12 Trees That Grow in Full Shade

illustration of tree varieties that grow in full shade

Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018

Finding a tree that can grow in full shade can be a bit tricky sometimes. After all, 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 the optimal height, flowering, or fruiting, the tree will at least be able to grow there. You will also need to consider any plants you place underneath these trees carefully. These trees will only deepen the shade for them, so make sure you choose accompanying plants like hostas and impatiens that can grow in full shade.

These 12 trees are suitable for planting in full shade locations.

  • 01 of 12

    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. It thrives in full shade in dense, complex forests. Even out of the sunlight, this tree can live up to four hundred years.

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist and rich
  • 02 of 12

    American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana)

    Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), leaves, close-up
    Tom Chance / Getty Images

    The wood of the American hornbeam is quite strong, inspiring the common name of ironwood. Hornbeam also refers to the wood strength since "beam" is a name for a tree in the Old English language. 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
    • Soil Needs: Moist/wet and acidic
  • 03 of 12

    Big-Leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum)

    Silver Falls South Falls in Autumn Big Leaf Maple
    Darrell Gulin / Getty Images

    The big-leaf maple is appropriately named and each leaf can be as long as two feet. Fall colors on this species are yellow and orange-yellow, and it thrives in dark and dense areas as well as sunny areas. They can be big drinkers, so areas with lots of rain is ideal.

    • USDA Zones: 5 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Soil Needs: From shallow and rocky to wet and loamy
  • 04 of 12

    Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

    Eastern hemlock branches
    AndrisL/Getty Images

    Few evergreen trees are able to tolerate shade, as you may have noticed from this list. Eastern hemlock is a great species to handle lower light during the day. They can grow up to 80 feet tall and have gorgeous spruce-like branches.

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 7
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, acidic, and well-drained
    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    American Hop-Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)

    Hop hornbeam leaves in a forest
    Buddha Dog/flickr / CC By 2.0

    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 (Humulus lupulus,) which is used in the production of beer. This tree can grow up to 50 feet tall in even the most shaded of areas.

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to shade for best results
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained, and acidic
  • 06 of 12

    Common Hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata)

    Water ash blossom
    ArtyAlison/GettyImages

    The common hoptree is a small deciduous tree that can fit into most gardens. The flowers are sweet smelling. The name stinking ash came about because of the odor that arises if foliage or bark are damaged. The common hoptree can grow up to 20 feet tall.

    • USDA Zones: 4 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist to dry, well-drained, and loamy
  • 07 of 12

    Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)

    a Japanese maple tree
    Ketkarn sakultap / Getty Images

    Japanese maples do prefer to have at least some shade usually to protect their foliage, though colors may start to fade and fall color could be less spectacular if they get too much shade. 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
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained and acidic
  • 08 of 12

    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. Also known as the Spreading Yew, it's native to China, Japan, Korea, and Russia. It can grow up to 40 feet tall depending on its variety.

    • USDA Zones: 4 to 7
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Sandy, loamy, and well-drained
    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

    Pagoda Dogwood flowers
    rockerBOO/Flickr / CC By 2.0

    Flowering will be better if you can find a site 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 and can grow to be up to 35 feet tall.

    • USDA Zones: 4 to 7
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, acidic, and well-drained
  • 10 of 12

    Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)

    Pawpaw tree with fruit
    Renata Oliva / EyeEm / Getty Images

    You are likely to get a lesser fruit crop from your pawpaw tree if it is planted in full shade, but it will still grow well as long as it has well-drained soil. Also known as the Indiana banana and common pawpaw, it grows in Eastern North Carolina and can grow up to 30 feet tall.

    • USDA Zones: 6 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Acidic to neutral, and well-drained
  • 11 of 12

    Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

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

    The sugar maple is a useful tree to have in your garden. You can experiment with making maple syrup each spring. In the fall, the tree will provide a gorgeous foliage color change display. Otherwise known as the rock maple or hard maple, the sugar maple can grow up to 80 feet.

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Non-compacted, fertile, well-drained, slightly acidic
  • 12 of 12

    Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei)

    Hardy palms with snow on their fronds
    Aaron McCoy / Getty Images

    The windmill palm is a great way to add a tropical feel to your garden since it is able to handle cooler temperatures than many other warm climate staples like other palm trees and banana trees. Also known as the Chusan palm, hemp palm, and Nepalese fan palm, this breezy plant grows in areas of Burma, China, and India and can grow up to 40 feet tall.

    • USDA Zones: 7B to 11
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, but not waterlogged