Plants for Tough Sites: Dry Shade

I grew up with a yard that had a slope facing east, shaded by a mature tree with miniscule amounts of good fertile soil to grow any type of plant. I have also inherited this site in my new garden.  This area is too steep to mow easily and the grass is so thin it’s mostly weeds.  I’m a gardener so I’m not opposed to removing the lawn in favor of perennials and shrubs.So what grows in these harsh conditions? One of the shrubs that thrive is bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora). Bottlebrush buckeye is noted for being one of the best summer-flowering shrubs for shade areas. It is a dense, mounded, suckering, deciduous, multi-stemmed shrub which typically grows 6-12′ tall. Blooms June to July.  Bottlebrush buckeye requires even moisture to become established, but then tolerates drier soils.   It’s also native to the southeastern United States and is attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies.

Other shrubs that you might consider include: St. John’s wort (Hypericum calycinum), Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica ‘Plenifolia’), Korean boxwood (Buxus sinica var. insularis ‘Wintergreen’), or Hop tree (Ptelea trifoliata).

Epimedium x versicolor

Epimedium x versicolor Cultivar ‘Sulphureum’ -John Ruter, University of Georgia,

If you would like some smaller perennials that will cover the ground try Epimedium x versicolor or Bishop’s hat.  Epimedium are clump-forming perennials that can tolerate dry conditions. ‘Sulphureum’, which typically grows 8-12″ tall, is primarily used as a ground cover or edger in shady or woodland areas. It features short-spurred yellow flowers which appear above the foliage in spring. E. x versicolor spreads a little faster than other epimediums by underground rhizomes but is not aggressive in a garden.  The wiry petioles form tidy mounds of foliage.  In mild winters the foliage is evergreen.  Cut back old foliage before the new emerges in the spring.

Other perennials that will thrive in dry shade: Bergenia cordifolia (pigsqueak), lily of the valley, Eurybia spp (white wood aster), Helleborus spp. (Lenten Rose), Hosta, and Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal).

There is always a plant to put in the right place.

Thank you to the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Plant Finder feature on their website:

Submitted by Amy Aldenderfer, Agent for Horticulture, Hardin Co. Cooperative Extension Service