Hammamelis (witch hazel)

Best winter shade plants

Discover the best shade-loving plants to grow for winter flowers, scent, berries and evergreen foliage.

A spectacular shady garden in winter relies upon the presence of plants with berries, seed heads, flowers, evergreen foliage or architectural beauty.

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For plants with bright, scented flowers, try growing witch hazel and mahonia, planted near a path where you can enjoy the fragrant blooms.

Hollies and skimmia are practically aglow with berries in winter, while winter aconitessnowdrops and cyclamen can be planted in large drifts to create a beautiful floriferous carpet.

More winter gardening advice:

Take a look at seven of our favourite winter shade plants, below.

Winter can be a bit drab, so brightly coloured plants are invaluable, especially in shade.

Witch hazel

Yellow-flowered witch hazel
Yellow-flowered witch hazel

Hamamelis will happily grow in partial shade, where the bright, sweetly-scented flowers combine well with the bold stems of rubus, cornus and winter-flowering bulbs. Try growing Hamamelis ‘Savill Starlight’, for its lemon-sherbert coloured flowers.


Rubus biflorus

White-stemmed bramble
White-stemmed bramble

The white stems of this scrambling bramble, Rubus biflorus, look stunning in winter light. Enhance the affect by planting the low-growing black grass, Ophiopogon, in the foreground. Hard-prune it each spring for the whitest winter stems.


Evergreen grasses

Variegated evergreen carex
Variegated evergreen carex

Soft evergreen grasses like carex are ideal for brightening up dark areas of bare soil. Grow it in partial shade and try combining with the scorching hot stems of dogwoods like Cornus sanguinea and Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’.


Dogwood

Red-stemmed cornus in winter
Red-stemmed cornus in winter

Winter can be a bit drab, so brightly coloured plants are invaluable, especially in shade. Dogwoods (Cornus) do this job admirably and will enjoy growing in partial shade. Just be sure to prune them hard in spring to encourage vibrant, new stems to grow.


Hellebores

Hellebore flowers
Hellebore flowers

Hellebores are one of the first plants to flower in the year, so they’re perfect for cheering up gloomy, shady areas in winter. They’re perfectly at home in partial shade and have the benefit of being generally healthy and robust plants.


Evergreen ferns

Evergreen asplenium fern
Evergreen asplenium fern

If it’s evergreen foliage that you seek, then look no further than ferns. Generally trouble-free, there are many beautiful types to grow, including the glossy hart’s tongue fern, common polypody as a groundcover or the leathery-leaved hard fern.


Holly

Holly foliage and berries
Holly foliage and berries
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Not only can holly be used to create attractive Christmas decorations, but birds will thank you for the berried rewards, too. It’s happy in full shade, but bear in mind that only females will produce berries, and you’ll need a male plant nearby for this to happen.


Ornamental grasses in winter

Don’t cut back deciduous ornamental grasses in autumn – their buff colour and striking forms look beautiful during the winter months. Cut them back in early spring when new green shoots appear at the base.

Secateurs