The Q&A Archives: Shrub/Trees for Total Shade

Question: What could be grown on a northern exposure that receives no sun during the day? We had tried rhododendron and they lasted about 3 seasons. I have clocked the site and this area in front of the porch [15'x8']did not receive any sun during any part of the year. Our landscaping was designed and supplied by professional nursery. We have lots of shade issues and many areas receive limited full sun.

Answer: The site you describe can be considered dry shade and it is difficult to find shrubs and trees that will tolerate such conditions. There are a few plants that will adapt:
Examples of Plants for Dry Shade

Hosta Plants. Hosta plants present a choice that is quite distinct from the other 9 choices of plants for dry shade in this list. They have greater mass than the rest, standing a foot high or taller, with a slightly greater spread. Hosta plants form a leafy garden dense enough to choke out weeds. If planted in rows, they are impressive enough to serve as borders.

Liriope Spicata. Liriope spicata also has a feature that distinguishes it from the other plants for dry shade in my list. For liriope 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 Plants. Foxglove, like the next entry (daylilies), is distinguished by its showy floral display. It is also the tallest of the plants for dry shade.

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, like English ivy, is grown primarily for its robust green foliage.

Vinca Minor Vines. But what if you want more than greenery from a short ground cover? Vinca minor may provide the answer for you, with the adorable blue flowers it yields in spring.

Spotted Dead Nettles. Or perhaps you're content with nice foliage, only you'd prefer its color be something other than green? Well, these perennials for dry shade provide an interesting silvery foliage.

Snowdrops. 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!

Scilla Siberica. The bulb, squill is also called "scilla," because its Latin name is Scilla siberica. If the white blooms of snowdrops aren't what you want after looking at the color, white all winter, 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.

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