11 Best Trees That Grow in Shade for Years

Minimal Sunlight Species for Every Zone

illustration of tree varieties that grow in full shade

The Spruce

Finding a tree to grow in full shade can be a bit tricky. Most plants crave as much sun as they can get during the day so that their leaves can perform photosynthesis. 

There are, however, some that have adapted well enough to tolerate less light. While you may not get optimal height, flowering, or fruiting, the tree will at least be able to grow there. You also need to carefully consider any plants you place underneath these trees. The leaf canopy will only deepen the shade, so choose accompanying plants like hostas and impatiens that can grow in full shade. The trees below are either deciduous (annual leaf shedding) or evergreen (retains green leaves year-round):


  • American beech
  • American hornbeam
  • Big leaf maple
  • American hop hornbeam
  • Common hoptree
  • Japanese maple
  • Pagoda dogwood
  • Pawpaw (Northern species)
  • Sugar maple


  • Eastern hemlock (conifer)
  • Japanese yew (conifer)
  • Pawpaw (Southern species)

Here is more information about the 11 trees which are suitable for planting in full shade locations.

  • 01 of 11

    American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)

    Beech tree in the forest
    LAByrne / Getty Images

    The American beech is, as the name suggests, one source for beech nuts which are favored by wildlife and can be eaten by humans. This understory tree shows silky, oval pale green leaves that darken in summer and turn yellow-brown in autumn. The American beech thrives in full shade in dense, complex forests. Even out of the sunlight, it can live up to 400 years.

    • USDA Zones: 4 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Height: 20 to 30 feet
    • Soil Needs: Moist and rich
  • 02 of 11

    American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana)

    American Hornbeam
    bkkm / Getty Images

    The wood of the American hornbeam is quite strong, inspiring the common name of ironwood. Hornbeam also refers to the wood's strength since "beam" is a name for a tree in the Old English language. This tree features a fluted, gray trunk with green catkins appearing in spring. Clusters of winged nuts are produced in autumn as the leaves turn orange and red. The flowers are also useful and are included as a component of the alternative medicine therapy called Bach Flower Remedies.

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Height: 30 feet
    • Soil Needs: Moist/wet and acidic
  • 03 of 11

    Big-Leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum)

    Big leaf maple in Olympic NP, Washington
    Alvis Upitis / Getty Images

    The big-leaf maple is appropriately named. Each leaf can grow up to two feet long, deeply lobed, and dark green turning to yellow and orange-yellow in autumn. This maple thrives in dark and dense areas as well as sunny areas. They can be big drinkers, so areas with lots of rain are ideal.

    • USDA Zones: 6 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Height: 75 to 100 feet
    • Soil Needs: From shallow and rocky to wet and loamy
  • 04 of 11

    Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

    Eastern hemlock branches
    AndrisL/Getty Images

    Few evergreen trees can tolerate shade. Eastern hemlock is a great species able to handle lower light during the day. This tree may show several trunks with gray shoots of two-ranked dark green leaves that show silver lines beneath. Branches are similar to those of the spruce genus.

    • USDA Zones: 4 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Height: 50 feet
    • Soil Needs: Rocky to average soil
    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • 05 of 11

    American Hop-Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)

    Ironwood fruit 2
    Bob Corson / Getty Images

    The hop-hornbeam is a cousin of the true hornbeams (Carpinus) and the name hop refers to the fact that the fruit is similar in look to the flowers on hops vines (Humulus lupulus,) used in the production of beer. This deciduous conical-shaped tree features dark brown bark with deep green leaves turning yellow in autumn. Yellowish catkins in spring are followed by greenish-white fruit clusters.

    • USDA Zones: 5 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to shade for best results
    • Height: 50 feet
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained, and acidic
  • 06 of 11

    Common Hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata)

    Water ash blossom

    The common hoptree is a small deciduous tree that can fit into most gardens. The flowers are sweet-smelling although an unpleasant odor arises if the foliage or bark is damaged resulting in the common name stinking ash.

    • USDA Zones: 4 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Height: 50 feet
    • Soil Needs: Moist to dry, well-drained, and loamy
  • 07 of 11

    Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)

    a Japanese maple tree
    Ketkarn sakultap / Getty Images

    Japanese maples are popular and common specimen trees for the landscape. These ornamental, bushy-headed plants can range in size from large shrubs to small trees. They prefer to have at least some shade to protect their foliage, though colors may start to fade, and fall color could be less spectacular if they get too much shade. Leaves are palmate turning a wide variety of colors in autumn. Clusters of reddish-purple flowers appear in spring. There are thousands of different cultivars available in a variety of colors and leaf shapes.

    • USDA Zones: 5 to 9, varies by cultivar
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Height: 20 feet or more, varies by cultivar
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained and acidic
  • 08 of 11

    Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata)

    Yew berries in a tree
    Dragan Todorovic / Getty Images

    The Japanese yew is another shade-tolerant evergreen tree. In fact, it is one of the best evergreens in this situation. A spreading habit results in the common name of spreading yew. Native to China, Japan, Korea, and Russia, this conifer tolerates very dry and shady conditions.

    • USDA Zones: 5 to 7
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Height: to 30 feet
    • Soil Needs: Sandy, loamy, and well-drained
    Continue to 9 of 11 below.
  • 09 of 11

    Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

    Powder Puff White Flowers Amid Green Leaves
    bkkm / Getty Images

    This is a deciduous spreading tree or bushy shrub with tiered branches. Clusters of tiny, star-shaped, creamy white flowers appear in spring followed by small, round blue-black fruits. Flowering improves with more sun, but the pagoda dogwood is one possibility for your full shade spot. Also known as the green osier, alternate leaf dogwood, and alternate-leaved dogwood, this dogwood grows in Eastern North America.

    • USDA Zones: 4 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Height: 20 feet
    • Soil Needs: Moist, acidic, and well-drained
  • 10 of 11

    Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)

    Pawpaw tree with fruit
    Renata Oliva / EyeEm / Getty Images

    The fruits of the pawpaw taste somewhat like bananas. Two plants are required for pollination and a smaller fruit crop will result if your pawpaw is planted in full shade. Large, oval green leaves appear at the same time as the six-petaled purplish-brown flowers. Also known as the Indiana banana and common pawpaw, it is native to Eastern North Carolina and grows well in several neighboring states.

    • USDA Zones: 6 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Height: 12 feet
    • Soil Needs: Acidic to neutral, and well-drained
  • 11 of 11

    Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

    Sugar maple trees in autumn color Guelph Ontario Canada
    Mike Grandmaison / Getty Images

    The sugar maple is best known for its brilliant scarlet foliage in autumn. This is also the best tree for extracting sap for making maple syrup. This is an attractive tree for the landscape in summer with deeply palmate bright green leaves. Common names include rock maple and hard maple,

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Height: 70 feet
    • Soil Needs: Non-compacted, fertile, well-drained, slightly acidic
Article Sources
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  1. Fagus grandifolia. USDA.

  2. Deekshitulu, Balaji. Mental Health for Flower Remedies. International Journal of Philosophical Research, 1:3, 2019. doi:10.28933/IJOPR