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Southeast Gardening: Planting in Dry Shade

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Dry shade doesn’t have to be your garden’s undoing. Follow the advice of Lowe’s Southeast region gardening contributor.

bench and arbor with hostas
hosta, path, and garden structure

By Glenn DiNella

If you have a landscape area with lots of shade and little water—such as on a well-drained slope, or beneath a large tree that soaks up all of the water—there are solutions.

If it’s a relatively flat space, one idea is to create a patio where you’ll enjoy the shade during summer. If you’re beneath a large tree, be careful with your paving selection so as not to damage or smother the roots with major construction and solid surfacing. A pea gravel patio is a nice, soft solution because water drains right through. Even if you do construct a patio, you’ll still want to adorn it with a few plants.

In some ways dealing with an area of dry shade is harder than with a parched, sunny landscape. It seems so many plants have adapted to drought and sun, but the pallet of plants that thrive with a deficiency of both water and sunlight is a little smaller.

Here are some plants built to handle the situation. Even these toughies require water occasionally until they have gotten their roots established, but soon they’ll be lush and low maintenance.

ajuga closeup

Carpet bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) is a dense groundcover, with purple flower spikes in spring. The most popular cultivars boast chocolate-green, bronze, or variegated foliage. Although it spreads easily, carpet bugleweed is not hard to keep in check. It also withstands occasional foot traffic.

hostas in bloom

Hostas are the plants of choice for many shade gardeners because unlike a groundcover hostas have size and presence. The summer blooms are a bonus, but most people grow them for the attractive foliage, which ranges from lime to green to blue-green. Outstanding variegated hostas brighten dark corners.

yew by sidewalk

Yew (Taxus) is considered a plant of immortality because some specimens have lasted 2,000 years or more. It’s available in a number of habits and can be pruned into almost any shape. While it accepts dry shade it also thrives in full sunlight.

A few other dry-shade plants you might consider:

  • Astilbe
  • Cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior)
  • Deadnettle (Lamium maculata)
  • Holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)
  • Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis)
  • Mahonia ‘Soft Touch’
  • Yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon)

See more by this author.