10 Best Plants for a Dry Shade Garden with Shrubs

by Anne Kirkpatrick

Planning a garden for a shaded area that can flourish with a limited amount of additional water is a special challenge. Plant selections are more limited than one deals with in other circumstances. Most of the following are Missouri natives.


Echinacea pallida
pale purple coneflower
Herbaceous perennial

A relative of the sun-loving purple cone flower, the pale purple cone flower has the distinct advantage over its cousin of being able to produce flowers in the shade. The pinkish purple blossoms are born on stems reaching two to three feet in height in June. If flowers heads are allowed to go to seed, they will attract American goldfinches.

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 2 - 3 feet

 

Polystichum acrostichoides
Christmas fern
Fern

Christmas fern prefers medium moisture but can tolerate considerable drought. Fronds may die and turn brown but new ones will emerge when moisture returns. Evergreen fronds provide good winter interest for the landscape.

Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 1 - 2 feet

Eleutherococcus sieboldianus 'Variegatus'
aralia
Deciduous shrub

Variegated aralia has brightly patterned five-fingered leaves providing dramatic contrast with other plants. Though the flowers are inconspicuous, this large shrub adds plenty of pizzazz.

Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 6 - 8 feet
Epimedium x rubrum
bishop's hat
Herbaceous perennial

Bishop’s hat prospers under shade trees, forming a green carpet of leaves which provide the added bonus of changing color over the progression of the seasons. As if that weren’t enough, the plants are covered with yellow and crimson flowers in early spring.

Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 0.5 - 1 feet
Hypericum beanii
St. John's wort
Deciduous shrub

The shrub, St. John’s wort, looks like a ray of sunshine in the shady garden when it is covered with golden flowers in July and August. It remains comparatively small, growing to three feet tall and wide.

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Height: 2 - 3 feet
Lamium galeobdolon
yellow archangel
Herbaceous perennial

With variegated leaves to bring visual interest to a shaded area, yellow archangel displays plumes of yellow flowers in June. It has a reputation for spreading rapidly which can be very desirable in some locations.

Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 1 - 2 feet
Liriope muscari
lily turf
Herbaceous perennial

Liriope is a plant with leaves that look very much grass, but in early fall, it resembles large grape hyacinths. The clusters of lavender flowers progress to black seed heads which persist into winter.

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Height: 1 - 1.5 feet
Physocarpus opulifolius
ninebark
Deciduous shrub

Ninebark is a wonderful native, forming a large shrub or small tree with clusters of white flowers on arching branches in May and June. Additional benefits of using ninebark include providing food (berries) and cover for wildlife. Exfoliating bark reveals patches of red and brown, adding winter interest.

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 5 - 8 feet
Rhus aromatica
fragrant sumac
Deciduous shrub

Fragrant sumac is a three-season charmer. Little yellow flowers appear in April, followed by clusters of slightly fuzzy reddish berries which are eaten by wildlife. In fall the leaves turn a bright red.

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 2 - 6 feet
Pachysandra terminalis
Japanese pachysandra
Herbaceous perennial

Although Japanese pachysandra prefers even moisture it will tolerate periods of drought and drier locations. It makes a nice evergreen groundcover for problem locations.

Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Medium
Height: 0.5 - 1 feet