7 Affordable, Low-Light Plants and Trees That’ll Thrive Even in the Shadiest Backyards

published May 10, 2022
Apartment Therapy received compensation for this post, which was written and edited independently by our editorial team.
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When it comes to adding personality — and functionality — to your home’s exterior, landscaping can go a long way. From flowering shrubs that add delicate beauty to living hedges that keep away prying eyes, choosing the right plants for your landscape can make all the difference in how you enjoy your time outdoors.

When it came time to turn our attention to the exterior of our new-to-us home, my husband and I quickly realized we needed something that could survive our land’s shady situation and establish itself fast to provide privacy. A fence was totally out of the question — it just didn’t jive with our home’s 1800s charm and the rock walls already on our property, not to mention it cost much more than we wanted to spend. A bit of internet sleuthing for a cost-effective solution led me to FastGrowingTrees.com and the Thuja Green Giant varietal that promised to be the answer to our desire for shade-friendly privacy. We snagged 12 trees, and they’re already well on their way to establishing themselves as a living privacy hedge that will shield us from nearby neighbors and the road.

Since that purchase, FastGrowingTrees.com has become a go-to when we’re looking for landscape options that don’t break the bank. Shopping the site is like having a built-in pro on your side to help you navigate which options are right for your growing region and your lawn’s specific needs. This latter feature is especially helpful for me, because a lot of our landscape is already established, and thus, we need to choose plants that thrive in the shade in some spots of our yard. You might think that makes our selection meek, but not on FastGrowingTrees.com — they have a huge selection of shade-friendly picks that are as pretty as they are practical. Check out some of our favorites below for adding much-needed texture, color, and visual interest to your yard — no matter how much sunshine you get. Bonus: Sign up for their e-mail list right now and you’ll receive $10 off your first purchase. Backyard oasis, coming right up!

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For a backyard that looks straight out of a Nancy Meyers' movie, a lemon tree is an absolute must. Unlike traditional lemons, Meyer lemons are a sweeter cross between the sour fruit and oranges, and they can fruit within the first three years, so you'll be enjoying the literal fruits of your labor in no time. This particular tree can thrive in- or outdoors and can handle temperatures down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a great option for cold-weather dwellers that still crave that Cali-cool landscape look.

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Score vacation vibes 24/7 with the addition of a Mexican Fan Palm tree (or two!) in your backyard. This quick-growing variety will add up to 3 feet per year of growth, so it's great for homes that are just getting their landscaping established. Plant it in the backyard if you live in USDA Hardiness zones 9 through 11, or pot it up for indoor/outdoor life in zones 4 through 11. Bonus: This guy is drought resistant, so even your black-thumbed spouse can't kill it.

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Sometimes you just want a little extra privacy from a nearby road or nosey neighbor. If that's the case with your home, you have officially met your match with the Thuja Green Giant tree. A varietal of arborvitae, it grows great in zones 5 through 8 and will establish itself rapidly in your landscape, adding up to 6 feet of growth per year. Plant a few alongside your front entry for a serious statement or arrange a dozen or so in a straight row for a living privacy hedge that's both beautiful and effective.

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If you want a tree that puts on a serious show come spring, look no further than the pink weeping cherry tree. It pairs the dramatic and lush draping shape of a weeping willow with the bubble gum pink blossoms that are notorious with cherry trees for a specimen that provides year-round interest. Best of all, it's one of the longest-lived flowering trees available and can hold its own against everything from poor soil to excessive heat, so you won't have to work super hard to coax out its blooms.

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Calling all New Englanders! If you call the Northern states home (or just fancy yourself a tried-and-true prep), then you probably already have a soft spot for hydrangeas. Basically the unofficial bloom of the New England coast, these beauties erupt in summer with a bounty of cloud-like blooms and will keep showing off year after year as they get established. They're also one of the few flowering shrubs that love the shade, so you can add beauty to your patio or landscape even if it doesn't get blasted with around-the-clock sunshine.

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Chances are this isn't the first time you're hearing about boxwood shrubs. You've probably spotted them on the finely manicured lawns in your area — or at the very least, in the pristine gardens on Bridgerton — but we promise they're much easier to keep than their pedigree suggests. This wintergreen varietal from FastGrowingTrees.com is suitable for growing in zones 5 through 8 and can withstand chilly temps down to -10 degrees Fahrenheit, so you'll always have a spot of green to boost your mood. Are topiaries not your style? No worries. Just periodically trim these hedges into a simple square or round shape to keep them tidy.

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There's just something so romantic about the idea of a weeping willow — if your mind immediately goes to intimate lakeside picnics and lazy hours spent reading in the shade, you wouldn't be alone. Score that storybook appeal in your very own backyard with Fast Growing Trees' weeping willow. Suited for growing zones 4 through 9, it will establish quickly and is exceptionally well-suited to damp or boggy areas where other trees might have a hard time establishing.