Best Plants for Dry Shade

What to Grow in Shady Areas With Dry Soil

Beautiful foxglove flower in garden
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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. Take a look at a dozen plants that are good options for problem areas such as under trees and beneath the eaves of north-facing walls.

If you plan on 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. 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.


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).

Hosta plants
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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. Beware, however, Liriope spicata, sometimes also called "monkey grass" is a potentially invasive ground cover. 

Perfect Purple!
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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.

Beautiful foxglove flower in garden
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Stella de Oro Daylily

While 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, this plant's ability 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 and conditions including dry shade.

Daylily (Stella de Oro) flower
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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.

Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), Burgenland, Austria
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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.

Japanese Pachysandra
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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. Although, this plant has the potential for becoming invasive if not tended to consistently.

Vinca Minor, Periwinkle
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Spotted Dead Nettles

Spotted dead nettle 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.

Flowering purple Lamium maculatum
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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.

Galanthus nivalis
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Siberian Squill

The bulb Siberian squill is also called "scilla" because its Latin name is Scilla siberica. If the white blooms of snowdrops are not 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 moisture present in many regions during spring, this usually is not a problem.

Siberian Squill
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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.

Close-up image of the spring flowering Tiarella tiny white flowers also known as the foamflower
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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.

Helleborus orientalis
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