Perennials for Dry Shade

Although there are many challenges associated with gardening in an urban yard, one of the biggest seems to be "What can I possibly do with that dry, shady area under the eaves or between two houses?" Dry shade really isn't preferred by any plants, but there are several that will at least tolerate these less-than-ideal conditions. One note: even plants that tolerate dry periods should be watered consistently until they are well established.

Here is a list of some perennials that are said to tolerate some pretty tough conditions:

Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla): 15" tall, 18" spread. Heart-shaped leaves with varying degrees of silver and green, depending on the variety, and small blue flowers in late spring.
Lungwort, Bethlehem Sage (Pulmonaria longifolia/P. saccharata): 18" tall, 24" spread. Narrow leaves with silver spots are quite attractive, and many cultivars have pink flowerbuds that open to blue flowers.
Elephant Ears, Rockfoil (Bergenia cordifolia): 18" tall, 36" spread. Large, leathery leaves are somewhat evergreen, pink flowers appear in spring. This will grow almost anywhere, and seems to be a favourite for public areas. I think it looks a little bit like cabbage.
Red Barrenwort, Bishop's Hat (Epimedium x rubrum): 12" tall, 12" spread. Heart-shaped leaves with are tinged red in the spring and again in the fall. Small red flowers appear in late spring.
Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum): 24" tall, 18" spread. Lush foliage with long stems of small white flowers in the spring.
Spotted Deadnettle, White Archangel (Lamium maculatum): 8" tall, 36" spread. A versatile, spreading plant with silver or spotted leaves and white or purple flowers through most of the summer; it is a good choice for a groundcover.
Periwinkle (Vinca minor): 6" tall, 24" or more spread. A low-growing groundcover with small, evergreen leaves which, in some varieties, have white variegation. Small purple flowers appear in late spring.
Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis): 10" tall, 18" spread. Fragrant white flowers appear in early spring, and the grass-like foliage makes a good groundcover.
Fleeceflower (Persicaria affinis/Polygonum affine): 12" tall, 24" or more spread. Has pink or red flower spikes that appear in early summer and are very long-lasting. Not for very deep shade.
Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus): 3-5' tall, 4' spread. The early summer blooms of this plant closely resemble those of Astilbe, and will be more profuse in a less shaded area.
Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis): 15" tall, 24" spread. Large leaves are offset by clusters of tiny, yellow flowers through most of the summer.
Goutweed, Bishop's Weed (Aegopodium podagraria): 12" tall, unlimited spread. This should be used only as a last resort. It will literally grow anywhere, but unless it is well contained, it will soon be growing everywhere. Unless it is beside a sidewalk or driveway, sink a barrier at least 18" deep to keep it from spreading.


  1. I recently posted an article about some plants that are thriving below a giant evergreen in our yard - very dry and very shady!

    Enjoying your site - great job!

  2. This is a very nice list; thank you.

    Beneath white pines I am growing wintergreen which we just planted this spring. It's blossoming so must be happy. This morning I planted two pots of some tiny groundcover Leptinella squalida 'Platt's Black'
    New Zealand Brass Buttons, under a granite bench in front of the pines where the plants will get sun but won't be trod upon. Keeping my fingers cross that those will make it. Will New Zealand plants live in northern Illinois?

    I love epimedium, which is on your list, and often find it in the wild, but I it does not transplant well from its super-dry locations where I discover it. Probably nursery-grown plants would work.

    I adore pulmonarium but we had so much rain and cool weather this spring (cool temps continuing now, July 13) that my beautiful pulmonarium plants have fungus and are rotting. I could transplant, but I don't think that would help.

    Knockout roses planted last summer bloomed profusely, looked like they were happy and made of cast iron, a misinterpretation. Most were dead this spring and have been replaced by carpet roses. The six remaining Knockout plants will be nursed along over next winter to see how much trouble they turn out to be. If they don't come back strong and healthy, it'll be more carpet roses sand we'll knock Knockout off our list and out of our hearts. Extension service master gardiner did an informal survey at work: everyone said great the first summer, very disappointing showing the next spring, died during the next winter. I was glad to know we weren't the only disappointed gardeners.

    This rose is not a groundcover, but northern gardeners might want to try only one and mulch heavily before the freeze. I believe this is not a reliable zone 5 rose.


Comments are somewhat moderated.