Plants for Dry Shade

Epimedium is a great choice for a dry shade groundcover.

Epimedium is a great choice for a dry shade groundcover.

Many of the green spaces surrounding properties are filled with trees which compete with the plants below for water and nutrients. It is possible to incorporate trees in a planting bed to add more visual interest, using a variety of low maintenance plants with different leaf sizes, colors and textures. Spaces with trees often have some part sun spaces, so I’ve included a few plants with part sun light requirements. In a large space, massing the plants (5 or more) will be more attractive and provide a sense of scale to the space. In smaller spaces, one or three large plants will be more effective. The trick is to arrange the plants to make a pleasing composition and have something interesting happening in all seasons. 

My search for tough plants that can withstand dry shady conditions with little maintenance has revealed a surprising number of plants. 

Many of the plants below are woodland plants, naturally occurring under trees. To minimize damage to tree roots and make planting easier, use the smallest plants available. Consider making a small berm at least three feet away from the tree if tree roots are exposed or make planting difficult. Generously amend the soil with compost when establishing the bed to retain moisture and create the soil conditions found in a forest. Mulch the beds to reduce weed growth and retain moisture. Once established, the plants should be able to survive without additional water except in drought conditions. You will need to add compost annually and the beds will need to be weeded and tidied up once or twice during the growing season, depending on the plants chosen. With little maintenance, your woodland garden should provide interest year round and surprise your visitors with its beauty.

Shrubs

Cotoneaster apiculatus

Height        2-3’ high x 3-4’ wide

Light            sun to part shade

Flowers        small pink flowers May-July

Fall Color        Red/Maroon with red berries

Comment        Great for cascading over walls/boulders

Calycanthus floridus

Height        8’ high x 6’ wide

Light            sun to shade

Flowers        dark red-brown, fragrant

Fall Color        yellow

Fothergilla gardenii

Height        3-4’ 

Light            sun to shade

Flowers        White fragrant bottle brush flowers early spring             before leaves

Fall Color        Red, Orange, yellow

Winter Interest    Silver Stems, attractive habit

Hydrangea quercifolia

 Height        6-8’

Light            sun to shade

Flowers        Large panicles June to fall

Fall Color        Red/Maroon

Other            Cinnamon colored exfoliating bark, does not like             windy sites

Hypericum calycinum 'Brigadoon'

Height        1-3’h x 2-3’w

Light            Sun to part shade

Flowers        Yellow

Leaves        Chartreuse

Kerria japonica

Height        5’ 

Light            Part sun to shade

Leaves        Light Green

Flowers        Yellow, spring and fall

Fall Color        Yellow

Winter Interest    Green Stems

Taxus x media (Yew)

Height        3-4’ 

Light            Sun to shade

Leaves        Dark green needles

Flowers        none

Fall Color        none

Winter Interest    evergreen

Perennials

 

Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle)

Height        1-1.5’

Light            Sun to shade

Flowers        Chartreuse frothy flowers in June

Other    water beads up on leaves, cut back flowers and leaves after bloom to regenerate

Ajuga reptans

 Height        8-12”

Light            Shade to part sun

Flowers        Blue

Other            Bronze-green or variegated foliage ground cover

Aquilegia alpine (Columbine)

Height        12-18”

Light            Shade to part sun

Flowers        Blue May-July

Other            Other cultivars need more sun, more flower colors

Asarum canadense (Wild Ginger)

Height        6-8”

Light            Shade to part sun

Flowers        insignificant

Leaves        2-4” glossy green heart shaped leaves

Other            slow growing ground cover

Aster divaricatus

Height        18-24”

Light            Sun to part shade

Flowers        white with yellow center

Bergenia cordifolia

 Height        8-12” high and wide

Light            Shade to part sun

Flowers        Red

Other            Bronze fall color, glossy leaves

Brunnera macrophylla

Height        12-18” high and wide

Light            Shade to part sun

Flowers        Blue

Other            Jack Frost is a variegated cultivar

Corydalis lutea

Height        36-72” high x 18-24’ wide

Light            Sun to part shade

Flowers        Yellow

Other            self sows

Dicentra formosa (Bleeding Heart)

Height        8-18” high and wide

Light            Shade to part sun

Flowers        Pink, May, June

Other            Fernlike leaves

Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’

Height        12-18” high and wide

Light            Shade to part sun

Leaves        Heart shaped, some with color at edge

Flowers        various colors, early spring, depending on cultivar

Gallium odoratum (Sweet Woodruff)

Height        6” high and wide

Light            Shade

Leaves        Glossy, needle like

Flowers        white, early spring

Geranium ‘Jolly Bee’

Height        18-24”

Light            Sun to part shade

Leaves        Green to Chartreuse

Flowers        Blue with white center and maroon arteries

            blooms all season

Heleborus (Lenten Rose)

Height        15-18”

Light            Shade to part sun

Leaves        Green 

Flowers        various colors early spring

Hemerocallis (Day Lily)

Height        18-24”

Light            Sun to part shade

Leaves        Green

Flowers        Various colors, some bloom all season

Heuchera (Coral Bells)

Height        12-18” high and wide

Light            Shade to part sun

Leaves        many colors available

Flowers        tall sprays with small flowers

Hosta

Height        various 6”-36” high and wide

Light            Shade to part sun

Leaves        many colors available

Flowers        tall sprays with white or purple flowers, some fragrant

Lamium maculatum (Spotted Dead Nettle)

Height        12-18” high and wide

Light            Shade to part sun

Leaves        variegated foliage

Flowers        pink or white

Liriope spicata (Creeping Lilyturf)

Height        8-12” high and wide

Light            Sun to shade

Leaves        green, grass like

Flowers        violet

Pachysandra procumbens

Height        12-18” high and wide

Light            Shade 

Leaves        glossy umbrella like foliage

Flowers        white 

Pachysandra macrophyllum

Height        12-36” high and wide

Light            Sun to Part shade 

Leaves        rounded ruffled foliage

Flowers        white flowers

Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern)

Height        12-36” high and wide

Light            Shade

Leaves        green, evergreen

Flowers        none

Pulmonaria saccharata (Lungwort)

Height        12-18” high and wide

Light            Shade to part sun

Leaves        Spotted

Flowers        white

Carex elata 

Height        8-12” h

Light            Shade to part sun

Leaves        variegated, green, gold depending on cultivar

Flowers        insignificant

Bulbs

Scilla siberica (Siberian Squill)

Height        5-8” h

Light            Sun

Leaves        green, grasslike

Flowers        blue or white

Other            Spring ephemeral blooms before trees leaf out

Galanthus nivalis (Snow Drop)

Height        4-6” h

Light            Sun

Leaves        Green

Flowers        white

Other            Spring ephemeral blooms before trees leaf out

 

Posted on May 30, 2014 .