By Mary Glazer
Every home I ever lived in, despite my best efforts, had a spot in the yard that resulted in nothing but doom and death to any living plant. Dry shade seems to be one of those areas. Granted I’m a tough-love gardener. My plants get a haphazard hole in the ground, hand-watering until established, and an occasional compliment as I walk by, like “Nice flowers.” For other plants I might offer comfort with a phrase such as “Good effort.” (Years ago I learned that expression from other softball parents.)
As a gardener I have to take the words “dry” and “shade” with a grain of salt. I’m not talking about the Mojave Desert with a beach umbrella. All plants, even cacti, need some water. And all landscape plants need some sun; even shade plants require about three hours a day. However, filtered sunlight through the thin needles of a tall pine tree swaying in the breeze can be enough sun for some shade plants.
For the bulk of the Gulf States, dry shade in summer heat isn’t so much about dryness but rather about drought tolerance between episodes of torrential summer rainfall. Less obvious is the difference between the shade from, say, a large oak tree versus shade from a building. Plants growing in the shade of a building aren’t competing with tree roots for available groundwater.
My solution for all gardening frustrations is to install green cement. No, I’m just kidding—that’s my fantasy solution for the end-of-summer weed season. But for dry shade number one on my list of plants would be bromeliads.
Bromeliads come in approximately 3,000 species. Mostly known for their striking leaves, the blooming varieties can have some unusual-looking flowers. My bromeliads are underneath the shade of a live oak tree. Their roots are diminutive, almost nonexistent, so they don’t compete for groundwater, as do other plants. Their vase shape serves as a holding area both for water and nutrients.
Other plants I like for dry shade include cast iron (Aspidistra elatior) and lilyturf (Liriope muscari).
But not all of my dry shade solutions involve plants. For any problem area pine bark mulch and a park bench trumps green cement any day.
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