Best Plants for Dry Shade

What to Grow in Shady Areas With Dry Soil

Beautiful foxglove flower in garden
Foxglove is a favorite for cottage gardens. Ashraful Arefin photography / Getty Images

If you plan on planting in shady areas with dry soil, you have two strikes against you. But there are some plants that can tolerate a lack of water and sunlight. These are good options for problem areas such as under trees and beneath the eaves of north-facing walls.

When planting under trees, keep in mind that tree roots suck up much of the available water and give a fair amount of shade once the leaves fill in. Meanwhile, house eaves often shelter plants from rain, and not in a good way.

Fixes for Dry, Shady Plantings

Tolerating dry shade is not the same as thriving in it. The fact is that most plants that are suitable for dry shade will grow better if supplied with average amounts of moisture. Some will flower better in at least partial shade than in full shade.

Before planting in dry-shade areas, you can improve your chances by mixing organic matter (for example, compost) into the soil, thereby increasing the soil's water retention. Sandy soils are like sieves and are notorious for quickly losing whatever water may come their way. Mixing compost into such soil is rather like adding pieces of sponge to it.

  • 01 of 12

    Hosta

    Plantain lily growing in garden.

    Moelyn Photos / Getty Images

    Plantain lilies (Hosta spp.) are notable for having quite a bit of mass and being hardy (most to zone 3). Even an average-size type stands a foot high or taller, with a slightly greater spread. Some of the bigger types, such as "Big Daddy," get much bigger (2 feet high by 3 feet wide). Hostas form a leafy garden dense enough to choke out weeds. If planted in rows, they are impressive enough to serve as borders. This plant group offers many different looks, including variegated leaves (as in the case of "Patriot" hosta, for example, a relatively small kind that commonly measures 1 foot x 2 feet).

  • 02 of 12

    Lilyturf

    Perfect Purple!
    Natasha Sioss / Getty Images

    Lilyturf (Liriope spicata) looks like a grass (and one of its common names is "border grass"), but it is actually a member of the lily family. This plant for zones 4 to 10 features a spiky flower, ranging in color from white to lavender. In autumn, it bears a dark berry. Be aware, however, that Liriope spicata, sometimes also called "monkey grass," is a potentially invasive ground cover. Lilyturf grows to a height of 9 to 18 inches and has a spread of 12 to 24 inches.

  • 03 of 12

    Foxglove

    Foxglove flowers with bee.

    Kristine Paulus/ Flickr

    Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is known for its showy floral display. It is also one of the tallest plants for dry shade (2 to 5 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide). But do not grow foxglove around small children: It is quite poisonous. It tolerates light shade (dappled is best), but it can also be grown in full sun in the cooler climates. Most types of foxgloves are biennials and are suited to zones 4 to 10.

  • 04 of 12

    Stella de Oro Daylily

    Stella de Oro flower.
    David Beaulieu

    While Stella de Oro (Hemerocallis 'Stella de Oro') truly is a "daylily," in the sense that its individual flowers last only a day, do not be fooled into thinking that you will not get much of a show out of this perennial. Another bloom will be along shortly to replace yesterday's departed beauty. In fact, the ability of this 12-inch-x-12-inch plant to rebloom over a long period makes it perhaps the most popular of the daylilies. Its popularity is also due to its ability to adapt to a wide range of planting zones (3 to 9) and conditions including dry shade.

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  • 05 of 12

    Bugleweed

    Bugleweed in a meadow

    Gisela Rentsch / Getty Images

    Bugleweed is not quite as hated as English ivy (Hedera helix) in North America (for its invasive behavior), but it should be grown with great care. This ground cover spreads by sending out runners. This is a wonderful trait if you want to grow something that will fill in a bare area, but it is a terrible trait for a plant that will be growing side by side with other plants. You will be forever pulling up the shoots produced by all of those runners if you grow this invasive anywhere near a flower bed.

    Ajuga reptans is 6 to 8 inches tall and wide and can be grown in zones 3 to 10. Cultivars like 'Black Scallop' offer pretty (dark) leaves in addition to blooms.

  • 06 of 12

    Japanese Spurge

    Japanese Pachysandra or Japanese Spurge -Pachysandra terminalis- with raindrops, evergreen ground cover, Bad Reichenhall, Berchtesgadener Land District, Upper Bavaria, Bavaria, Germany
    Helmut Meyer zur Capellen / Getty Images

    Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis) produces white blooms in spring, but it is grown primarily for its robust green foliage. It becomes 6 inches tall and 12 inches wide. Grow it in zones 4 to 8. Do not confuse the common name for this ground cover with purple wood spurge (Euphorbia purpurea).

  • 07 of 12

    Vinca Minor Vines

    Vinca minor vines with blue flowers.

    Georgianna Lane / Getty Images 

    If you want more than greenery from a short ground coverVinca minor may provide the answer for you, with the adorable blue flowers it yields in spring. But this plant has the potential for becoming invasive if not tended to consistently. It becomes 3 to 6 inches tall, and its individual vines can reach out 18 inches. Grow it in zones 4 to 8.

  • 08 of 12

    Spotted Dead Nettles

    Dead nettle with pink flowers.

    Neil Holmes/Getty Images

    Spotted dead nettle (zones 4 to 8) bears fairly showy flowers as well as interesting silvery foliage. Lamium maculatum is considered slightly invasive, but, if you pay attention to it, you will have no major problems with it. It reaches 3 to 12 inches tall and has a spread of at least twice that.

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  • 09 of 12

    Foamflower

    Close-up image of the spring flowering Tiarella tiny white flowers also known as the foamflower
    Jacky Parker Photography / Getty Images

    Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) is a wild plant that you can find if you hike the woods of eastern North America. It is not an especially showy specimen, but showier cultivars (Tiarella 'Cygnet') and other species (Tiarella polyphylla, Tiarella trifoliata) do exist. Plant developers have paired it with coral bells (Heuchera) to produce foamy bells (Heucherella). Grow this small perennial (about 1 foot x 2 feet) in zones 4 to 9.

    Along with some of the other North American native perennials for shade, this is truly one of your better choices if your priority is to grow plants that you can put in the ground and forget. Being adapted to your region, native plants are very capable of taking care of themselves.

  • 10 of 12

    Lenten Rose

    Light-pink Lenten rose blossom.

    BambiG/Getty Images

    Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) is not an actual rose, although its flower buds do look like rosebuds. Even the "Lenten" part of its name can be deceiving. In warm climates, it may bloom at around the time of Lent on the Christian calendar. But in the colder regions of the United States and Canada, for example, it will not bloom until much later. This perennial grows to be 18 to 24 inches tall and 18 inches wide. Grow it in zones 4 to 9.

  • 11 of 12

    Barrenwort

    Rose Queen Epimedium image.
    David Beaulieu

    Epimedium grandiflorum 'Rose Queen' offers both interesting flowers and nice foliage in zones 5 to 8. Its mature size is 12 to 18 inches tall and wide. But its rhizomes allow it to spread and fill in that problematic area in dry shade on your land where so many other plants perform poorly.

  • 12 of 12

    Japanese Rose

    Kerria shrub with single flowers in bloom.

    Renate Frost/Getty Images

    For a larger specimen that tolerates dry shade, try Japanese rose (Kerria japonica). This plant is a shrub for zones 4 to 9 that can become 8 to 10 feet tall and wide. But it can be kept smaller through pruning. Its bonus feature of kelly-green bark (showy in winter) helps make up for its tendency to spread where you do not want it to go.