Native Shrub for Dry Shade

butterflygal21797(z7 MD)August 17, 2006

Any ideas for a medium to large native shrub that will do well in total shade and fairly dry soil?

We just rebuilt our back deck and as it's smaller than the original, I have a new planting area available to me. Ordinarily, this would be good news, but the conditions I'm dealing with have me scratching my head as to what to plant here. The spot is about 10 ft by 10 ft and is up against the foundation (about 5 ft. of foundation is exposed here) and flanked on one side by the new deck. Because of the position of the house, this area would only receive late afternoon sun, but the deck blocks even that, so the spot is in total shade and is fairly dry.

My goal is to plant something here that will eventually cover most of the exposed foundation. It would be a bonus if it had wildlife value. I was thinking about a dogwood or a viburnum, but I've read conflicting info on how much shade the different varieties can take and still do well.

Any help you can offer would be appreciated.

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It's hard to get berry producing plants that tolerate both dry and shade (they need sun to flower and produce berries as I'm sure you know). So perhaps the other type of wildlife value to consider would be for it to provide cover. Carolina cherry laurel, red cedar (a native juniper), wax myrtle might be too big for that spot, although there is Don's Dwarf. Just some thoughts.

Are you thinking you'd put several shrubs or just one? How tall do you want it to get (or not get)?

    Bookmark   August 17, 2006 at 10:11AM
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butterflygal21797(z7 MD)

I'll look into the plants you suggested, esh ga. We have quite a few volunteer red cedars on our property already, but I thought they needed a sunny site (all the volunteers we have that are doing well receive part to full sun).

As far as quantity, I'm thinking in terms of one shrub against the foundation and then probably a mixed planting of perennials and smaller shrubs in front of that. As to height, I would want something that wouldn't get more than about 10 feet tall because there's a window above the area at about that level.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2006 at 9:48PM
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knottyceltic(S/W Ontario 5b)

Inside my woodland backyard is full shade and very dry (sugar maple woods) and we get fruit on the following shrubs:

Highbush Cranberry
Alternate Leaf Dogwood
Silky Dogwood

Granted they would likely have more abundant fruit if they were in a bit of sun but considering they are in full shade and dry conditions, they do very well.

southern Ontario, CANADA

    Bookmark   August 18, 2006 at 7:13AM
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butterflygal21797(z7 MD)

Barb, thanks for the many ideas. I investigated all of them, but I'm still a little worried about full, dry shade for these bushes in my climate. It gets really hot and humid in the summer here, and I'm afraid these plants wouldn't fare as well here under these growing conditions as they do in Ontario. I did just plant a highbush cranberry in an area near the one I'm speaking of, but where I placed it, it will get about half a day of sun. I also have a serviceberry and a couple of winterberries planted elsewhere in my yard that are doing well in sunnier conditions. Ninebark looks really beautiful, but from what I hear, it gets seriously damaged by deer, and we have a definite deer problem (as the four does and six fawns who scurried across the road in front of my dog and me on our morning walk today will attest).

I'm thinking I may have to forget the idea of berries, and settle on an attractive plant that will do well in shade. I've done a lot of research that suggests that hydrangea arborescens may be a good plant for this space.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2006 at 8:14AM
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Hydrangea arborescens is absolutely deer CANDY in my yard. How about blueberries? I have highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) and they don't touch them. They may not get enough sun to flower/set fruit, but they are nice. There are many other fine members of the vaccinium family.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2006 at 10:13AM
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loris(Z6 NJ)

Both the UCONN Plant database and William Cullina's "Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines: A Guide to Using, Growing, and Propagating North American Woody Plants" have Viburnum lentago (Nannyberry) and Viburnum prunifolium (Blackhaw viburnum) as being able to deal with dry soil. I usually find the information from these sources to match my experiences with plants. I don't know how these plants perform in terms of deer resistance or bearing up under heat and humidity.

Since you're in Maryland, and I know I use the Maryland Native Plant Society site for reference sometimes, thought I'd take a quick look, and they have some planting suggestions for different sections of Maryland. Here's the link.

Here is a link that might be useful: UCONN Plant DB

    Bookmark   August 22, 2006 at 9:16PM
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butterflygal21797(z7 MD)

Blueberries are a thought, esh ga; I do love the foliage. The last time I had highbush blueberries was a good many years ago (at least 10), before the deer got bad. As for lowbush blueberries, I planted 5 of them about 5 years ago, and I now have one plant left. The deer pulled the other 4 out of the ground with their constant munching (much like they do everytime I try to plant anything in the carex species -- next time I try to plant either of these, I think I'm going to make a chicken wire cage to cover them until they have a chance to establish a good root system.).

In rethinking the issue, the deer may not be a big problem in this area because the planting bed is pretty deep. The deer usually content themselves with dining along the edges of the borders around the house. I've never known them to move beyond the first plants in a border to get to what's behind. That could change, of course, as they seem to get bolder every day.

Loris, I just happened to discover UCONN's plant selector search engine yesterday while doing some research. I know it's a site I'll use often. Plugging in my light/soil requirements for this site yielded nannyberry and blackhaw viburnum as results. I have a blackhaw in my front border at the edge of the house, and I love it, but has only been there about 4 years and would already be too tall for the site I'm looking at now. From what I've read, nannyberry gets even bigger. The problem is that my son's only bedroom window is directly above my planting site, so the height of whatever I plant there needs to top out at 10 ft. at the most; 8 ft. would probably be better.

I frequently refer to the MD Native Plant Society's plant lists, especially because I'm really trying to have all my new plantings consist of plants that are native to the Maryland piedmont, not just to Maryland in general. As for William Cullina's book, I have seen that book referenced so many times, that I finally decided to order my own copy. The book I use most now for natives is Donald J. Leopold's Native Plants of the Northeast, which is a very good reference, too.

I'm now also considering a mapleleaf viburnum for the spot. Although it would only reach 5 ft. in height, according to Leopold's book, it prefers dry soil and shade. I'm going to keep looking and mulling over the possibilities for a few more weeks. Whatever I decide on, I'm hoping to get it at 50 percent off when the local nurseries start having their fall clearance sales.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2006 at 6:56AM
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Hey, I need a large shrub to go in a similar area--- full shade and dry soil... and after much research, I am going with a Hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata). It takes full sun to full shade and is found growing in dry, rocky soils. It is considered a large shrub or a small tree (up to 15 feet tall). And another plus about the tree--- it is a butterfly magnet! It is the host plant for the giant swallowtail, the two-winged swallowtail, and the tiger swallowtail. In fact, I've read that you should probably net it for the first year, so that the catepillars won't eat the whole plant before it puts on enough growth! It is considered endangered in PA, but I don't know about Maryland... Can't wait to get mine!


    Bookmark   August 23, 2006 at 3:10PM
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nyssaman(Z6 ON)

I have little baby hop trees that I bought from a native nursery the catapillars are so cool looking I had five on one plant, they defoliated the one and a half foot seedling in about a week and a half,but because of their symbiotic relationship together the plant grew back a full set of leaves in 3 weeks - I couldn't believe it. I think your tree will be fine because it is not a foreign predator eating the tree but a little critter well adapted to it instead. Just another tidbit about the swallow tail catapillar if you rub its head these orange tentacles pop up that smell like citrus or smelly oranges.. The hop tree is in the citrus family and birds dont like the smell of citrus this is an adaptation to protect itself from birds - dont worry about the defoliation just take care of it water and stuff

    Bookmark   August 25, 2006 at 12:05PM
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That is good to hear, as I wouldn't want to deprive any of those munching little critters!! They are so cool!


    Bookmark   August 25, 2006 at 9:42PM
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lrobins(z5 CO)

I've had good success with a Viburnum prunifolium planted in a similar location, dry and almost complete shade, under pine trees. Viburnum acerifolium and Viburnum prunifolium are among the most common native shrubs in mature (shady) forests in Maryland, and I believe they are among the best choices for the location that you describe. You might add Viburnum dentatum also, which is tolerant of a wide range of conditions and grows everywhere from dry woods to swamps and pond edges. These three viburnums are unquestionably native to the Maryland piedmont.

In terms of mature height, V. prunifolium is the tallest (to 15 feet or even 20 feet), then V. dentatum, then V. acerifolium (generally under 6 feet).

V. lentago has a more northern range and therefore is probably less suitable for hot, humid summers than V. acerifolium, dentatum, or prunifolium. My DC area plant checklist suggests that lentago is not really native anywhere in the DC - Baltimore area.

On the question of blueberry vs. viburnum, soil pH is an important factor - blueberry is probably preferable (best adapted) for pH less than 6.0, viburnum preferable for pH greater than 6.5.

I often check the geographic range of native plants in the USDA plant database. If I see the range extending far to the south, that increases my confidence the plant can thrive in hot, humid summers. The county-level distributions, which are available for Pennsylvania and Virginia (by clicking on these states), are also useful.


Viburnum acerifolium

Viburnum dentatum

Viburnum prunifolium

Viburnum lentago
(not suggesting this is actually a "vile" plant!)

    Bookmark   August 27, 2006 at 1:29AM
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butterflygal21797(z7 MD)

Thanks for the great ideas, lrobins. It's especially useful to hear from someone in the same geographic area who has actually had success with the plants you're considering.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm concerned that v. prunifolium will grow too tall and block my son's bedroom window, so I think I've eliminated that option. I have, however, been seriously considering v. acerfolium, especially since I hear it has great fall color. I just planted a v. dentatum (Chicago Lustre) on the other side of the deck, but I would not be opposed to planting another here.

A lot will depend on what I can find at my local nurseries at a good price. Trying to do most of my landscaping on a shoestring as we've had to put a lot of money into the new deck and need to rebuild our front porch as well. The v. dentatum I just planted I got for half price ($15 -- a great deal since it looks very healthy and is over 4 ft. tall) at a local nursery during a sale last week. I'm trying to figure out what I want now, so I'll be ready when the local nurseries start having their clearance sales in September.

Thanks again for the ideas. I'll post again here when I make my final decision.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2006 at 7:53AM
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I would like to mention that my v. acerfolium and my v. dentatum 'Blue Muffin' happen to bloom at the same time (they are planted fairly close to each other) and for the last two years they have cross pollinated each other. I currently have a nice crop of berries on my v. acerfolium, but the deer ate all the berries on the 'Blue Muffin'.

Prior to getting the 'Blue Muffin', the v. acerfolium bloomed but did not set fruit.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2006 at 11:07AM
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butterflygal21797(z7 MD)

Good to know, esh ga. If I do get a v. acerfolium, it will hopefully bloom at the same time as one of my v. dentatums, or one of my other viburnums.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 6:31AM
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