The Q&A Archives: Dry And Shady Flowerbed

Question: My East-facing flowerbed is very dry and shady due to a large Norway Maple tree that shades the bed most of the day. Surface roots from the tree are also a problem and zap alot of moisture from the soil. The southern part of the bed gets some afternoon sun. Any suggestions for plants that can survive shade and dry conditions? I would consider foliage plants, but Hosta, Caladium and Coleus need lots of moisture, I believe.
I have two Rhodies growing in the bed which is about 10'wide by 25'long. Annual plants would supply some color when the Rhodies are done blooming. I have tried begonias with minimal success due to the dryness and other annuals require more sunlight.

Answer: In my experience, this is a case of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!" Such a tree really presents a difficult situation. Unfortunately, as you have discovered, the tree is truly a water hog and easily outcompetes most other plants. While you may have some temporary successs by digging out individual planting pockets, in the long run the roots will regrow and cause trouble again -- sometimes within months. In this case I would suggest establishing a strenuous ground cover such as English ivy and then using some large containers in which to grow annuals for color. Since this is a large area you might consider using some of it for an informal path and clearing around a welcoming bench located in that cool shady spot, perhaps even adding a little fountain along with the planters.

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