10 Plants for Dry Shade

What to Grow in Shady Areas With Dry Soil

A picture of Patriot hosta shows its white margin. Grow it in partial shade to partial sun.
Picture of Patriot hosta. David Beaulieu

If you have an area on your property with dry shade and wish to grow plants there, you may quickly come to designate such an area as problematic. Indeed, shady areas with dry soil pose a dual challenge, since they are lacking in two elements that many plants need in abundant quantities: water and sunlight.

Following is a list of perennials, biennials and bulbs for dry shade, all of which can tolerate a lack of water and sunlight.

Such conditions are characteristic of areas under trees or beneath the eaves of north-facing walls. Lack of sunlight is obvious at once when one considers such areas, but one may not as readily recognize the equally challenging lack of water there. In areas under trees, the tree roots suck up much of the available water. And house eaves block large amounts of rain from falling on the ground immediately under them.

Note that "tolerating" dry shade is not the same as "thriving" in it; most of the plants for dry shade listed below will grow better if supplied with average amounts of moisture. Before planting dry-shade areas, you can improve your chances by mixing organic matter (e.g., 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.

Examples of Plants for Dry Shade

1. Hosta


Hosta presents a choice that is quite distinct from the other 9 choices of plants for dry shade in this list. They have greater mass than the rest, standing a foot high or taller, with a slightly greater spread. Hosta forms 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). For more on hosta, please see the following resource:


2. Liriope Spicata

Liriope spicata also has a feature that distinguishes it from the other plants for dry shade in my list. For liriope looks like a grass (its common name is "border grass", or "lilyturf"), even though it's actually a member of the lily family. But liriope also has a spikey flower, ranging in color from white to lavender. In autumn it bears a dark berry. To learn more about liriope, please consult the following resource:

Liriope Spicata

3. Foxglove

Foxglove, like the next entry (daylilies), is distinguished by its showy floral display. It is also the tallest of the plants for dry shade discussed here. But don't grow foxglove around small children: it's quite poisonous! It tolerates light shade (dappled is best), but it can also be grown in full sun in the North.

To learn more about foxglove, please consult the following resource:


4. Stella de Oro Daylily

While "Stella de Oro" truly is a "daylily," in the sense that its individual flowers last only a day, don't be fooled into thinking that you won't get much of a show out of this perennial. Another bloom will be along shortly to replace yesterday's departed beauty. In fact, its ability to re-bloom over a long period makes Stella de Oro daylily perhaps the most popular of the daylilies. Its popularity is also due to its ability to adapt to a wide range of planting zones and conditions, including dry shade. For more information on Stella de Oro daylily, please consult the following resource:

Stella de Oro Daylily

On Page 2 we'll consider the remaining 6 entries in my list of 10 plants for dry shade....

The next four selections for perennials for dry shade are quite different from my choices on Page 1. All have two characteristics in common: they are short and, to varying degrees, considered invasive. Out of these four plants, only English ivy is such a vigorous grower that its invasiveness may pose a serious problem to the average landscape.

5. English Ivy Plants

English ivy vines may produce insignificant, greenish-white flowers in the fall, but these perennials for dry shade are grown primarily for their foliage.

A popular plant for many years, a growing number of homeowners now choose not to grow English ivy, due to its negative impact on forests in some regions (when it escapes from cultivation). If you do choose to grow English ivy, don't plant it near your trees. The vines climb up tree trunks and may eventually engulf the whole tree, drastically reducing the amount of sunlight that reaches the leaves of the host tree. For more information on English ivy, please consult the following resource:

English Ivy Plants

The next three perennials for dry shade are safer choices. They're also all deer-resistant, to boot.

6. Japanese Pachysandra

Pachysandra terminalis produces white blooms in spring but, like English ivy, is grown primarily for its robust green foliage. To learn more about Japanese pachysandra, please consult the following resource:

Japanese Pachysandra

7. Vinca Minor Vines

But what if you want more than greenery from a short ground cover?

Vinca minor may provide the answer for you, with the adorable blue flowers it yields in spring. To learn more about vinca, please consult the following resource:

Vinca Minor Vines

8. Spotted Dead Nettles

Or perhaps you're content with nice foliage, only you'd prefer its color be something other than green?

Well, these perennials for dry shade provide an interesting silvery foliage. To learn more about spotted dead nettles, please consult the following resource:

Spotted Dead Nettles

The final two entries in my list of perennials for dry shade are spring-flowering bulbs.

9. Snowdrops

These precocious bulb plants are as impatient for spring to come as you are. Sometimes, they can be seen pushing up through a recalcitrant layer of snow. To learn more about snowdrops, please consult the following resource:


10. Scilla Siberica

The bulb, squill is also called "scilla," because its Latin name is Scilla siberica. If the white blooms of snowdrops aren't what you want after looking at the color, white all winter, then the blue of these perennials for dry shade may be more to your liking. Scilla does need a good deal of water during its growing season, which is spring. But considering the abundance of moisture in many regions during spring, this usually isn't a problem. For more information on squill, please see the following resource:

Scilla Siberica