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Mastering Dry Shade

This page is a work in progress but I hope to have it completed soon.

First things first - I am not a master of dry shade. I've simply learned to garden in it since I have quite a bit. I am still mastering it but I think I'm winning.

Dry shade isn't the curse you may think it is. One of the good things about it is that you don't need to water the plants that thrive there as much as other plants because they actually like being a bit dry. Of course, if you don't water them at all they'll curl up and die. I use soaker hoses to keep mine watered and believe it or not, I have a few that are only watered during droughts or heat waves.

The plants listed below all grow in my zone 7A garden. While there are many other plants that also thrive in dry shade, I'm only including the plants I've grown.

Coming Soon:

Bigroot geraniums


Callicarpa 'Duet' (Variegated beautyberry)


Diervilla (shrub)


Golden Alexanders (Zizia aptera)


Hystrix petula (Bottlebrush grass)

Iris tectorum

Kerria japonica

Panicum 'Shenandoah' (bright afternoon shade)

Salvia 'Koyame' (Not too dry!)

Sedum (just a few)

Solidago caesia (Blue stemmed goldenrod)

Plants That Love Dry Shade Like a Baby Loves its Mama

Anemone canadensis
My friend Annette asked me one day at work if I wanted some anemones. Annette is the most tough love gardener I've ever met and only grows plants that can take care of themselves. Dependent on a well, Annette gets the water but the plants do not. "They're taking over!" she exclaimed. A tough, beautiful plant that self seeds and fills in all the blank spots for me? Sign me up!! Despite their name, anemone canadensis is native to all of North America. Supposedly they prefer moist soil but mine thrive under a river birch that demands all the water in the shady part of my garden to the point that the beds near it have become bastions of dry shade. Snuggled up next to a soaker hose, they get a deep soaking about once a week, if I remember. If not, they forgive me and stay beautiful.

This is my river birch garden. I took this picture right after I started my blog and forgot to take any close up photos. The anemones are between the variegated iris and the bird bath. . NOTE: This picture is about 4 years old. With the exception of the two variegated plants, all of the plants shown in this dry shade garden are still there and thriving.

This picture is from I wish I had taken it, but I didn't. Anemone canadensis blooms in the spring. 

Amsonia 'Blue Ice'

Amsonia with yellow chrysoganum (Green and Gold)

Amsonia is one of the toughest plants in my garden. Of course, it took me forever to realize this. I added about a dozen more 'Blue Ice' to my garden last fall. It blooms in early spring and will grow in bone dry shade. It has cool yellow foliage in the fall. It's much shorter than most amsonia and tops out at about 16" tall.

Heart leaf aster (Aster divarcatus)

Heart leaf aster and blue plumbago in the fall

Heart leaf aster's spring growth is very upright. It collapses a bit as the summer progresses, creating a carpet of white asters in the fall. The asters are between the bird feeder and the tan pot. Picture from 2011.

Heart leaf aster is another really tough plant. While it can take more moisture than dry shade has to offer, it grows just fine under tall shrubs and between other plants. I'll give an extra drink when we've gone long periods without rain but more out of pity than necessity.  

Northern Sea Oats (chasmanthium latifolium)

Sea Oats and Solomon's Seal grow in the same bed. The Solomon's Seal grows in front of the sea oats.

These have been so successful, I added two more clumps to another bed with too much dry shade. They are super tough and absolutely effortless to grow. They can grow to about 3 ft tall and self-seed but the seedlings are really easy to pull up. 

Chrysoganum 'Allen Bush' and 'Pierre'

Chrysoganum, also known as Green and Gold, has yellow flowers and grows alongside amsonia 'Blue Ice'. I have quite a bit of it throughout the garden.

Allen Bush and Pierre sounds like a cheesy band to me. But luckily, these two are strong performers. They aren't quite as drought tolerant as advertised but as long as they're given a bit of extra water when it's too hot and dry, they're fine. I'm very glad I added them.


Epimediums have tiny flowers that look like UFO's when photographed from underneath. Many cultivars have beautiful tinting to their spring and fall foliage. 

Multiple epimedium cultivars all grown in a happy jumble

Epimediums look like they should be fussy but they're not. They spread to form a short but wide clump and require zero care. I'm serious!


I have no idea what color my hellebores are because they haven't bloomed yet. They're all seedlings given to me by a friend. But here's what I do know: deer hate them, they like shade, and they don't need to be watered. When our temps hit the triple digits last year, they laughed. Mine will eventually bloom in late winter/early spring. Apparently, adversity suits them well.

Linaria (Linaria purpurea)

Linaria is the tall bluish plant in front of the monarda. Despite being as far from the soaker hose as possible, I still ended up moving them to a drier spot.

If you've never heard of linaria, I'm not surprised. It's one of those under-the-radar plants that is absolutely incredible. It's evergreen during the winter, attracts pollinators, and thrives in bone dry bright shade. It also self seeds, which gives me an ample supply to use in my ever expanding regions of dry shade.


Kalimeris and sedum 'Autumn Joy'

I never realized how tough kalimeris was until I planted it in an absolutely wretched spot and it didn't die. Instead, it bloomed. I have two cultivars: one with pale blue flowers and one with white flowers. Both are easily available at most garden centers. It self seeds prolifically but you can always just toss the seedlings. However, I've noticed some pretty cool seedlings popping up from all the horizontal hokey pokey that's going on when I'm not looking. If my original plants don't survive the zombie apocalypse, they'll be enough seedlings around to fill their void.

Bowman's Root (Gillenia trifoliata formerly Porterantus)

Bowman's root with amsonia 'Blue Ice' and an epimedium

My Bowman's Root grows in the shade of a massive 'Heritage' river birch.

Southeastern native Bowman's Root doesn't attract wildlife and isn't showy. Instead, it's tough, reliable, and has beautiful spring blooms that feel like wildflowers to me. It forms an easy backdrop to summer bloomers and looks best when cut back by half after it's done flowering.

Polygonatum odoratum (Variegated Solomon's Seal)

These are such easy plants, I've added several more to the garden. The more shade they receive, the greener and more variegated their leaves. If they're planted in too much sun, they bleach out. I ended up moving a clump into a shadier spot this fall. These are super easy and have pretty little bell shaped flowers in the spring. Their roots look like big ugly toes, which cracks me up.

Vinca vines

I think vinca vines are unkillable. I stuck this urn here, added a bit of decoration, and then stuffed in some variegated vinca last spring. I completely expected the vines to die over the winter. Nope! Not only are they still alive, but they had the audacity to root themselves into the surrounding soil. Cut them back through out the summer to keep them from looking stringy.

Japanese hollies (Ilex crenata  'Helleri')

These shrubs are the only remnants of the hideous landscaping left by our builder 10 years ago. They're growing in rotten alkaline soil, squished in between the front walkway and the patio. The patio and walkway leach so much lime into the soil, I have to add soil acidifier to them twice a year. Other than that, I don't do anything to them and they just keep living. Only the few by the clematis get any pampering and that's simply by value of proximity to her majesty, Madame President. NOTE: These receive full morning sun and light afternoon shade.


  1. The most exuberant shade garden I have seen. I am so glad you stumbled upon my blog. It seems we have a gardening philosophy (and irreverent attitude) in common. I recently blogged about a wet area in my yard... I may very well turn it into a teeny bog/seep/full-sun wetland restoration area. I very much admire yours. Hope you don't mind that I'm liable to pepper you with questions as I proceed with fear and trembling. Great to meethcha!

  2. What a great post. I am always on the lookout for hard working dry-shade plants. I am a devoted fan of epimediums, hellebores (they often take 3 years to flower from seed, so hang in there), Solomon's seal, and columbines, but I am new to Bowman's root and Linaria. Time to add some new items to the must-grow list! My current favorite dry shade plant is Iris tectorum, the Japanese roof iris. Absolutely bulletproof. Mine are setting seed right now, so let me know if you want me to collect seed for you.

  3. Tammy, I keep coming back to this post whenever I have a gap in my very dry shade garden. I feel compelled to comment since this is my favorite post of yours and apparently my goto dry shade plant list!

    1. Thanks! Big Leaf asters and euphorbia are excellent, too.


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