The Q&A Archives: Dense Shade

Question: I live in a "hole"... that is, on a hill about 1,000' above Lake Sammamish and another 800' down another steep hill where I have a hillside on one side and a creek 300' away at the bottom of a steep ravine on the other side. I live in a micro climate with winter lows ranging from 38' to -5' and summer highs ranging from about 68' to the high 80's, with maybe one 90' day a year. The temperature can also be 80' and sunny one day and 55' and rainy the very next.

My front yard is nearly completely shaded by two 200' cedar trees and a 15' vine maple. It's about 97% dense shade with the remaining 3% being sunny to light shade until about 2pm when it becomes all shade. The ground is "glacier till" with very little topsoil (it's sifted down) and very dry. Grass doesn't grow well and my house lacks foundation plants. What can I grow along my foundation and under my cedars beside fern and hostas?


Answer: Dry shade is a real challenge for most plants, but native plants are usually successful. Here are a few suggestions: Amelanchier alnifolia (Saskatoon), Arctostaphylos columbiana (Hairy Manzanita), Cornus stolonifera (redtwig dogwood), Holodiscus discolor (Cream Bush), Ribes aureum (Golden Current), Asarum caudatum (wild ginger), Cornus canadensis (bunchberry), Adiantum aleuticum (five-finger fern), Aquilegia formosa (western columbine), Blechnum spicant (deer fern), Fritillaria camschatcensis (black lily), Lewisia, Lilium columbianum (Columbian lily) and Vancouveria. Other (non-native) suggestions include Aucuba japonica (Japanese aucuba), Carpenteria californica (bush anenome), Daphne odora (winter daphne), Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel), Nandina domestica, and Pieris. Just for fun, tuck some flowering bulbs in around your shrubs to brighten up your landscape during the spring and summer months.

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