5 Perennials for Dry Shade

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…


Goat's beardAruncus dioicus (Goat’s beard): Common goat’s beard can take a few years to come into its own but once it does, you’ll be rewarded for your patience.

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 spectabilisDicentra 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.


lenten roseHelleborus (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 'Striptease'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 muscariLiriope 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?

20 thoughts on “5 Perennials for Dry Shade

  1. These are great suggestions. I haven’t succeeded yet with an Aruncus, it didn’t establish in last year’s hot summer. Still trying, though, in an even shadier spot by the house this coming season. My liriopes are lovely if they come back, but iffy after winter here in zone 5…. I’ve lost quite a few.

    My favorite for dry shade is Epimedium. Slow to establish, but eventually it gets to be a big wide swath of pretty foliage and interesting delicate spring flowers. I have ‘Frohnleiten’ (Fairywings, how delightful!!) and ‘Rubrum’ with reddish tinged leaves.

    • Laura, I love epimediums too but they don’t seem to like my garden. I planted a few several years and they languished in my garden. I didn’t realize they can take several years to establish so perhaps there’s still hope for them. Like you, I’d love to grow ‘Rubrum’ but hesitated buying any. Maye there’s still a chance I can get some.

  2. wonderful suggestions, I had no idea goats beard did well in shade. Having dug up some old bleeding hearts last summer I can see why they do well in dry shade, the roots on those plants are massive and stretch much much farther than I ever would have guessed. One plant I really like for dry shade is mahonia as they add some nice height.

    • Funny, you’re the 2nd person to mention mahonia & shade this week to me. Mahonia is one of those shrubs I think I should have but for some reason when I see it in the nursery I’ll pass it by for something else. I do have a client who has a mature speciman that is incredible in bloom. I’ll have to reconsider adding mahonia since it’s also deer resistant – a must for my garden.

    • Ricki, I love rogersia but I thought it liked moist shade. perhaps I’ll try some and see if it’ll thrive in my dry shade. Thanks for the idea.

  3. solomon’s seal is a good choice for dry shade, and the variegated cultivars are quite attractive.

    The longer you keep a bleeding heart watered, the longer it will last into summer – this can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on who it’s neighbors are! A well watered specimen in rich soil can be several feet in diameter and last through July.

    • Solomon’s Seal is one of those plants I don’t have a lot of luck with. I have some planted in a semi-shady area but it never seems to do much. Lucky you that you have the ‘touch’ with it, I’m jealous.

    • Gina, Lilyturf is definitely one of those bullet-prof plants every garden needs. Be aware there is a lilyturf that spreads soewhat aggressively so if you’re not looking for a rampant groundcover, be sure to buy the clumping form.

  4. Great list, Debbie.

    I grew Aruncus a few years back until it succumbed during a tough winter. I love the plant but, like Laurrie, it doesn’t work for me. I also babied mahonia for way too long then finally gave up. I consider both iffy for my zone (6a).

    Helleborus and Liriope are still on my want-to-try list.

    • Joene, Isn’t it funny how ome plants just don’t perform in some gardens? I transplanted a few hellebres from my mother-in-law’s garden 2 years ago and they are struggling. I’m hoping this spring, if the snow ever melts, they’ll put on a good show.

  5. Pingback: Plants for Dry Shade « Gardora.net

  6. Hi Debbie, I live nearby and have a very large maple tree, small bright green leaves with clusters of tiny berry pink flowers. In summer, complete dense shade that I think is dry but in April VERY wet due to depressed spot, lowest pitch. There’s one ring of hostas around it, what else could I plant once it dries a bit?

  7. My favorite for winter is the Cyclamen plant. Looks beautiful and mine are surviving (but not blooming) the Texas summer heat!

  8. The spinning flagpole mounts on your house, deck or mailbox
    post, and is designed to keep your flag from wrapping.
    And you can see from the photos above that she did an outstanding landscape design this year for her booth, yet she
    was only given a concrete floor structure to work with and nothing
    else. I’d love to help you get the very best from your garden, so you’re
    welcome to visit me on or contact me at jonathan@dryclimategardening.

  9. Pingback: Gardening Blogs Shade Perennials For Zone 5

  10. Pingback: Gardening Blogs Perennial Shade Flowers For Zone 5

  11. Pingback: Gardening Blogs Best Tall Shade Perennials For Zone 5

Please Feel Free to Comment, I'd Love to Hear From You...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s