Master Gardeners: Small shrubs for shady locations | Home And Garden

One of the big challenges for gardeners in South Central Texas is finding shrubs that will grow in the shade.

I always look for low-maintenance plants — those that need minimal water, limited or no pruning and are disease and insect resistant. Also I want those that will add interest to the bed or garden site. I have found that the most difficult areas to deal with are those with deep shade.

Pigeon Berry

Pigeon Berry with simultaneous blooming flowers & berries.

Let’s define shade

According to the “TexasSmartScape” site, partial shade is “4-6 hours of direct sunlight.”

Full shade is defined as “Less than 4 hours of direct sunlight on the plant.”

In my location, this includes the north side of the house. But the main shady area is under a very large live oak tree located in close proximity to the house.

Go native

I try very hard to use native species in my landscape and the choices are somewhat limited. According to the Central Texas Gardener, native choices include Pigeonberry (Rivina humilis), American Beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana), Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus) and Yaupon (Ilex vomitori).


A favorite of the Central Texas Gardener, the Pigeonberry grows to 18” tall and “flowers and fruits almost continuously throughout the growing season.”

It has light pink flowers and red berries that appear at the same time. It is deciduous, but is freeze hardy to zone 7. Once established, it needs little or no water.

Pigeon Berry

Pigeon Berry with simultaneous blooming flowers & berries.

American Beauty Berry

According to the Aggie Horticulture site, the Beauty has “unspectacular greenish-white flowers … followed by clusters of beautiful purple berries in late summer.”

I have several of these growing under the live oak tree. During the drought I watered them only a couple of times. I have to admit they look stressed and have dropped some leaves, but they are survivors. They can be pruned in the winter for a fuller shrub, they max out size wise at about 4 feet by 4 feet.

Turk’s Cap

Turk’s Cap will grow just about anywhere — sun/shade, sandy soil/limestone slopes, and from the Texas Coastal Plain, south to Mexico and east to Florida.

According to the Aggie Horticulture site, the plant can be “fairly large…with 4-to-6-inch leaves.

Its vermilion red flowers are twisted into a tube showing extended red stamens protruding from the whirls,” hence the name “Turk’s Cap.” It provides food for birds and animals, particularly ruby-throated hummingbirds and several species of butterflies. Additionally, it is drought tolerant once established.


Native to South Central Texas, the yaupon holly can grow up to 25 feet tall and can stand both sun and shade and everything in between.

There is a dwarf cultivar which may be more suited to your landscape. Dwarf Yaupon Holly grows into a 2’ high mound so space it accordingly. It can be pruned if you want to keep it smaller. According to Aggie Horticulture, the Dwarf Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’) does not produce red berries and it has a slow growth rate.

Non-native Shade Lovers

In my opinion, one of the lowest maintenance shade-lovers is the Holly Fern. Just announced in September as a Texas A&M AgriLife Texas Superstar, it is great for shady locations.

Described as an “evergreen herbaceous shrubby perennial, the Holly Fern can tolerate moderate drought … is pretty cold hardy and is ideal around or under large trees.”

Shrimp Plant

The Shrimp Plant (Justicia brandegeana) is a native of Mexico.

I have a couple of them growing where they receive dappled morning sun. It is perennial and might freeze back, but my plants survived the freezes during the last two winters.

They flower during the summer and are attractive to hummingbirds, but in deep shade, the plant may form fewer flowers.

Bottom line: You can’t go wrong with any of these shade loving plants. Just make sure you have the space and right light for them.

The Gardeners’ Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at

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