If you’re like many homeowners, you’ve already experienced the disappointment of planting something in a dry, shady spot only to watch it slowly languish and die — and you may have given up by now. Shrubs for dry shade can be hard to find, mainly because key requirements for plants to thrive are barely present. Lack of sunlight, water, and nutrients creates an inhospitable growing environment for most plants.
Successfully choosing and growing shrubs for dry shade
Successfully gardening in dry shade involves weaving several strategies together, such as adding plenty of organic mulch to provide nutrients to the soil and hold in moisture, being prepared to pay close attention to watering through the first year as the plants become established, and choosing the right plants in the first place.
Choosing shrubs for dry shade is tricky — after all, there’s a reason why, even in unspoiled nature, vegetation is typically sparse or nonexistent in dry shade. Woodland plants that naturally thrive in shaded conditions usually prefer moist soil. Fortunately, it’s not a lost cause. Keep reading for a list of shrubs that perform well in dry shade.
The euonymus shrub is a versatile shrub that can be grown in most soil types. Its glossy green leaves turn shades of yellow, orange, and red in fall, making them an attractive shrub for dry shade. Some varieties of euonymus shrubs also produce berries or colorful fruits.
Barberry shrubs are a great choice for dry shade, having little to no water needs and also providing interesting color with their foliage. They’re generally low-maintenance shrubs that can be either evergreen or deciduous depending on the species, although some barberries may require more frequent trimming than others.
3. Oregon grape
Oregon grape is a shrub that does well in dry shade and can provide an interesting texture to the garden. Its foliage has an attractive silvery-blue hue and it produces small, edible blue berries in late summer. It’s drought tolerant, making it perfect for spots where water is scarce or inaccessible.
4. Azaleas and Rhododendrons
Azaleas and rhododendrons are generally a good choice if you can get them off to a good start so they have deep roots. They are widely used and are particularly prized for their spring floral display. Avoid planting too close to trees, as they need plenty of water and may compete with roots from larger shrubs.
Viburnums come in many sizes and shapes, from tall shrubs to smaller shrubs that can be grown as ground cover. Some varieties of viburnums also produce white flowers or fragrant, pinkish-white flowers. They all make good shrubs for dry shade and are great for adding interest and texture to any garden.
6. Dwarf Juniper
Junipers are among the most popular low maintenance evergreen shrubs for dry shade because they don’t require a lot of water. They come in various sizes and shapes, from tall shrubs to low-growing shrubs that can be grown as ground cover. Dwarf junipers are a great choice for dry shade, and they add texture and color to any garden.
Lilac bushes are surprisingly drought-tolerant. Their elegant flowers make them look difficult and fussy to grow, but they’re quite the opposite. They grow well in dry, shady spots and will bring a pleasant scent to your outdoor space.
Heather shrubs can be a great addition to dry, shady garden spots as well. They come in a variety of colors and do not need much water or attention once they are established. Heather shrubs may even create a striking contrast when planted near other shrubs that naturally grow in the shade.
Flowering dogwood trees are a classic shrub for dry shade. The beautiful pink and white flowers appear in the spring, followed by attractive red berries. Dogwoods are highly drought-tolerant and require very little maintenance once established.
Blueberry bushes do quite well with a limited amount of sunlight and water, especially in hotter climates. They produce delicious fruit that can be eaten fresh or used to make jams, jellies, and other yummy treats.
Manzanita is a good dry-shade shrub for warmer areas. Found in profusion throughout the American West, manzanita is one of the most commonly used native shrubs for dry shade. Manzanita colonizes naturally, making it an excellent choice for naturalized areas of your property.
Cotoneaster shrubs are both attractive and low-maintenance. They can be grown in any soil type or climate and are a great choice for dry shade areas of your garden. They have attractive glossy green foliage, small pink flowers, and bright red berries that last through winter.
Boxwood tolerates shade fairly well, even though they tend to grow much more slowly. They are perfect for year-round greenery if you’d like a low-growing structural plant for a border or along a pathway.
Snowberry is a deciduous shrub in the honeysuckle family. The shrub has fragrant flowers and grows well in dry, shaded areas. Snowberry shrubs are deer resistant and provide food for birds in the form of small, white berries.
These shrubs will bring beauty to your dry shady garden spot while also providing drought tolerance and low-maintenance care requirements. With a little research, you can choose shrubs that best fit your needs, from evergreen shrubs to shrubs that produce attractive fruits and flowers.
Tips for growing shrubs for dry shade
Keep in mind that although the options for shrubs for dry shade are limited, there are plenty of herbaceous perennials that are up to the task and make wonderful companions, including bugleweed, various ferns, columbine, lily of the valley, and native bleeding hearts. For quick cover and charming blue flowers, work the soil in your shaded area, toss a handful or two of annual forget-me-not seeds where you want them to grow, and lightly sprinkle soil over them.