The Q&A Archives: Shade Plants

Question: What type of plants will grow in a yard that has a maple tree? We have tried different perennials for the past 3 years. They seem to do fine in the early spring, but when the leaves on the maple tree come out, the plants seem to whither away.

Answer: It's difficult to get plants to grow under maple trees. To begin with, the canopy diverts rain and provides shade, and the roots are greedy, drinking up all available moisture and competing with the roots of other plants for nutrients. As a result, only shade loving plants with a preference for dry soils will grow under maples. Here are a few suggestions:

Hosta. They come in a variety of leaf colors and shapes, and form a leafy garden dense enough to choke out weeds. If planted in rows, they are impressive enough to serve as borders.

Liriope Spicata. It looks like a grass (its common name is "border grass", or "lilyturf"), even though it's actually a member of the lily family. But liriope also has a spikey flower, ranging in color from white to lavender. In autumn it bears a dark berry.

Foxglove. Is tall and attractive and pairs nicely with maples.

Stella de Oro Daylily . While "Stella de Oro" truly is a "daylily," in the sense that its individual flowers last only a day, don't be fooled into thinking that you won't get much of a show out of this perennial. Another bloom will be along shortly to replace yesterday's departed beauty. In fact, its ability to re-bloom over a long period makes Stella de Oro daylily perhaps the most popular of the daylilies. Its popularity is also due to its ability to adapt to a wide range of planting zones and conditions, including dry shade.

Japanese Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis) produces white blooms in spring but is grown primarily for its robust green foliage.

Vinca Minor and Spotted Dead Nettle are excellent choices for dry shade and both flower throughout the spring and summer months.

Snowdrops (bulbs). These perennials for dry shade are as impatient for spring to come as you are. Sometimes, they can be seen pushing up through a recalcitrant layer of snow! To learn more about snowdrops, please consult the following resource:

Scilla Siberica (also a bulb). If the white blooms of snowdrops aren't what you want then the blue of these perennials for dry shade may be more to your liking. Scilla does need a good deal of water during its growing season, which is spring. But considering the abundance of moisture in many regions during spring, this usually isn't a problem.

I'm sure you'll find other plants in the garden center that will thrive in dry shade. Happy hunting!

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