You have probably heard about xeriscaping, but when the challenge of growing plants in shady areas is joined to that of landscaping in dry soil, you have to ask yourself, "What are some good xeriscape plants for shade?"
That is just the problem that reader, Mary faced. She wrote, "I live in the high mountain desert (an altitude of 7500 feet). We have towering evergreens that I love, but growing with reduced rainfall is difficult in the shade they cast.
I am also interested in composting in place, so I do not have to dig and haul from place to place."
For ideas to xeriscape in the shade with perennial flowers, see the list below. You can also consult this article on dry shade plants for your plant selection. In a region like Mary's, you will have to water these plants more than someone living in a less arid region would, though.
Xeriscape Plants for Shade -- Perennials:
- Barrenwort (Epimedium).
- Bugelweed (Ajuga reptans) -- not recommended unless you have a big area to cover.
- Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis).
- Common lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis).
- Fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia).
- Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis).
- Pig squeak (Bergenia cordifolia) .
- Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla).
- Siberian iris (Iris siberica).
- Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum).
That is, they will grow well in a spot that has dry shade in the summer. But that is because, by then, they are already finished flowering (they have "done their thing," if you will, for the year). In the early spring, they want sun and water. But it is usually not difficult to get them sufficient sunlight at this time, because, in early spring, the deciduous trees have not yet leafed out.
For the same reason, you should also check into native options, specifically, native wildflowers that bloom early in spring. The wildflower society in your state may be able to cite specific examples for your area of the country.
Do note, however, that some of the examples provided above are invasive in certain parts of the country. This makes sense if you think about it, because, to overcome the challenges presented by areas that are both shady and dry, a plant has to be mighty tough. The flip side of toughness is often invasiveness. Plants can't turn their toughness on and off in order to please us. Consequently, a tough plant that ends up being well-suited to a given area frequently performs a little too well, for our tastes. That is, it spreads out of control, eventually earning it "invasive" status.
As for composting in place, do not be scared off by the idea that you would have to buy multiple compost bins. People got by making compost cheaply for years before commercial compost bins came into existence. Some gardeners build simple log-cabin style compost bins with brush for composting on the spot. You have to disassemble them to turn the compost, which is kind of a pain, but they are handy and cheap.
You will, however, have to water them to promote decomposition (so unless water is available on-site, you may be trading hauling compost for hauling water).
Also see Plants That Grow Under Evergreen Trees.