Gardening in full shade is tough, but dry, compacted soil makes it even harder. Dry shade often occurs under mature trees with shallow roots, like non-native maples. Adding soil or raising the grade won’t help much and can harm the tree.
To tackle this in my garden, I annually improve the soil by loosening it with a garden fork, adding shredded leaves for better texture, and topping it with compost or composted manure for nutrients.
Some shade-loving plants adapt to dry conditions, while others, like ‘Ice Dance’ sedge, cope well despite their preference for moisture. When planting in dry shade, use composted manure, plant in individual holes, and water regularly until established.
Most perennials that thrive in dry shade bloom from early spring to midsummer, so ideally, you want to mix foliage types for continuous visual interest.
That said, here are the 5 best plants you want to have in your garden:
This native ground cover features downy green leaves that hide unique burgundy to brown spring flowers at ground level. It takes a few years to establish, but mature patches can be divided in early spring or late autumn.
Moreover, it’s deer-resistant and hardy to Zone 3, and it can also reach a height of four inches (10 cm) with an indefinite spread.
Ice Dance Sedge
This vibrant variegated Japanese sedge is too lively for a typical herbaceous border, but it thrives in dry shade which helps control its growth.
Deer-resistant and hardy to Zone 5, it maintains its evergreen appearance, although a bit of spring trimming may be necessary. It grows to a height of 10 inches (25 cm) and a width of 18 inches (45 cm), spreading through underground stolons (runners).
Mature clumps can be divided in spring.
Gardeners often handle hellebores delicately due to the cost of new cultivars, but these plants are surprisingly resilient. Once they’ve settled in, hellebores self-seed, creating sizable colonies ideal for dry shade.
These tough perennials are hardy to Zone 4, reaching a height and width of 16 inches (40 cm), and they’re resistant to deer and rabbits.
Red barrenwort, which is a hybrid of the European E. alpinum and the Asian E. grandiflorum, showcases leaves with a noticeable red tinge in spring, transitioning to green and eventually adopting a reddish-bronze hue in autumn.
To fully appreciate its red-and-yellow-striped flowers in spring, trim the stems back to the ground in late winter. This hardy plant reaches a height of 12 inches (30 cm) and a width of 18 inches (45 cm), thriving in Zone 4, and it’s resistant to deer and rabbits.
“Sissinghurst White” Lungwort
Lastly, we have Sissinghurst White which is another excellent choice for brightening up shady spots. It features deep green leaves speckled with silver and produces clusters of pure white bells in mid-spring.
This plant reaches a height of 10 inches (25 cm) and a width of 18 inches (45 cm) while slowly spreading through creeping roots and self-seeding to a moderate extent.
Hardy to Zone 3, its leaves are resistant to deer and rabbits. If the foliage starts looking worn by midsummer, you can cut it back significantly, and mature clumps can be divided in the autumn.