When I think of shady spots in a garden, I think of more woodland-like conditions where the soil is a bit damp, and moisture-loving wildflowers and moss thrive. But there are shady garden areas around a home where the soil may be quite dry. These areas could be under established trees or near the foundation of a home where the rain doesn’t quite reach. In this article I’m going to share some drought tolerant shade plants that you may consider for those dry areas of the garden that don’t get much attention from the sun.
Why choose drought tolerant shade plants?
While the conditions of your garden may be challenging, choosing a plant that is more conditioned to adapt to the location is a good long-term goal. With water being such a precious resource, whether you have a full sun or a shade garden, drought tolerant plants will help to conserve water over time.
Do keep in mind that new plants will need to be regularly watered until they become more established in their new home. You can’t just plant and forget. Also, amend the soil with fresh compost around the area where your new plant will go. Any existing plants will benefit from this soil amendment, too!
If you’re at the garden center and find something you really like, but plant tag details are scant, do a quick online search or ask an employee for some more information about the plant to make sure it’s suited for the spot you have chosen.
Here are some drought tolerant shade plants to consider.
There are a couple of lungwort plants that have appeared, unbidden, in a couple of areas of my gardens that are in part shade with dry soil. But I don’t mind. I quite like the mottled foliage and the deep mauve or pink flowers that appear in early to mid spring. The plants are also deer resistant, so while the local deer who frequent my yard nibble down some of my other early spring plants that appear, lungwort remains untouched.
I wish I had planted my hellebore in a more high-traffic area of my yard because it is the belle of the ball in spring. Numerous clusters of buds open to reveal intricate, interesting blooms. Hardy down to USDA zone 4, mine is planted in an area of a side yard that gets a bit of morning sunshine and then shade throughout the afternoon. And as much as I’ve worked to amend the soil, it’s a pretty arid spot. The hellebore doesn’t seem to mind, it just gets better every year.
Sweet woodruff (Galum odoratum)
Sweet woodruff, aka sweetscented bedstraw, is another one of those flowering groundcovers that speaks to me. One of these days I’ll experiment with its culinary uses. But for now, it’s planted in a thin, dry strip of garden that is riddled with cedar roots. The plant tag may indicate it prefers a moist, well-draining soil, but the plant will tolerate dry shade. I love the vibrant white flowers that dot the plant, as well as the shape of the vibrant green leaves.
Spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum)
For a reliable, dry shade perennial ground cover, spotted dead nettle fits the bill. Is it a bit of a spreader? Yes. It is, after all, a member of the mint family. But it doesn’t seem to take over like some mint varieties can. My sister has it in her front yard garden, under an eave, so a prime dry, partial shade location. It’s such a tough plant, with its almost evergreen foliage, I suspect it would bloom through the winter if it didn’t snow!
I didn’t plant them, but somehow there is a swath of Solomon’s seal plants behind a row of cedars in my backyard. I kind of wish they weren’t hiding back there, but in mid spring, it’s fun to poke around behind the shrubs and admire them. It’s almost like a secret garden. Solomon’s seal thrives in part sun to shady areas, and makes a unique, drought-tolerant addition to the spring garden.
Hostas are among those dependable shade plants that you can find pretty much anywhere. They come in so many sizes, too, from miniature specimens with names like Mouse Ears, to enormous plants that can span three feet! Hostas can grow well in full shade, but they also don’t mind a bit of sun.
Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian Bugloss)
To me, many of the brunneras I’ve spotted in shade gardens light up the space because of the white or white-green of the heart-shaped leaves. Hardy down to USDA zone 3, these shade superstars can tolerate a bit of dry shade. The delicate light-blue sprays of flowers that appear in spring resemble forget-me-nots.
When looking for plants, you want to choose a variety so you have blooms throughout spring, summer, and autumn. Japanese anemones provide that late summer pizzazz in a garden. The plant can spread underground via rhizomes, but in my experience, it has not been invasive. And anytime I look closely to admire the blooms, it’s covered in bees.
Coral Bells (Heuchera)
Heucheras are a foliage favorite of mine. They come in shades of lime green and caramel, you can find them in a range of purples that are almost black. Heucheras are really lovely plants with leaves that provide great accent colors in any dry shade garden. They grow well in light, dappled shade and don’t mind dry conditions.
Other drought tolerant shade plants for your garden
- Some varieties of ferns
- Lily turf (Liriope muscari)
- Bishop’s hat (Epimedium)
- Big root geranium
- Bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis)
More perennials for shade gardens
George Lambert says
I am glad you mentioned anemone spreading, but my experience was horrible rather than good. After only 2 yrs with half doz planted, I ripped it all out of my sandy (and infertile) soil after it had proved to be a thug, taking over a large area. I loved the foliage and flower, but it is way too aggressive. I saved a few plants that I put in a pot that is overwintered in my garage.
Tara Nolan says
Hi George, That’s too bad, but glad you were able to contain it… smart to keep it in a pot instead.