Best 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.
David Beaulieu

When planting in shady areas with dry soil, you have two strikes against you. But there are plants that can tolerate a lack of water and sunlight. These can be good options for two problem areas: those under trees, and those beneath the eaves of north-facing walls. In areas under trees, the tree roots suck up much of the available water, while house eaves often shelter plants from rain, and not in a good way.

Note that tolerating dry shade is not the same as thriving in it. And the fact is, most plants that are suitable for dry shade will grow better if supplied with average amounts of moisture. Before planting 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.

1. Hosta

Hostas are notable for having quite a bit of mass. 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).

2. Lilyturf

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. It features a spiky flower, ranging in color from white to lavender. In autumn, it bears a dark berry.

3. Foxglove

Foxglove is known for its showy floral display. It is also one of the tallest plants for dry shade. 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.

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, this plant's ability to re-bloom 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 and conditions, including dry shade.

5. Bugleweed

Bugleweed is not as hated as English ivy 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.

6. Japanese Pachysandra

Pachysandra terminalis produces white blooms in spring but it is grown primarily for its robust green foliage. This ground cover is commonly called "Japanese spurge," but do not confuse it with purple wood spurge.

7. Vinca Minor Vines

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.

8. Spotted Dead Nettles

Spotted dead nettle bears fairly showy flowers as well as interesting silvery foliage.

9. Snowdrops

These early-blooming bulb plants are as impatient for spring to come as you are. Sometimes, they can even be seen pushing up through a stubborn layer of snow.

10. Siberian Squill

The bulb Siberian squill is also called "scilla" because its Latin name is Scilla siberica. If the white blooms of snowdrops aren't what you want to see after a snowy white winter, then the blue flowers of Siberian squill may be more to your liking. Scilla does need a good deal of water during its growing season, which is spring. But considering the large amount of moisture present in many regions during spring, this usually isn't a problem.

11. Foamflower

Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) is a wild plant. If you hike the woods of eastern North America, you have probably come across it, although it is not an especially showy specimen. Plant developers have paired it with coral bells (Heuchera) to produce foamy bells (Heucherella). Along with some of the other North American native perennials for shade, it 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.

12. Lenten Rose

Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) is not an actual rose, although its flower buds do look like rose buds. 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.