Five plants for a north-facing wall

North-facing walls can be some of the trickiest areas to plant – the combination of dry soil and shade make it a difficult place for many plants to grow.


However, with the right choices, you can transform a north-facing wall or fence into valuable part of the garden. Before you plant, be sure to prepare the ground carefully – read our five tips for planting in shade.

If you also need inspiration for a north-facing border, check out our recommended plants for a north-facing border.

Discover five plants for a north-facing wall, below.

With the right choices, you can transform a north-facing wall into a valuable part of the garden.

Chaenomeles x superba

These supremely tough shrubs are matched in beauty, making them ideal plants for a north-facing wall. Pretty spring blossoms are followed by fragrant fruits in autumn. Will happily grow in a wide range of different soils.


Clematis alpina

Clematis alpina is native to the mountains of central Europe and northeastern Asia, so it’s no wonder it can cope with growing up a benign north-facing wall. Lovely flowers and foliage, and pruning isn’t essential to boot.


Akebia quinata

This sumptuous climber is commonly known as the chocolate vine, alluding to the intensely-coloured, aromatic blooms. Can grow quickly once established, so be prepared to keep it in check.



Ivy copes extremely well with dry shade. To make a splash against a shady fence, try growing one with variegated leaves. Hedera colchica ‘Sulphur Heart’ (sometimes sold as ‘Paddy’s Pride’ has large leaves that are splashed with yellow – perfect for brightening a shady spot.


Virginia creeper

Turning rich crimson as soon as the frosty nights arrive, Parthenocissus henryana is a fast-growing, self-clinging climber, ideal for a north-facing boundary. Its colour will be more vibrant with a bit of sun during the day.

Improve your soil

Before you plant, make sure you improve the soil you’ll be planting in by incorporating plenty of organic matter, such as leaf mould. Here’s our full advice on how to improve your soil.

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Monday – November 08, 2010

From: Rowlett, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant, Shrubs
Title: Landscaping north facing wall
Answered by: Guy Thompson


We live in the Dallas area and have a north facing home with a large, bare wall. I would like to plant a tall, flowering shrub that will look nice all year round. Or are there flowering vines that are leafy all year round that would do well on a north face? It does get afternoon sun in the summer. What are your suggestions?


There are a number of Texas natives that should look great by your wall. The following summaries, along with the more detailed descriptions and photos on the Wildflower Center’s database web site (click on the Latin name), will hopefully be useful to you.

Shrubs (or small trees)

1. Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon) This evergreen shrub grows to about 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide. It has inconspicuous white flowers but beautiful red berries that persist throughout the winter, finally serving as excellent food for the birds. Yaupon grows slowly until it is about 3-4 feet high and then seems to take off. There are numerous cultivars available from plant nurseries, including dwarf, weeping, and more prolifically fruiting types. I should point out that female flowers (and later berries) occur on a separate plant from male flowers. If you have yaupon shrubs in your neighborhood that have numerous berries you must already have male plants nearby. Otherwise, buy one male plant, such as the ‘Will Fleming” variety, for every 6 or 8 of the female plants that the nurseries normally carry.

2. Ilex decidua (Possumhaw) Another member of the holly family. It is deciduous, dropping its shiny green leaves and leaving twiggy gray branches covered, on female plants, with showy red berries in winter. It grows to 15-30 feet in height. Requires the presence of a male plant to permit bee-mediated cross-pollination.

3. Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain laurel) This slow-growing evergreen ultimately reaches 15 feet or more in height. It has very fragrant clusters of lavender flowers in the spring. (Some say the fragrance reminds them of grape cool-aid.) The tree has an attractive shape and shiny dark green foliage.

4. Rhus virens (Evergreen sumac) Another evergreen, this one grows only about 8-12 feet tall. It is attractive year round, with clusters of white flowers and red fruit ripening on female plants in the fall.

5. Styphnolobium affine (Eve’s necklace) is a small evergreen tree growing to about 20-30 feet. It is a little more open in its growth habit than Yaupon or Texas Mountain Laurel. In the spring it produces clusters of fragrant pink-tinged white flowers that remind one of wisteria.

6. Leucophyllum frutescens (Cenizo) This is a plant for a different sort of landscape feeling. The foliage on the rounded 8-10 foot tall shrub is gray, suggestive of a more arid landscape. Cenizo becomes covered with lavender flowers about 10-14 days following a good rain. It needs sun, and I am not certain if it will flourish with the amount of afternoon sun that you get.

7. Dasylirion wheeleri (Common sotol) To achieve a real desert–like atmosphere try this yucca-like member of the lily family. Although it only grows to 4-5 feet, the flowering spires rapidly produced in the summer can rise to 12-15 feet. It should do well with the amount of sun that you have.


8. Bignonia capreolata (Crossvine) is a totally different idea for you. It is a vigorously growing evergreen vine that becomes covered with tangerine-colored flowers in the spring and sometimes later in the year, depending on rainfall. It should be placed on a trellis about 8-10 feet tall and at least 18 inches out from your house (otherwise its tendrils will climb right up the wall. If you need something that will provide cover in a hurry this would be my best suggestion.

9. Lonicera sempervirens (Coral honeysuckle) is another evergreen vine, one that does not grow so densely or so fast as crossvine. But it has rather delicate clusters of lovely red trumpet-shaped flowers.

Plants 1-7 on my list are quite drought-resistant, and the vines are somewhat less so. All are cold-hardy. Winter is a good time for putting these plants in the ground.

If you have looked around your neighborhood recently you will have seen an impressive shrub bearing large clusters of bright red berries. This plant, Pyracantha, or Firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea), is a non-native from Asia and is widely used as an ornamental, but we do not recommend its use. It grows rapidly, too rapidly, and forms dense woody masses with thorns that can give a painful prick (hence the name Firethorn). Unfortunately, it has escaped cultivation in many places and overwhelmed the native plant habitats. It is listed with as an invasive plant in the state and therefore undesirable.

I show below representative photos of the 9 recommended plants in the order listed.

From the Image Gallery

Ilex vomitoria
Ilex decidua
Texas mountain laurel
Sophora secundiflora
Evergreen sumac
Rhus virens
Eve’s necklace
Styphnolobium affine
Leucophyllum frutescens
Common sotol
Dasylirion wheeleri
Bignonia capreolata
Coral honeysuckle
Lonicera sempervirens

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Gardening: A little shady practice

Shade is too often treated as the gardener’s whipping-boy. In truth, it is not half as bad as it is made out to be. Shady walls and fences can be clothed as elegantly as sunny ones, provided that the shade is caused by lack of sun, not lack of light. A hefty sycamore, dripping over your fence, will create problems, particularly if it is not your tree. Lifting the canopy – that is, taking off a few of the lowest branches – can improve the environment dramatically for plants underneath. The problem will be to persuade your neighbour to co-operate. Wine often helps.

Without the putative sycamore, north- and east-facing walls present few problems, though you may not get as colourful a display as on sunny walls. Foliage will be excellent. North walls are almost easier than east. They get no direct sun at all, though in summer a few slanting beams may drop in at the beginning and the end of the day. In a new garden, you need to spend some time watching walls and the amount of light they get before you start planting anything at all.

East walls are more treacherous. They are cold, but get a burst of sun, if there is any, at the beginning of the day – fatal to plants frosted overnight. Most people know that east walls are bad news for camellias. Other plants can react just as badly. Cells that may be frozen need to thaw out gently, just like water pipes. An early blast of sunshine may cause too quick a thaw, rupturing cell walls. Plants collapse and may die. I lost a 30-ft `Mermaid’ rose on an east wall, though it had a trunk as thick as my arm and seemed invincible. Chaenomeles and pyracantha have never been affected. More surprisingly, neither has the evergreen shrub piptanthus, with its fine, hand-shaped leaves.

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The chaenomeles (japonica) is already in bloom, with blood-red flowers on dark wood. I like them spreadeagled on a wall, pinned flat and pruned fairly severely after flowering to eliminate twigs that try to push forward. This makes it easier to grow other things in front, but also seems to give it a more oriental air, like the two-dimensional branches of japonica you see in a Japanese print or a piece of fabric.

`Crimson and Gold’ is the one to go for if you like your colours rich and uncompromising. It will not grow much beyond 4ft. `Knap Hill Scarlet’ is equally brilliant. If gentle introspection is more your thing, choose the gentle, pink-and-white `Moerloosei’, fast-growing, wide-spreading, and reaching eventually to a height of 8ft, though its spread may be twice as broad as that.

Pyracantha is also best when it gets some corrective training. Some time ago, I planted one on our east wall, to the right-hand side of the kitchen window, a biggish window of old-fashioned, small square panes. Over the years I’ve trained the pyracantha to make another “window” alongside, the branches criss-crossing to make “panes” against the walls. It’s slightly dotty, but it makes me smile when I turn in at our gate. The blackbirds like it, too.

Pyracantha was one of the wows of James I’s garden, when it was a rarity newly brought in from the east. It is very popular now, and deservedly, as happy on a north wall as it is on an east one. It is evergreen and gives two meaty performances a year. I prefer it in berry to when it is in flower. Bees think otherwise. It is spiny, but not viciously so, and is not difficult to handle.

The blossom is the same on all varieties, white with a heavy, musty scent. Berries can be yellow (`Flava’ or `Soleil d’Or’), orange (`Orange Glow’ or `Orange Charmer’) or red (`Dart’s Red’ or `Watereri’). I am not fussy about the times I trim pyracanthas to shape, leaping in with the secateurs whenever the whiskers of growth start to get in the way of the chequerboard pattern.

I started by training one stem up the side of the window, then choosing horizontal branches to train out from that main stem. You have to wait for suitable growths to present themselves, but pyracantha is so vigorous that that is rarely a problem. When there were six or seven stems stretched out parallel at about 15-in intervals against the wall, I started looking for upright growths sprouting from the horizontals that would turn the straight lines into a series of squares. It is far more complicated to describe than it is to do.

Fire blight, a fungal disease that floats in on the air and ravages the foliage, is pyracantha’s worst enemy. There is no cure. But don’t lie awake worrying about this scourge. It may never happen.

Because rain tends to come in from the south and the west, north- and east-facing walls and fences act as barriers, preventing the ground under them from getting properly wetted. Wall shrubs on any aspect do better if they are planted a little distance – say, 18in – out from the wall. The ground will also retain more moisture if you dig in a good quantity of manure and compost before you plant. Mulch all wall shrubs regularly in autumn and spring.

There has been no lack of water this winter, but drought is not just a summer problem. East and north walls face winter’s coldest and most drying winds. Evergreens suffer more than deciduous shrubs. Foliage loses moisture faster than the roots can take it up. Leaves turn brown and die.

This gloomy scenario need not worry us this year, at least. Too often gardening is seen as a series of problems to be overcome rather than pleasures to be indulged. Here is an excellent pleasure for an indulgent north wall: Azara microphylla. This shrub has small dark, shining, evergreen leaves and powdery tufts of bright yellow flowers that smell strongly of vanilla.

It will not do well on excessively limey soils and may keel over completely in a tough winter. In pampered city gardens, wrapped in the central heating that escapes through windows and doors, it will thrive. It flowers in March, needs no pruning and suffers from no particular nervous tics – a paragon.

Where there is some shelter from wind, the twining climber Celastrus scandens will perform well on a north or east wall. Its season is autumn, when the orange-red seed vessels produced from insignificant flowers explode to expose startling red seeds. It is very vigorous; it likes a good mouthful of fence or porch to get its teeth into. Once established, it needs little nannying.

All these plants will give brilliance to shade. If you want something cooler, choose the white-flowered climbing Hydrangea petiolaris. Or plant the compact upright shrub Euonymus fortunei `Silver Queen’, with its fine variegated leaves. When it is established, thread it through with a pale clematis such as `Marie Boisselot’ or `Lady Northcliffe’.

Variegated Cotoneaster horizontalis is another great beauty that thrives in shade.

Make it the mantra for the year: Shade is Good.

These are my top ten choices for shady walls

Walls Shrubs & Climbers For Shade.
Gardeners probably have more shady walls than sunny walls to find plants for. These can prove a challenge, especially if they are in permanent shade and really do not get any direct sunlight in winter and summer.
If a wall gets some direct sunlight in the growing season then the range of plants you can grow is greater, and it will include more of the flowering climbers you probably desire. However for now I want to talk about those really shady walls that get very little, if any direct light at any time of the year.
The choice is wider if you include wall shrubs as well as climbers.
These are plants with woody stems that can be trained against a wall, or have a natural habit that lends itself to growing against a support. If you choose a climbers then you may have to provide some type of support, either trellis or wires for them to grow up. Some climbers on the other hand are self-clinging, so will not require support once they get going.

1. Garrya elliptica

Garrya elliptica is a tall growing, vigorous wall shrub with dark green waved leaves on upright stems. It dislikes cold, exposed situations and dry soil. In winter long silver grey catkins hang from the branches in pendant clusters. The cultivar ‘James Roof’ has by far the most spectacular catkins and is the only one worth growing. Team it up with a green and white variegated euonymus or ivy; otherwise the effect can be dark and drab.

2. Itea ilicifolia

Itea ilicifolia is not unlike garrya, but its leaves are bright emerald green with slightly angular edges, not unlike a soft holly. It is broader and bushier in habit and produces long green catkins in spring. Most attractive in full flower, but can look a little untidy later in the season when the catkins have faded, leaving wispy strands hanging from the branches. It combines well with golden variegated hedera and mahonia.

3. Camellia japonica

Camellia japonica is those gardening on acid soil; you have the choice of a wide variety of camellias to grow as wall shrubs. With their deep green shining leaves and exotic flowers they are among the showiest and most exotic subjects to grow on shady walls. As the flowers are often damaged by early morning sun on frozen flowerbuds, a shady wall has an advantage. Varieties with lax branches can be trained against a wall, whereas the more compact and upright ones can be left to free stand.

4. Hedera colchica

Hedera colchica may make you throw up your hands in horror at the idea of planting an ivy to grow on a wall. However, if the wall is sound there is no reason why its self-clinging habit should cause any damage. Plain green ivy on a shady wall can look great, however there are plenty of excellent large-leaved variegated varieties that will add year-round colour. Hedera colchica ‘Sulphur Heart’ has large dark and apple green leaves, boldly splashed with bright gold. It works well planted with the winter flowering Jasminum nudiflorum which also tolerates shade.

5. Hydrangea annomala var. petiolaris,

Hydrangea annomala var. petiolaris, the climbing hydrangea, is self-clinging, with tan coloured stems that are exposed when the leaves fall in winter. In summer lace cap creamy white flower heads are carried on short stems. A lovely plant once established, it can be slow to get going. Encourage it to cling onto the wall to start with by directing it towards the masonry.

6. Euonymus fortunei

Euonymus fortuneiis usually thought of as a low growing ground cover shrub. The cultivars of Euonymus fortunei, such as ‘Silver Queen’, make excellent short climbers on shady walls. They will easily reach 1.8metres (6ft) or more and will self-cling once established. Their attractive evergreen foliage gives year round interest and adds colour in shady situations.

7. Pyracanthas

Pyracanthas have evergreen leaves, white spring flowers and colourful berries in autumn and winter. A pyracantha is an excellent choice for a shady wall if you are prepared to put a bit of effort into training and maintaining it. It will naturally sprawl, so it does need some control and it is necessary to shorten back the new growth to expose the fruit clusters as they develop in late summer. Yellow, red and orange berried varieties offer a choice of colour. Train on wires.

8. Cotoneaster horizontalis

Cotoneaster horizontalis has been maligned as invasive in some areas. However, the herringbone cotoneaster is a survivor and a good choice to grow against a low, shaded wall. Its herringbone branches lay against the masonry, giving an unusual architectural effect. Small white spring flowers in spring are attractive to bees and pollinators. Red berries in autumn and winter are appreciated by birds. This is a deciduous shrub, but the bare branches are structural and attractive.

9. Chaenomeles speciosa,

Chaenomeles speciosa, known as japonica or Japanese quince lose most of their foliage in winter and produce their lovely blooms on a framework of bare twigs in late winter or early spring. They are easily cut back and trained after flowering and are easy to grow on any soil. A lovely choice against a rendered wall or attractive brick work. Train on wires or trellis

10. Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’

Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’ is a strong growing evergreen or semi-evergreen honeysuckle with very fragrant creamy flowers in mid to late summer. It is regarded as invasive in some areas, but if kept under control is really useful where a quick cover is needed.
It may not be the showiest of climbers but the scent is delicious. Support in the form of wires or trellis is required.
Tip: When planting climbers or wall shrubs do not plant too close to the wall. Plant at least 30cm (1ft) away and angle the plant towards the wall.

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