Planting In Dry Shade

Joy recently was asked by a homeowner what she could plant on north side of her house in dry shade.

Joy’s reponse:

  • Improve the soil by adding compost, chopped leaves, cattle manure.
  • Don’t plant right next to the  foundation; leave a 12 inch strip of mulch between  foundation and planting.
  • All plantings will require supplemental watering until they are well established and probably during our typical summer drought.
  • A layer of mulch after planting will preserve soil moisture and deter weeds.
  • Don’t plant periwinkle (vinca minor), lily of the valley (convallaria majalis)  bugleweed (ajuga reptans) These three would all grow well but they are on the Ontario Invasive Plant list. (
  • Decide what you want in garden, foliage plants, shrubs, flowering plants.
  • A simple google search will bring up many suggestions, not all of them appropriate in my opinion. A better way to choose plants is to go on local garden tours or check what your neighbours or friends are growing.
  • Many plants will grow in drier, shadier spots, they just won’t be as large and as full as those in moister sunnier locations.

Hellebore and Bergenia are both good choices for a dry shade garden. Mulch around the plants will help to keep moisture in. 

Following is a list of plants that grow well in Joy’s shade gardens.


Annabelle hydrangea (HydrangeaAborescens ‘Annabelle’

Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

Boxwood (Buxus) Boxwood “Green Mountain” was developed by Sheridan Nurseries and can tolerate nearly full shade


Hostas – hostas can die back in drought conditions but will recover if they have sufficient rain in fall

Bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia) tough, hardy, easy to grow

Hellebores (Helleborus) needs water spring and fall

Bigroot geranium (geranium macrorrhizum) likes dry shade

Japanese painted fern (Athyrium nipponicum”pictum”) -can become drought tolerant once established

Coral bells  (Heucheras) many options -not all dependable, “Chocolate Ruffles” more drought tolerant.

A combination I have in my garden is Hosta Halcyon (blue leaves), Japanese Painted Fern and Palace Purple Heuchera.

Northumberland Master Gardeners have members who will make site visits and offer advice. Contact us by email at

Authored by Joy Cullen

This entry was posted in Advice, Perennials. Bookmark the permalink.