Plants for dry shade are amazing shade-tolerant options for planting under trees in dry, poorly lit conditions from limited light to poor, dry soil.
From bigroot geranium and cushion spurge to bleeding heart, dead nettle, and Oregon grape, this guide covers 13 top choices for tolerating both wet and dry shades.
We’ll explore each plant’s key characteristics, requirements, and care tips so you can pick the perfect shady beauties to bring color and texture into your world of darkness and drought. So if you have a neglected shady spot crying out for transformation, read on for nature’s sneakiest infiltrators, low-light warriors that will thrive where others fail, showering you with delicate spring blooms and lush foliage throughout the seasons.
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Plants for Dry Shade That Will Thrive Where Others Fail
1. Cushion Spurge
Cushion spurge, also known by its botanical name Euphorbia polychroma, forms low-growing clumps and mounds covered in rounded, succulent leaves. Native to rocky areas of southern Europe and North Africa, this tough evergreen perennial spreads gradually but steadily over time via underground stems and stolons to form dense, mat-forming colonies.
From early spring through late summer, numerous cymes of small yellow-green bracts emerge from the base of the foliage, giving the impression of colorful flowers. In reality, these bracts serve to attract pollinators to the inconspicuous flowers clustered within. Given part sun to dappled shade and occasional summer irrigation while young, cushion spurge thrives with minimal supplemental water once established.
Capable of tolerating sparse water availability where rainfall is limited, cushion spurge adapts well to xeric conditions by going partially dormant. It favors medium to low light intensities, ranging from full sun to half day shade under trees and taller companions. In deep shade, growth and flowering diminish but the plant persists.
Allowing the potting medium or soil to dry thoroughly between waterings suits this drought-tolerant species’ preferences. Once established, cushion spurge requires little to no supplemental summer water despite warm weather. Removing any seed heads that form after flowering helps curb its rate of spread within gardens and contained planters.
Cushion spurge’s low maintenance nature, resistance to drought, and flowery bright bracts make it an excellent choice for xeric gardens, rocky slopes, containers or banking where water conservation is emphasized.
2. Bleeding Heart
Bleeding hearts are beloved spring-blooming bulbs known for their upright foliage clumps and dangling heart-shaped pink flowers. Arching stems bear the heart-shaped blooms that give this plant its common name.
The lance-shaped leaves of bleeding hearts appear in shades of blue-green and form on divided, pinnate foliage. This attractive foliage remains neat throughout the growing season, providing a backdrop for the showy flowers of early spring.
Bleeding hearts require minimal light levels ranging from partial sun to complete shade. They thrive under very low light conditions when planted beneath trees and taller plants where they produce fewer but larger blooms on longer stems.
Keep the soil around bleeding hearts constantly moist throughout their active growing season, watering whenever the top inch begins to dry out. This helps encourage flowering and robust growth. In winter when the plants become dormant, reduce watering and allow the soil to dry slightly between occasional irrigations.
As summer draws to a close, bleeding hearts gradually enter dormancy and cease actively growing. At this time, reduce water needs, watering only occasionally if rain is lacking. Allow the foliage to die back naturally.
Come fall after several hard frosts, remove faded foliage, and divide clumps that have become overgrown. Replant divisions immediately to re-establish for the following spring. To ensure a colorful spring display, selectively deadhead spent blooms of bleeding hearts as flowers fade. This encourages additional flowers to form later in the season.
Bleeding hearts produce arching stems of heart-shaped pink blooms that dangle above attractive foliage for a memorable spring show. With ease of care requirements and adaptability to low light, bleeding hearts make an excellent choice for shaded gardens and spaces beneath taller plants.
3. Dead Nettles
Dead nettles of the genus Lamium are useful groundcovers for planting in shaded areas and underneath trees. Several species form spreading mats of aromatic, oval to orbicular foliage in varying shades of green, gray, and silver. Spikes of tubular pink, purple, or white flowers rise above the foliage in spring and summer, giving these plants one of their common names: dead nettle.
Several dead nettle species thrive under low light conditions, spreading slowly with minimal care. They grow well beneath trees and taller plants where sunlight levels are reduced and competition is limited. Though fewer flowers are produced in deep shade, the attractive foliage of dead nettles makes them worthwhile additions to shaded gardens.
Keep the soil surrounding dead nettles evenly moist throughout their active growing season by watering when the top inch begins to feel dry. Their shallow root systems make regular irrigation important until the plants are fully established. In winter as growth slows or stops, reduce watering frequency and allow the soil to dry out slightly between waterings.
Dead nettles require minimal upkeep beyond occasional pruning or trimming to contain their spread. Excess foliage can be sheared back by about one-third shortly after flowering to promote bushier growth. Fallen leaves in autumn can be left in place to provide winter interest and protection for the crowns.
To propagate new plants, dead nettle slips — side shoots with root growth — can be removed and rooted in damp potting soil. Plant divisions or root cuttings in the fall for best results. Dead nettles make attractive, low-maintenance groundcovers for planting beneath taller plants and in areas with filtered or dappled shade.
Their aromatic foliage, ranging from oval to orbicular shapes in varied hues, provides visual texture, while the spring and summer tubular flowers offer a dash of color. Though slow to spread in deep shade, dead nettles are worthwhile additions to shaded gardens thanks to their ease of care requirements and adaptability to low light conditions.
4. Oregon Grape
Oregon grape makes an excellent foundation shrub or groundcover for shady landscapes, especially under mature trees. Its evergreen, holly-like leaves emerge in oblong to oval shapes from the thorny branches, giving this plant a bold texture.
In early spring, Oregon grape produces clusters of urn-shaped yellow flowers along the branches that mature into blueberry-like fruit relished by birds. The fruit provides a valuable food source for birds through late summer and early fall.
Oregon grape thrives in medium to low-intensity light conditions ranging from partial to full shade. It naturally grows under coniferous forests, so this plant adapts well to reduced light levels found in many landscapes and gardens.
Let the soil surrounding Oregon grape dry out between thorough waterings, watering deeply once monthly during the active growing season and even less frequently in winter. Oregon grape is quite drought tolerant once established, so supplemental irrigation should only be provided during extended dry spells.
Pruning back damaged or overgrown branches of Oregon grape in late winter helps encourage fresh new growth the following spring. Removing any dead or diseased wood at this time also improves the plant’s health and appearance for the upcoming season.
Oregon grape makes a good choice for shaded locations because its bold evergreen foliage has a winter hardiness that allows it to endure cold temperatures while providing year-round texture and form. Its spring flowering displays and summer fruit crops make Oregon grape a functional, multi-purpose shrub even for the darkest corners of landscapes.
Oregon grape is an excellent selection for foundation plantings, shrub borders, and groundcover applications in shady landscapes. Its adaptability to low light conditions combined with its drought tolerance, year-round foliage, flowering displays, and value to birds make Oregon grape a worthy addition to gardens where sunlight is limited.
Hostas or plantain lilies are beloved perennials for shaded gardens, recognized for their low maintenance and a wide variety of foliage colors. Their oval to lanceolate leaves appear in shades of blue, gold, green, and variegated, emerging from dormant crowns in early spring. Hostas flower on upright stalks bearing white to lavender blooms.
Hostas thrive in minimal light conditions ranging from partial sun to full shade. They grow abundantly under trees and taller plants where light levels reduce, spreading to form large colonies. Keep soil evenly moist throughout the growing season, watering when the top inch starts to feel dry.
In winter, reduce watering and allow the soil to mostly dry between waterings. Fertilize hostas in early spring before growth begins and again in summer for maximal foliage color and growth.
Tiarellas or foam flowers produce carpet-like mats of interestingly lobed foliage, often in multiple shades of green, gold, and red. From dormant crowns in early spring arise divided, palmately compound leaves that remain attractive through fall.
Tiarella features upright racemes of tiny white or pink flowers in mid to late spring. Tiarellas thrive in minimal light conditions ranging from partial sun to full shade. They establish readily under trees and taller plants where light levels reduce, spreading slowly to fill spaces.
Keep soil always moist throughout the growing season, watering when the top inch starts to feel dry. In winter, reduce watering and allow the soil to mostly dry between irrigations. Tiarellas go semi-dormant during colder months with reduced water needs. Foam Flowers spread via rhizomatous roots to slowly but steadily colonize garden beds.
7. Lenten Rose
Lenten roses or Hellebores produce evergreen or semi-evergreen foliage with clusters of cup-shaped blooms in varied shades of white, pink, and purple. Their simple, oblong obovate leaves emerge on compact, clump-forming plants that spread slowly via rhizomes. Hellebores continue to produce attractive foliage throughout the growing season. Lenten roses require minimal light conditions, favoring locations ranging from partial shade to full sun.
They establish readily under trees and taller plants where light levels reduce, flowering less abundantly but producing few herbivores. Keep soil always moist throughout the growing season, watering when the top inch starts to feel dry. In winter, reduce watering slightly and allow the soil to mostly dry between irrigations. Pinch off spent foliage in springtime to encourage fresh leaf growth and fuller clumps.
8. English Ivy
English ivy or Hedera helix makes an excellent evergreen groundcover or climbing vine for shaded landscapes. Its simple, ovate to orbicular leaves emerge glossy green with creamy variegation, clinging firmly to surfaces as they climb. English ivy flowers inconspicuously and may produce dark purple berries. English ivy thrives in minimal to medium-intensity light conditions ranging from partial shade to filtered sun.
It establishes readily under trees and taller plants where light levels reduce, spreading slowly via surface runners and clinging stems. Allow soil to dry out partially between thorough watering, irrigating deeply once monthly during the growing season and less frequently in winter. English ivy is quite a drought tolerant once established, especially in shade. Hold pruning shears at the ready to snip off any parts that become overly vigorous.
9. Galium Odoratum
Galium odoratum or sweet woodruff produces strappy green foliage in whorled arrangements with terminal clusters of tiny white flowers that emanate a vanilla scent. Its linear to elliptic leaves appear in spring from rhizomatous roots, persisting attractively through fall.
Sweet woodruff spreads via underground stems to form creeping mats. Galium odoratum thrives in minimal light conditions ranging from partial shade to full shade.
10. Geranium Macrorrhizum
Geranium macrorrhizum or bigroot geranium produces palmately compound, fan-shaped leaves with five to seven leaflets on hairy stems throughout spring, summer, and fall. Its leaves emerge from large, fleshy rhizomes that lend this geranium its common name.
Bigroot geranium produces clusters of pale to deep pink flowers with reflexed petals on branched stems. Geranium macrorrhizum thrives under partially shaded conditions, requiring afternoon shade in hot summer months.
Heucheras or coral bells produce mounds of colorful foliage with spikes of tiny spring to summer flowers. Their simple, lanceolate leaves emerge in various shades of purple, green, red, and white, persisting attractively throughout fall.
Heuchera clumps together to form dense colonies that slowly expand via rhizomes. Heucheras thrive under minimal to medium light conditions, favoring locations from part shade to full sun.
Wintercreeper or Euonymus fortunei is an evergreen, groundcover vine valued for its prolific growth and tolerance of shade. Its simple, rounded reniform leaves emerge glossy green with white variegation, clinging to surfaces as stems creep across the ground. Wintercreeper flowers inconspicuously and may produce red, berry-like fruits. Wintercreeper thrives under minimal to medium intensity light conditions ranging from partial shade to dappled sunlight.
Bugleweeds or Ajuga reptans produce mounds of elliptic to oblong foliage in shades of green, bronze, and variegated. Their simple leaves emerge in spring, persisting attractively through fall. Bugleweed features spikes of delicate blue, pink, or white flowers in late spring through summer.
Bugleweeds thrive in minimal light conditions ranging from partial shade to full shade.
With so many beautiful options for plants in dry shade, there’s no need to settle for barren, lifeless spaces under trees or overhangs since these following key plants can transform dreary conditions into aesthetically pleasing oases.
- Cushion spurge adds mounding foliage and colorful blooms with minimal water needs once established.
- Coral bells produce showy foliage and flowers while tolerating limited light and intermittent watering.
- Wintercreeper or Euonymus fortunei makes excellent foundation or groundcover plants in places with low light and poor soil.
- Bleeding hearts or Lamprocapnos spectabilis are beloved spring bulbs growing upright foliage clumps with heart-shaped pink flowers dangling along arching stems.
- Hostas or plantain lilies are beloved perennials for shaded gardens, recognized for their low maintenance and a wide variety of foliage colors.
The right plants for dry shade can turn a neglected spot into a serene retreat, showering you with gentle beauty through each season. Even in settings with limited options, there are countless ways to creatively fill spaces with character and charm. With a little persistence and plant wisdom, you’ll discover the simple joys and small miracles happening all around where life finds a way, even in dry shade.