Growing Shrubs in Containers Suitable for the Shade

Perwinkle in a container is a sight to behold.
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In this article, we will be talking about what shrubs can be grown in containers that will do well in the shade. We all know that growing plants in the shade can be problematic as plants, in general, do not do as well as if it is grown in full sun. I have in the past talked about plants that can be grown in containers in the shade, but in this article, I want to concentrate on what shrubs can brighten up shady areas, as a feature specimen.

Perwinkle in a container is a sight to behold.
Perwinkle in a container is a sight to behold.

You are limited to what can be grown but this does not mean that you will have to do without. Shrubs not only add welcome height, but they also add beauty in the leaves they have and the flowers that they produce. A welcome sight in any container garden scheme.

The following shrubs are recommended for growing in containers in the shade.

AUCUBA JAPONICA (Spotted Laurel)

This is one of the best shrubs to have in deep shade and the variegated types known as spotted laurels really do brighten up these areas. The leaves are glossy and toothed along the upper half.

Aucuba japonica
Aucuba japonica

With almost all varieties the flowers are insignificant and are either male or female. If you want to grow this shrub for its colourful red berries, then you will need to buy a female variety and have a male variety close by. Not fussy in what soil it will grow in, but in containers full of well-drained, multipurpose compost it will do well, where it can grow up to 2.2m in height.


This is a wonderful shrub and some experts claim it is the queen of the flowering shrubs, as it has glossy, green leaves all year round and beautiful flowers. Why it appeals to gardeners is that it is in flower when little else is in bloom and appears before the famed Rhododendrons.

Camellia japonica
Camellia japonica

The flowers are showy and generally 5 to 12cm across, depending on the variety. They may be single, double, anemone or peony-shaped. It is hardy as a shrub can be but it has some pet hates; it hates alkaline soils and it does not like cold winds or early morning sun and frosts, as these can quickly damage the flowering buds.

Most camellias grow up to 2m in height but then 5m giants also exist. The ones to grow in containers is Camellia japonica, which tends to flower between February and early May, where the blooms can be pink, white or red,

Grow this beauty in a large container full of ericaceous compost in light shade, but will require if a mulch is applied each spring.

 FATSIA JAPONICA (False Castor Oil Plant)

This is a plant for north-facing walls in shady sites as it quickly clothes a sunless spot with its large and glossy leaves all year round. The leaves get talked about but the candelabra-like flower heads are a welcome addition to an autumn garden (they appear in October and November).

Fatsia japonica
Fatsia japonica

When you buy one make sure it is an outdoor specimen, not one designed as a houseplant. It does have a dual purpose. Any plant grown under glass will need a lengthy hardening off period, otherwise, it will not stand frosts. The 30cm, 7 to 9 finger-like lobes of the leaves are attractive in the shade, where the shrub can grow up to 3m in height.  A variegated form also exists and does add an extra dimension, but it is not frost hardy.

Grow it in a large container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost preferable in a sheltered spot.


Hypericum calycinum
Hypericum calycinum

This is a shrub for you if you need an undemanding plant to enlighten a dull, shady area with its bright yellow flower that appears from midsummer until October. The blooms tend to be flat discs with a central boss of stamens. In some varieties, these flowers are followed by shiny black or red fruits in winter. This is a completely reliable low growing shrub that only reaches 1.5m high that will thrive under trees or on dry locations.

It is a quick spreader and therefore growing in a container may be the best option to prevent this, Grow rose of Sharon in a well-drained, multipurpose compost where it will thrive in full sun or partial shade. After the flowers have finished their show, you will need to cut them back to almost ground level in March.

 LONICERA (Honeysuckle)

Lonicera nitida
Lonicera nitida

When you think of honeysuckles, you think of climbing plants with sweetly scented flowers but there are numerous shrubby varieties. The one to grow in containers is Lonicera nitida that will thrive in light shade, as it is often grown as a hedge. The leaves may be colourful as ‘Baggesen’s Gold’ that has yellow leaves but the yellow flowers that are produced in May are insignificant.

It is a plant that is bought for its leaves and not its bloom, It grows up to 2m in height, when planted in a large container full of moisture-retentive, multipurpose compost in light shade, It is best to cut back after the blooms have faded.


This is a very popular shrub that has everything; it provides all year interest with its shiny, serrated green leaves that are often tinged purple in winter, and it produces fragrant yellow flowers between autumn and spring, depending on the variety grown.

Mahonia aquilfolium 'Apollo'
Mahonia aquilfolium ‘Apollo’

They are not fussy plants and will grow in the shade and in any garden soils. An ideal plant for under the cover of trees or close to the north-side of the house. It grows up to 2m in height and so is more compact than other varieties of Mahonia, but it can spread widely.  ‘Apollo’  is the variety to grow, as it makes a great cover plant where the yellow flowers are observed between March and April, but it is not as invasive as the others.

Grow them in a large container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost in light shade. Any unwanted branches can be removed in April.


This is an excellent bush to have amongst other bushes with large and colourful flowers. It has a neat and rounded growth habit and like a holly tree, it has sharp, pointing leaves. The white, tubular blooms that appear are small but they do have a Jasmine-like fragrance to them. The flowers appear between September and October.

Osmanthus heterophyllum
Osmanthus heterophyllus

Osmanthus does not need to be pruned but the leaves can be scorched by cold northerly winds in winter. ‘Purpureus’ has purple-tinged leaves and ‘Variegatus’ have creamy white-edged leaves. The flowers tend to hide behind the foliage.

Grow this 2m tall shrub in a large container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost in full sun or partial shade.

 RUBUS (Ornamental Bramble)

The ornamental bramble is grown for their colourful stems in winter. R. cockburnianus tend to be the most popular one. Most others are grown for their flowers or their fruits. They are arching bushes and have flowers that look like single roses with a centre of golden stamens. They are tall rambling plants, each growing up to 3.2m high.  It is not an easy plant to accommodate as it can look scruffy. The fruits that are produced are edible but tasteless.

Rubus 'Benenden'
Rubus ‘Benenden’

The best plant to grow is R.  ‘Benenden’ whose stems are thornless and produces the most colourful blooms. In May, 5cm in diameter, fragrant white blooms appear along the brown, peeling stems.

R. odoratus is so different, the stems do not arch but the leaves are velvety, and the flowers are purplish-red that appears in clusters in June-September. Other possibilities include:

R. spectabilis is a short variety, growing up to 1.2m in height and well worth growing in containers, where the prickly stems produce flowers in April.

R. illecebrosus on the other hand is a low growing shrub that produces white flower and large red fruits. Grow these plants in a large container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost in partial shade. In autumn remove some of the older stems, especially the dead and damaged branches.


This is an ideal shrub for growing in containers, as it is a tough little plant, standing up to salt sprays, air pollution and partial shade.

Skimmia Japonica
Skimmia Japonica

Skimmias will not take any waterlogging at all. It only grows up to 1m in height and the large leather green leaves are silvery below. It flowers in spring and the glossy, red berries appear in autumn, where they will persist all winter long.

The berry display only occurs if you plant a male variety close to a female one. No matter what, Skimmia have some of the most fragrant flowers in the shrub world. ‘Fragrans’ is the male variety to grow for its scent, whilst ‘Nymans’ is the female variety that produces the largest, red berries.

Grow Skimmia in a large container full of ericaceous compost in full sun or partial shade. A low maintenance shrub for the container garden.


This is one of the easiest shrubs to grow and will flourish in any soil in full sun or partial shade. It will cover large areas in the garden, under trees and where you need to make an instant statement. The flowers tend to be small and either pink oy white and tend to appear in spring. These are followed by a mass of round red or white berries that appear in autumn and persist for many months.

Symphoricarpos x doorenbosii
Symphoricarpos x doorenbosii

The variety to grow in containers is S.x doorenbosii, as it does not form suckers. ‘Magic berry’ grows up to 1m and has rose-pink berries. ‘Mother of Pearl’ grows up to 1.3m high and produce pink-flushed white berries and ‘White Hedge’, only grows up to 60cm in height.

Grow this beauty in a large container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost in the shade. You will need to remove about a third of the old stems in early spring and it will need a trim in summer.


Viburnums are a large group of shrubs and they come in a range of shapes and forms. There is no standard leaf form and the flower head patterns are all different. They can be both evergreen and deciduous, depending on the variety grown. This is why it is confusing to the gardener, but it is a valuable shrub to have with it’s all the year-round interest.

Viburnum davidii
Viburnum davidii

The one to grow in containers in the hade is Viburnum davidii, as it only grows up to 60cm in height. It flowers in spring producing beautiful white blooms but the blue berries that appear afterwards take the leaves to another level.

If you want to have berries produced, you will need to have male and female specimens within close approximation with each other.

Grow it in a container with enriched, well-drained, multipurpose compost in light shade. You can cut back damaged and unwanted branches after flowering in May.

VINCA (Periwinkle)

This is a low shrub that you will find in the shrub section of the garden centre. It can be said to be one of the lowest shrubs that you can find, as often only growing up to 25cm in height. Perwinkle is a trailing plant with green stems, green, oval leaves that often form a tangled mat. It is great cascading over the edge of a container and it can thrive under the cover of a tree. It can thrive in full sun or the shade, where the stem roots into the soil as it spreads.

Vinca major
Vinca major

The popular variety is V. major (Greater Periwinkle) that grows up to 25cm high and produces a succession of small blue flowers from May to September. It can be an invasive plant, so its rampant grown may need to be held in check. Variegated forms also exist that have splashes of yellow or creamy-white.

V. minor (Lesser Periwinkle) tend to be shorted, only growing to 10cm high. It is also smaller in length and is much less of an invasive plant. The flowers are either rich blue, white, or purple and often appear from April and May, but they can continue to bloom until September. Variegated varieties also exist that are either splashed yellow or have creamy-white markings.

Grow them in a container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost in full sun or partial shade. All you need to do is cut back the shoots in spring to keep the plant more compact.


In this article, we have discussed what shrub can be grown in a container in a shady area. As you can see, you are more limited in what can be grown, but the ones I recommend not only have colourful leaves, they produce wonderful flowers. Some of the flowers have an advantage that they are fragrant or they produce colourful berries. They will most certainly look good in any scheme you have in your container garden.

If you have any questions or comments that you wish to make, please do so in the comment box below.

Grow shrubs in the shade today.


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