Plants for Dry Shade



Creating a green haven in dry shade ranks among garden-making’s greatest challenges.  While shade itself is far from a liability, the combination of deep shade and dry, often rooty soil presents even the most skilled gardener with significant difficulties.  Altering the environment may be our initial response, and indeed, simple changes can dramatically improve growing conditions.  A program of soil improvement is essential for providing nourishment for roots in a competitive environment.  Judicious thinning of tree branches brings more light to persistently dark places.  It is equally important, of course, to select plants that have proven adaptable to such tough conditions.  By altering the growing environment and choosing appropriate plants, the resourceful gardener can achieve exciting results.


To discover what will succeed in your dry, shady garden, look at what grows happily in your local woods.  Beneath the shrubs’ branches runs a host of perennials, from robust coltsfoot, false Solomon’s seal, and sword ferns to dainty trilliums and tiny orchids.


Whatever their provenance, woodland plants have similar needs.  All tolerate or even require shade and compete well for nutrients in crowded settings.  Most have low or seasonal water requirements, generally preferring to be wet in the winter and spring and dry in the summer.  Many bloom early or late in the year, when the leaf canopy is thin or nonexistent, and experience most of their active growth in the fall, winter (when roots flourish), and early spring, going dormant as summer heats up.  Shade gardeners soon discover that, because most woodland wildflowers are early bloomers, it takes some effort to develop and extend the flowering season.  The solution is to expand the palette of plants to include a variety of evergreen or semi evergreen shrubs and perennials that will help plantings look furnished at all times.


Ajuga – Bugleweed


Aegopodium – Snow on the Mountain


Astilbe chinensis – False Spirea


Alchemilla mollis – Lady’s Mantle


Arum italicum – Arum


Aster divaricatus – Wood Aster


Asarum canadense – Ginger


Bergenia cordifolia – Bergenia


Brunnera macrophylla – Heartleaf Brunnera


Cerostigma plumbago – Leadwort


Chrysogonum – Goldenstar


Convallaria – Lily of the Valley


Dennstaedtia – Hayscented Fern


Dicentra eximia – Fernleaf Bleading Heart


Dicentra Spectablis – Bleeding Heart


Digitalis – Foxglove


Dryopteris serythrosora – Autumn Fern


Dryopteris marginalis – Evergreen Wood fern


Epimedium – Barronwort


Euonymous coloratus – Wintercreeper


Euphorbia spp. – Spurge


Geranium spp. – Cranesbill


Hedera helix - Ivy


Heuchera Americana – Coral Bells


Heucherella – Mini Bells


Hosta spp. – Plaintain Lily


Lamiastrium – Golden Archangel


Lamium – Spotted Dead Nettle


Liriope spp. – Lilyturf


Ophiopogon – Mondo Grass


Pachysandra proc. – Allegheny Spurge


Pachysandra terminalis – Spurge


Polygonatum spp. – Solomon’s Seal


Sedum ternatum – Wood Stonecrop


Tiarella – Foamflower


Vinca minor – Periwinkle


Viola – Wood violet


Waldesteinia – Barren Strawberry