Dry shade is the double-whammy of gardening. Not only do you have a site with little to no sun, you also have one with very little moisture. And if your dry shade is under some trees, the soil is probably pretty lean since the tree roots are pulling out all the nutrients.
Dry shade has been the bane of many gardeners as they struggle to find plants that will not only tolerate these site conditions but will thrive in them. So rather than fight the site, it’s best to simply acknowledge the fact that your selection of plants is fairly limited. Embrace the challenge your planting site presents and go with plants that are known to thrive in dry shade.
Five perennials for dry shade…
Blooming in June, the white plumes can reach 3′ in the dry shade. Aruncus also thrives in moist shade and typically grows a few feet taller in those conditions. Hardy in zones 3 – 7, Aruncus is perfect for a spot with lots of root competition and is considered mainly deer-resistant.
Dicentra spectabilis (Old-fashioned bleeding heart): Grandma knew what she was doing when she planted old-fashioned bleeding hearts in her garden. This spring favorite with its dainty pink and white flowers is actually tough as nails and looks great planted with spring-flowering bulbs.
Since it has a tendency to die back once the summer heat arrives, you’ll want to surround old-fashioned bleeding heart with other shade-loving foliage plants like ferns and hostas or annuals. Hardy in zones 2 – 9 and considered deer resistant.
Helleborus (Lenten rose): Lenten rose is probably one of the lowest maintenance plants you’ll ever find with its interesting evergreen foliage, sturdy upright stems and resistance to most pests. Blooming in the early spring in a dizzying array of colors, dry shade gardens can be alive with color before most of the spring bulbs have even opened.
Hellebores are typically hardy in zones 5 - 8 but with so many new hybrids available, you should be able to find some to stretch the zones a bit on either side. Hellebores are considered deer-resistant.
Hosta: Hostas are so ubiquitous in many gardens that it’s easy to forget they are the prefect perennials for dry shade spots. Rather than planting the boring old green-leaved kind, jazz up your shady location with a collection of hostas with yellow and white variegated leaves, like Striptease (shown here) and a mixture of small, medium and large-leaved plants.
Hostas are prone to damage by slugs and snails so make sure you take precautions as necessary. Hostas are hardy in zones 3 – 8 and are definitely NOT deer resistant.
Liriope muscari (Lilyturf): Like hosta, lilyturf is another quintessential shade plant. And for good reason. The evergreen foliage grows to about 1′ tall and sports spiky purple flowers in the late summer/early fall. If you need a plant to compete with tree roots, try Liriope.
Best when planted in mass as a groundcover, L. variegata can liven up a shady corner with its gold variegated leaves. Liriope is hardy in zones 6 – 9 and is considered deer resistant.
What’s your favorite perennial for the dry shade locations in your garden?