University of Maryland Extension

Low Light - Trees and Shrubs

declining shrub in low light

Back to Common Problems - Trees and Shrubs

Many shrubs require full sun for optimum growth. Sun loving plants growing in partial sun or shade are unable to produce as much growth as a plant growing in full sun due to reduced photosynthesis. Plants growing in shade will exhibit elongated spindly growth, with fewer side branches, and thin pale colored or yellow leaves. The leaves are usually larger and thinner (providing more surface area for photosynthesis) than leaves of the same species growing in full sun. Often plants are grown in the shade of nearby trees. Tree roots compete with shrubs for available water and usually win, causing further stress on shrubs growing in the shade.

Pruning to encourage branching and more compact growth may help to alleviate some problems. Consider pruning selected branches from nearby trees to allow more light to reach understory plants. Selection of shade tolerant plants is the best way to overcome light related problems. Shrubs that will tolerate deep shade to part shade are Japanese aucuba, Heavenly bamboo, Drooping leucothoe, Japanese andromeda, Mahonia, Mountain laurel, Rhododendrons, and Leatherleaf viburnum. Shrubs that will grow well in partial shade are Glossy abelia, Thorny elaeagnus, Ink berry, Cherry laurel, Sweetshrub, Boxwood, and Viburnum spp. Even shade tolerant plants will produce fewer flowers when grown in dense shade.

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