Native Plants for Dry Shade
Trees with spreading, shallow roots such as beech, maple, and some conifers often leave the surrounding soil both shady and dry.
Dry shade is considered the trickiest type of shade by many gardeners because many shade loving plants prefer moist soil. However, there are a number of native perennials that can tolerate or even thrive in dry shade. These include:
- Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) – This shade garden favorite has lovely, multicolored flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
- White Woodland Aster (Aster divaricatus) – Prolific, pretty white flowers attract butterflies and pollinators.
- Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) – An aggressive, spreading vine with pretty white flowers.
- Broad-leaved shooting star (Dodecathon hendersonii) – This wildflower has bright magenta blosoms that resemble a falling star.
- Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) – This low-growing lily has beautiful yellow flowers.
- Coastal strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) – Unlike the Barren strawberry, Coastal strawberries do produce tasty berries that are popular with both humans and birds.
- Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) – Wild geranium has attractive pink blossoms and does best in partial shade.
- Sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) – An early spring bloomer with delicate, pretty white flowers.
- Bottlebrush grass (Hystrix patula) – The attractive spiky seedheads on this shade-loving grass resemble a bottlebrush.
- Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) – A nitrogen-fixing legume with beautiful blue flowers that is the host plant for the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly.
- Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) – A handsome, prolific bloomer, Foxglove beardtongue prefers partial shade in open woodlands.
- Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) – A handsome, flowering perennial that looks especially good around the base of trees.
- False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina racemosa) – Showy clusters of white flowers are followed by bright red berries that are popular with birds.
- Zig Zag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) – Pretty yellow flowers that bloom in late summer.
- Barren strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides) – This spreading groundcover does not have edible berries, but does produce multitudes of small but pretty yellow flowers.
Good choices for non-native plants that tolerate dry shade include hostas, snowdrops, Spanish bluebell, lily-of-the-valley, and some coral bells. Some tough plants commonly grown in dry shade, such as vinca and English ivy, are well-behaved in some regions and invasive in others, so consult your local garden center or extension service before planting.
Dry shade can be improved by adding plenty of organic matter to the soil when planting, and mulching to conserve soil moisture.