Dry shade plants - Knowledgebase Question

Bellevue, WA
Avatar for Samirmechel
Question by Samirmechel
June 10, 2006
I have a triangular shaped bed near my front door that is under the eaves of the house,therefore getting no rain, but fairly good light since it's on the south side. It's a small bed, only 3 x 4 approx. What perennial plants would work in there? In the Spring, wood hyacinths flourish in there, but once they're gone, I have a bare dirt entrance bed. Not pretty!
I have pretty much the same conditions near my house foundation on the north side, too. I'd like to hide that concrete up. The bed is 4' x 20'. Astilbes and hostas do well in the front of the bed where it gets rain, but the back half is dry as a bone. Would hebe do well back there or do they need more sun? I also need something with a bit of height; 4-5 ft. would be best (because of windows). any advice is most welcome!

Answer from NGA
June 10, 2006
There are a number of plants that will tolerate dry shade. Note that "tolerating" dry shade is not the same as "thriving" in it; most of the plants for dry shade listed below will grow better if supplied with average amounts of moisture. Before installing plants in dry-shade areas, you can improve your chances by mixing organic matter (e.g., compost) into the soil, thereby increasing the soil's water-retention. Sandy soils are like sieves and are notorious for quickly losing whatever water may come their way. Mixing compost into such soil is rather like adding pieces of sponge to it.

Hosta plants are the first choice; they have a great mass, 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 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.

Hemerocallis, especially "Stella de Oro". 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.

English ivy vines may produce insignficant, greenish-white flowers in the fall, but these perennials for dry shade are grown primarily for their foliage. A popular plant for many years, a growing number of homeowners now choose not to grow English ivy, due to its negative impact on forests in some regions (when it escapes from cultivation). If you do choose to grow English ivy, don't plant it near your trees. The vines climb up tree trunks and may eventually engulf the whole tree, drastically reducing the amount of sunlight that reaches the leaves of the host tree.

Pachysandra terminalis produces white blooms in spring but, like English ivy, is grown primarily for its robust green foliage.

You might also consider Vinca minor (periwinkle), or Lamium (dead nettle).

Best wishes with your garden!

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