The leaves themselves turn bright red in autumn and small, purple flowers are noticed in spring.

This 5m large tree would appreciate being grown in a soil based compost in a large pot. After flowering winged red fruits can be seen. It will need plenty of water, especially when it is establishing.

BUXUS SEMPERVIRENS (Box)

Bos S
Buxus Sempervirens

Another shrub which is perfectly happy to be grown in full sun or the shade. It is an evergreen shrub that has a dense population of small oval, bright green leaves. It is usually planted in a large container filled with a soil-based compost, where it will grow up to 1m in height. Topiary can be practiced on the shrub and you can make any number of shapes both regular and irregular.

CAMELLIA x WILLIAMSII

Camellia x williamsii
Camellia x williamsii

This large evergreen shrub can grow up to 5m in height. It has glossy bright green leaves. In spring numerous pink, red or white flowers are produced. The best variety to grow in containers is ‘Donation’, which has pink, semi-double flowers.

A large container of ericaceous compost is required for the shrub to flourish.

CHOISYA TERNATA (Mexican Orange Blossom) ‘Sundance’

Choisya 'Sundance'
Choisya ‘Sundance’

This is yet another shrub that is content to grow in the sun or shade. It is an evergreen shrub that has a tendency to be round in shape. The aromatic glossy leaves are bright green when older but golden whilst young.

The small white flowers that open in late spring and autumn (it can flower twice a year) are fragrant. Grow it in a soil-based compost in a large container where it will grow up to 2.5m in height.

CLETHRA ALNIFOLIA (Sweet Pepper Bush)

Clethra alnifolia
Clethra alnifolia

This deciduous shrub grows up to 2.5m in height. It has oval, serrated, mid-green leaves, and from late summer to early autumn, spikes of fragrant, white, bell-shaped flowers are produced. It appreciates being grown in a large container filled with ericaceous compost. This is one plant which will survive total shade.

FATSIA JAPONICA (Castor Oil Plant)

Fatsia japonica
Fatsia japonica

Yet another shrub that can be grown in full sun or in the shade. It is an evergreen shrub with large, glossy hand-shaped dark green leaves. In autumn small, spherical, white flower heads are produced, which are followed by black berry-like fruits. Plant in a large container of soil-based compost where it will grow up to 2m in height.

FUCHSIA ‘Genii’

Fushsia 'Genii'
Fuchsia ‘Genii’

This tall bushy deciduous shrub grows up to 75cm in height. This fuchsia has large oval, pointed, golden-green leaves. From summer to autumn, single or double, pendant, cerise, and purple flowers are produced. It will need protection from cold winds especially northerlies and Easterlies Plant it in a container full of a soil-based compost.

Other possibilities include fuchsia ‘Doctor Foster’ and fuchsia ‘Mrs Popple’.

FUCHSIA ‘Tom Thumb’

Fuchsia 'Tom Thumb'
Fuchsia ‘Tom Thumb’

This relatively short fuchsia grows up to 50cm in height. Like all fuchsia, it is deciduous with dark, green, oval foliage. In summer until autumn, a mass of pendant bell-shaped, red and mauve-blue flowers are produced. It is small enough to be grown in pots, window boxes and hanging baskets in a soil-based compost.

GAULTHERIA PROCUMBENS (Checkerberry)

Gaultheria procumbens
Gaultheria procumbens

A dwarf, evergreen shrub that only grows up to 15cm in height. It has oval, leathery leaves that are tinged red in winter. In summer small pink-white flower appear, which are followed by scarlet coloured berries. You can use them in window boxes, or winter hanging baskets using ericaceous compost.

HEBE ‘Red Edge’

Hebe
Hebe

This small growing evergreen shrub has oval blue-green leaves with red margins. This 45cm tall shrub has clusters of pale mauve to white flowers in summer. It needs to be planted in a sheltered site, where it appreciates being in a pot of soil-based compost. Trim flowers after flowering to keep neat and tidy.

HELIOTROPIUM ARBORESCENS ‘Cherry Pie’

Heliotropium 'Cherry Pie'
Heliotropium ‘Cherry Pie

This is an evergreen shrub that is often grown as an annual. It is a short shrub only growing to 45cm in height with its oval, dark green crinkly leaves. The clusters of purple or white flowers are fragrant and produced throughout the summer months. Plant in pots near the front door in multipurpose compost to enjoy the fragrance. Look out for ‘Princess Marina’

PHYSOCARPUS OPULIFOLIUS (Ninebark)

Physocarpus opulifolius
Physocarpus opulifolius

Another large deciduous shrub that can grow up to 3m in height. The leaves are lobed and are of green, yellow and purple-red in colour. In summer clusters of pale pink domed flowers are produced, which as followed by brown fruits.

A large pot of soil-based compost is required in order for the plant to produce its display. ‘Lady in Red’ is the preferred specimen to grow in pots.

RHODODENDRON YAKUSHIMANUM ‘Yakushima Rhododendron’

Rhododendron_yakushimanum
Rhododendron yakushimanum

This 2m tall evergreen compact shrub, has leathery, green leaves that are felted underneath. The flowers are bell-shaped and are white with a pink hue. They are produced in spring when grown in its preferred ericaceous compost. The roots do not like to be dry, so water well in dry weather. An alternative could be Rhododendron impeditum.

SKIMMIA JAPONICA

Skimmia Japonica
Skimmia Japonica

This compact (up to 1m in height) bushy evergreen shrub has oval, mid to dark green leaves. In spring clusters of fragrant, white flowers are produced, which are followed by red berries if a female species are planted. Males only produce flowers and no berries. Plant in a soil based compost and enjoy the scent.

Skimmia x confuse ‘Kew Garden’ can be used as an alternative.

CONCLUSIONS

In this article, shrubs and trees that can be grown in containers in the shade have been discussed. What is noticed is that some shrubs can be planted either in full sun or full shade, whilst others will tolerant shade very well.

The range of plants to use compared to full sun is more limited, but a full range of plants can be used. These plants cover different leaf shapes, flower forms, and colours. No matter what there is a tree or shrub for you.

If you have any questions or comments that you wish to make, please do not hesitate to contact me in the comment box below.

Remember the sun still shines in the shade.


8 thoughts on “Growing Plants in Containers in the Shade, Part I- Trees and Shrubs”

  1. Hi Antonio, so in regards to the Skimmia Japonica, what indications when purchasing this that would tell me whether it is male or female?  Should I ask the florist whom I’m buying it from?  Also I know you said in the spring it creates that lovely scent; however are able to remove some of the shrubs and place in a pot in the home, so you can enjoy that fragrance during the winter time?  These type of plants are my favorite because I love the way they make my house smell and the area around my home during the warmer climate.  This is why I love Fuchsia plants because they are not only gorgeous, but I can plant in a window box and enjoy all year long, as long as they are properly maintained.  What plant would you recommend to have the longest pot life?

    this article has been very informative for me in guiding me to choose the plants I want to put in front of my house, plant in pots at home and hang on my porch.

    Robert

    1. Hi Robert

      Thank you for those kind words.  Skimmias are generally happy outside, as it is not an indoor plant.  If you go to a garden centre on the label, it will say if it is a male or female plant.  The male is grown for its flower, whilst the female for its berries.  You can instead grow it near your front door, where the scent will hit you first thing in the morning.  In the near future, I will be reviewing houseplants, and in this, I will highlight scented plants,  Look out for this forthcoming article.

      Fuschsia is another outdoor plant but does well in pots, hanging baskets and window boxes.  They will provide colour during the summer months.

      Kind Regards

      Antonio

  2. This is very important to know. We are used to buying those products instead of making them. The idea is great as it can grow your own plants, trees, shrubs, etc.

    Most of the plants you shared in the article will look amazing outside in my back yard. However, I’m sure that the information you have provided will help me start a successful container garden in the shade.

    You also mentioned that some of them should be exposed to the sun as they need sunlight to grow. Do those plants required to expose all the time?

    Thanks for sharing this article.

    1. Hi Andres

      Thank you for visiting my website.  Some of the plants that I mentioned are quite happy to be grown in full sun or in the shade, they are not too fussy, as long as you provide the right growing conditions. 

      Kind regards

      Antonio

  3. I just started gardening last year and am still learning.  I thank you for such an in-depth post regarding the ins and outs of it.  I will definitely be using this site as guidance. I especially like how you incorporated your favorites and gave great content about each type of flower. 

    1. Hi Tru2Yu

      Everybody starts without any knowledge, and therefore I try to incorporate as much information in my articles so that beginners can grow their plants successfully in containers.  Keep coming back and your knowledge will most certainly improve.

      Kind Regards

      Antonio

  4. Hello
    Thank you for your informative article, we have three areas in the garden small spaces to put shrubs but one part is vey shady other parts shady but see the sun, we are looking for tall upright shrubs as for screening, we have cypress trees as a hedge but my husband cut them down so are smaller, we are looking for three shrubs too put in pots in those areas, can you tell me what plants would be suitable and we have coal in the garden as the area used to have a pit and loads of coal in the garden.
    Thank you.

    1. Hello Mrs Eckersley
      Thank you for those kind words and to be truthful in very shady areas no shrub will do well and so I would not plant anything there. For light shaded area I would personally grow Camellia in ericaceous compost, as the green leaves and red or pink flowers in spring will do well. Fatsia Japonica would also be my second choice as the leaves will add interest to any shady areas, My third and final choice would be the sweet pepper bush as this will add nice white flowers in spring and will also provide a scent, provided you use ericaceous compost.
      All of these should do well in a lightly shaded area in containers. If you are looking for a fourth plant you cannot go wrong with a skimmia, as the fragrant flowers are delightful. If you get the female and male plants together, you can have the added bonus of red berries.
      Thanks
      Antonio

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