18 Shrubs That Thrive in Full Sun
Looking for flowering shrubs that, like “mad dogs and Englishmen,” aren’t afraid of the midday sun? These stunning plants can handle the heat.
Because plants derive their energy from sunlight, most flowering shrubs like lots of it. Of course, that often depends on the intensity of the light, which tends to be stronger the nearer those plants are to the equator. So, bushes that happily bask in full sun in northern zones might haplessly bake in southern ones.
Still, the shrubs listed here can take the heat and generally enjoy a place in the sun. Just make sure to water them well so they don’t dry out!
1. Butterfly Bush (Buddleja spp.)
Named for their ability to attract butterflies with their nectar, these bushes grow from 5 to 15 feet high and feature fragrant clusters of tiny blooms in a wide variety of colors. The toughest B. davidii species are hardy to USDA Zone 5. Butterfly bushes remain controversial because they can crowd out butterfly larvae’s native host plants in some growing regions. For that reason, gardeners in mild climates where buddlejas are likely to become aggressive should choose sterile cultivars that can’t reproduce.
2. California Lilac (Ceanothus spp.)
If your sunny site scorches dry during the summer, you’ll appreciate California lilacs. As with the more common lilacs, they usually produce their sweet-scented clusters of blue or white blooms in spring. But shrubs of this entirely different genus are often evergreen, vary in height from 1 to 30 feet, and tolerate arid summer conditions. Most are perennial only in USDA Zone 7 or higher, but New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) is the exception; it is hardy to Zone 3.
3. Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus)
Though this vitex can be shaped into a tree that grows up to 25 feet high in the more southern zones of its range, it generally remains shrubby in northern areas, where it dies back to the ground every winter and doesn’t surpass 3 to 5 feet during the growing season. It makes fragrant spikes of chastely muted but classy white, pink, or—more typically—pale purple blooms framed by silvery foliage for most of the summer and autumn in USDA zones 7 through 11.
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4. Shrubby Cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa)
With 1½- to 2-inch blooms resembling oversize strawberry blossoms in white, pink, yellow, and orange shades, shrubby cinquefoil cultivars range from 2 feet to more than 4 feet high. Hardiness varies according to cultivar, but the shrub generally does well in USDA zones 2 through 9. Although the plants prefer full sun in northern zones, too much sun can fade the color of their blooms in the South. Gardeners there might want to opt for morning sun and afternoon shade when planting their cinquefoil.
5. Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles spp.)
Among the first bushes to blaze into bloom in spring, sun-loving flowering quinces are often called fire bushes for their most common single orange or red 1½- to 2½ -inch flowers and ruddy-tinged new foliage. These blooms, however, also come in white, pink, or double versions in USDA zones 5 through 10. Growing 3 to 10 feet tall, flowering quinces sometimes produce small fruits, but they are not the same genus as the quince fruit tree.
6. Lantana (Lantana spp.)
Shrubs that gardeners either love or love to hate, lantanas have a fruity but somewhat peculiar scent that purportedly contains notes of gasoline and tomcat. However, that odor becomes obvious only when the plant is bruised or broken. Varying in height from 2 to 6 feet, the shrubs produce their often multicolored clusters of small flowers for much of the year in USDA zones 8 through 11. In cooler zones, gardeners typically grow lantanas as annuals or container plants.
7. Oleander (Nerium spp.)
“Killer” shrubs that can bloom from late spring to autumn in USDA zones 8 through 11, oleanders grow from 3 to 20 feet high with 2- to 3-inch funnel-shaped flowers in white, yellow, pink, or red. It’s worth noting that prudent gardeners should take that “killer” moniker literally, since the glossily evergreen shrubs are highly toxic. They’re also prone to an insect-spread scorch disease caused by bacteria rather than the sun. As a result, gardeners should be cautious about oleanders’ placement and care.
8. Rockrose (Cistus spp.)
Growing from 2 to 6 feet tall with striking 1½- to 4-inch flowers that somewhat resemble single roses, rockroses generally bloom most heavily in late spring and into early summer in USDA zones 7 or higher. They might flower sporadically thereafter when happy. Also valued for their resiny, wooly, or silvery foliage, they can rock a rock garden even when not in bloom.
9. Rose (Rosa spp.)
It is possible to grow roses in almost every USDA zone, with the possible exception of chilly Zone 1. Roses vary in size from diminutive miniatures to ramblers that can climb 50 feet. Although a few might bloom in partial shade, shaded bushes are more prone to lankiness and fungal diseases. These beloved shrubs usually need full sun in the North to “come up roses.” In the Southwest, however, where the sunlight can be especially intense, a little afternoon shade might prove beneficial.
10. Tropical Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
With showy blooms 4 to 8 inches across in a wide variety of colors and in single, semi-double, and double forms, tropical hibiscus shrubs really shine in the sun. They can reach 30 feet high in completely frost-free USDA zones, such as 10 through 12. But they can also persist, if protected, in zones 8 and 9. Elsewhere, the shrubs grow as annuals or houseplants. Keep in mind that the individual flowers last only one day—and traditionally were used to shine shoes!
11. Weigela (Weigela spp.)
Weigelas wag plenty of funnel-shaped pink or red blooms in spring but can look a bit plain thereafter. Savvy gardeners will opt for variegated or purple-leaved cultivars, which will continue to contribute color to the back of the border in summer. Varying from 3 to 10 feet high, these shrubs are deciduous and will shed their foliage—colorful or not—in autumn.
12. Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)
Cultivated worldwide, crape myrtle is a low-maintenance, sun-loving shrub often found in tropical and subtropical climates. Known for its moderately dense, dark green foliage and showy pink flowers, crape myrtle makes for a beautiful hedge or privacy screen.
The roughly 50 types of crape myrtle cultivars in the genus quickly grow into small- to medium-size shrubs or trees. Suited for hardiness zones 6 to 9, crape myrtles thrive in neutral or slightly acidic, well-draining soil. Prune these shrubs them sparingly in winter or early spring to prompt even more flowering.
13. Spirea (Spiraea)
Spirea is a laid-back flowering shrub that’s one of the easiest to grow in pretty much any garden. It needs well-draining soil but isn’t particular about soil type or pH. Ranging from 1½ to 8 feet tall, spirea isn’t considered a large plant, but it grows quickly. Some types bloom in spring, while others show off their flowers in summer.
Depending on the species, spirea shrubs fare well in USDA zones 3 through 8. Their flowers may be red, pink, white, or purple, with chartreuse, green, gold, or green-blue foliage.
14. Fairy Magnolia (Michelia x MICjur01)
The whimsy of fairy magnolias comes from specialized breeding that yields a relatively new class of magnolia, bearing a more delicate aesthetic than southern magnolias. These shrubs pack a lot of beauty into a single evergreen plant, as their ornate pink, fragrant flowers form all along the branches, and not just at the ends. Dense and bushy, fairy magnolias grow 8 to 12 feet tall and are best suited to zones 7 to 11.
Though remarkable in appearance, these shrubs are low maintenance for easy gardening. They’re happy in most kinds of soil—as long as it’s well draining—and aren’t susceptible to any significant pests or diseases.
15. Glossy Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’)
A deciduous shrub known for its color, ‘Kaleidoscope’ glossy abelia offers vibrant foliage that’s only enhanced by full sun exposure. Part of the honeysuckle family, the glossy abelia has a rounded, spreading shape and produces white/pink bell-shaped flowers that bloom May to September, adding even more color to the shrub. Think twice before pruning it into a more structured shape, as these shrubs tend to look more attractive when they look a little wild.
Give the glossy abelia moist, organically rich and well-drained soil to help it thrive—it will do best in zones 5 to 9. Expect these compact and dense shrubs to grow 2 to 4 feet tall unless you’re in the South, where the glossy abelia stays somewhat evergreen and reaches heights of up to 6 feet.
16. Oakleaf Hydrangea (H. quercifolia)
The leaves on an oakleaf hydrangea are similar to the leaves of an oak tree, a resemblance that likely inspired this shrub’s name. Depending on the species, the leaves are 4 to 12 inches long and wide, with a coarse texture. The flowers of this deciduous shrub appear in long, cone-shaped clusters, commonly with single creamy white or soft pink blossoms.
Unlike most hydrangea species, which are Asian in origin, oakleaf hydrangea is native to the southeastern quadrant of the United States and hardy in zones 6 through 9. Also unusual in comparison with other deciduous shrubs, the oakleaf hydrangea has leaves that turn a deep red and don’t slough off until well into the winter season.
17. Elephant Bush (Portulacaria afra)
Elephant bush is a perennial succulent shrub that hails from the rocky outcrops and slopes of South Africa and now resides in succulent gardens all over the world. Different from other shrubs on this list, the elephant bush prospers in full sun outdoors but is a low-maintenance houseplant too. Elephant bushes have fleshy, fat leaves, much like jade plants, and the foliage is edible, commonly added to soups and salads in southern Africa to give them a sour flavor.
Don’t let the idea of an elephant bush being a succulent fool you. These soft-wooded, semi-evergreen, multi-stemmed shrubs can grow 8 to 15 feet tall in mild climates and do their best in zones 9 to 11.
18. Flamingo Willow (Salix integra ‘Flamingo’)
The “flamingo” epithet suits these multi-stemmed ornamental shrubs that have a dense, upright shape and green foliage with touches of cream-white and pink. A fusion of two other willow cultivars, flamingo willows are often used as hedges, borders, or accent features that add a touch of elegance to the garden. They generally grow 5 feet high and spread just as wide in zones 5 to 9. With moderate watering requirements and no particular soil type or pH needed, flamingo willows can live 40 years or more with proper care.