Dry Shade and more Dry Shade...what to plant?

prairiemoon2 z6 MAOctober 13, 2007

I have been trying to form a pretty border with shrubs and perennials for a few years now. I have some challenging conditions under silver maples and one Norway Maple. To make matters worse, this area is all you see when you look out every window of the back of the house. This year we have had significant drought making it worse still..lol. We just had about an inch of rain twice in the past week and that is the first rain in a couple of months. After the rain we had, I had to move something in that area and only the top 1/2" of soil was moist and the rest was bone dry. I have been dragging the sprinkler from one side of the yard to the other whenever the watering ban was lifted, but hasn't done much good.

I added a few shrubs to this area 2 years ago but had left some empty space for future decisions. I am already seeing some choices that I could consider mistakes and some successes. Two shrubs that look wonderful right now...the first is a Viburnum Wentworth. What a great shrub. It actually sat out in my yard one winter in a pot unprotected and survived it. I put it in the ground the next spring and it just took off. It bloomed a few blossoms and has a couple of pretty clumps of berries on it and doesn't seem to be bothered by the drought in the least. Is double in size. Six feet away, a Viburnum maresii, is crispy from the drought. I know they prefer more water and I specifically water this one pretty frequently. Still developed brown edges on all the leaves this summer.

The second shrub, someone on this forum, recommended a Gray Dogwood to me and I bought one. It wasn't until this August that I finally decided I liked it. It has grown double it's size too and there is no evidence of any stress on it after all the drought we had while everything around it is covered with dry brown edges on all the foliage.

That's it....nothing else in that dry shade area is happy but these two shrubs. I have a large area to fill..about 80 feet of border. I am thinking I am going to purchase some more Cornus racemosa and maybe even try to find one more Viburnum Wentworth, but I can't fill up that whole border with just those two shrubs...it would be pretty boring.

Does anyone have another shrub to suggest that will do well in dry shade? We also have to screen some ugly views in the neighbors yard and don't have much in the way of evergreens. I would also like to try to add something that might be a focal point and some variegated foliage and/or other textures and colors of foliage. I probably am hoping for too much and would be happy with something that will

grow well and look nice, basically.

Thanks :-)

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ladyslppr(z6 PA)

I think that Viburnum acerfolium - Mapleleaf Viburnum - might do Ok there. I don't think anything will do really well, so OK is the highest rating I will give. It seems like you will need some evergreen plants in there, but I don't have a lot of experience with plants I would recommend. Perhaps Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia - would do Ok there. Id try to put it in a fairly sunny part of the border to encourage blooms.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2007 at 10:29AM
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Norway maples are notoriously difficult to plant under. Is there any possibility of thinning out the trees to provide more light? This would also allow more rain to penetrate to the ground.

Mountain laurel requires acidic soil and good drainage... Very pretty though and does well with little direct sun, although you get more blooms with more sunlight.

Sorry, but I can't think of any recommendations, either. Hopefully someone else will come up with something.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2007 at 8:57PM
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loris(Z6 NJ)

I just did a search on the UConn Plant DB for full shade and dry soil, and it confirmed this is a tough one. The plants that came up that are native to Connecticut, that might work for you were:

- Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper)
- Viburnum lentago (Nannyberry Viburnum)
- Viburnum prunifolium (Blackhaw Viburnum)

If the area gets more than 2 hours of sun, the list will be broader.

There's also a list at the back of William Cullina's 'Native Trees, Shrubs and Vines' book that includes among others:

- Viburnum dentatum (arrowwood)
- Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides (witherod)
- Myrica pensylvanica (northern bayberry)

I didn't doublecheck that they're native to MA, but think they probably are.


Here is a link that might be useful: UConn Plant DB search page

    Bookmark   October 14, 2007 at 11:08AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Hello...Thanks ladyslppr....I tried Kalmia and for some reason it didn't do well in our yard. The Viburnum acerfolium is one I would like to have but I haven't found one locally. I just checked at NEWFS and they didn't have it either. Maybe they will in the spring.

BlueridgeGirl....Have driven through the Blue Ridge Mountains and it is a beautfiul area. You are very fortunate if that is where you live. :-) Yes, the Norway is a real pest. I wish I had taken it out years ago and planted something better there. It is hard to do at this point because it is full grown, is a very good screen in an area we need it in and it cost a small fortune to have it taken down. So, we adapt. lol I am planning on trimming the trees around me up as high as I can. I see a few branches that I can take out that will make an improvement. Overall though, I think it is only going to get worse. One of the Silver Maples in my neighbors yard must be 50 years old and it is huge. Two neighbors behind me have three more silver maples between them and they are only about half the age of the other one, so if they get as large as the 50 yr old tree...OMG...we won't have a back yard left. One neighbor planted his silver maple right at the lot line between our properties, so most of the canopy is in our yard.

Lori, great minds think alike..lol. I did a UConn search too. No, our area does not get more than 2 hrs of sun. The Virginia creeper...I would LOVE to grow that along my back lot line. There is a 4ft post and rail fence backed by wire to keep animals out. It would be in almost full shade. I actually bought one and never put it in the ground. It is still growing in a pot and survives in the pot left out all winter the past 2 winters. I have read many posts of people complaining of how invasive this vine is. I am linking below so you can get an idea of what people's experiences have been with it. I am still considering using it, mainly because it is so shady and dry and some people claim these conditions keep it in check, but ohhhh...if it didn't we'd all be in trouble.

Lori...I don't have Bill Cullina's book...is the list you are referring to for dry shade? I see Bayberry and I am pretty sure that needs a good amount of sun. Have also read an article last week that the author lists that particular shrub as not doing well in her dry shade.

Thanks very much for all your help...I am starting to think I might be lucky that the Cornus racemosa and Viburnum Wentworth do well and fill up the back with both of those. [g]

Here is a link that might be useful: Opinions of Virginia Creeper from Dave's Garden

    Bookmark   October 14, 2007 at 11:48AM
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loris(Z6 NJ)

I have Virginia creeper growing in sun, and it has spread quite a bit. I have some in moist shade that has hardly spread at all. I'm ok with its spreading, since it's a native plant, and definitely better than the English ivy it's sharing a fence with.

The Cullina list was for dry, shade, but when I went to the detail on bayberry, it did mention light shade, so these won't really help much. Sorry about that. We sometimes gamble with some plants. Lately we've been putting arrowwood anywhere we're having trouble, but there is a chance of losing the plant if put in too hard a spot, and we've been experimenting with moister spots than you're talking about.


    Bookmark   October 14, 2007 at 3:54PM
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Do what I have done with my neighbor on the north. I asked if I could remove(cut) the branches from his soft maples that stick over on my side. He said it was fine with him. However I forgot to tell him I was not planning on doing it until tree was dormant. I came back and he had done the trimming. I hope I am as good a neighbor as he and his family have been.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2007 at 6:56PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Hi Lori...
Thanks for that info on Virginia Creeper. It sounds like it grows slower in the shade, but I really try hard not to choose plant material that is going to become a future problem for me or my neighbors, whether it is native or not. I think I am going to still find someone else who can use it. If I had a different property with more room and a wooded area that I could let it loose in, I would love to try it. It sounds very pretty.

Thanks for the arrowwood tip. I know the NEWFS does usually have that one.

maifleur....yes, you are lucky to have such a nice neighbor. I also have been given permission from two of my neighbors to trim their trees that overhang my yard. I am pretty sure I don't need their permission to trim what overhangs my yard though. It is nice to check and let them know what you are trying to do though. I hate to prune a tree in a way that distorts it's shape and I try not to do that. We do have a huge limb that was hanging over and it was so long and heavy, that it would dip to about 2-3 feet off the ground in a storm. We deicided to cut it back before it came down unplanned and took out half my shrubs with it. We tried trimming it back as little as possible but now we are unhappy with the stump that it left that has very little regrowth on it, so we are planning on cutting it back further to another joint where a good size branch is heading in another direction. Some of the other overhanging branches can also be trimmed, but the problem is, that the neighbors planted their trees, right up against the lot line. One is about 6 feet away from our fence and the other is less than a foot away, so half of the canopy of the tree is over our yard. I am sure trimming back the trees will help but some of my dry shade is going to stay dry shade no matter what I do. [g]

I do have some good news though. In the beginning of the summer a neighbor two yards over cut down a tree. I thought it might open up more light for us. I just got around to checking it out. I was out in the yard all afternoon yesterday and I saw direct sun hitting the back of my border along a good 4 fence sections, from 2pm to 4:30pm! I was so encouraged by that. That is going to help my shrubs a lot!

    Bookmark   October 17, 2007 at 10:55AM
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See link:

Here is a link that might be useful: NEWFS.org

    Bookmark   October 19, 2007 at 1:26PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA


That is a very helpful link! Thank you. I go to NEWFS website a lot and have looked down their descriptions for their plant material but hadn't thought of really zoning in on the moisture and sun needs for all the natives. Great idea!


    Bookmark   October 20, 2007 at 2:29PM
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Yes, I do live in the moutains, and it is indeed beautiful.

If your soil is acidic, wintergreen may work. Christmas ferns may also work and I don't believe they require acidic soil. Wintergreen may be difficult to get started, but Christmas ferns are easy.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2007 at 4:31PM
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My first thought when I heard shade was spice bush which was reccommended to me as a replacement for burning bush but not for dry conditions. American Hazelnut is something to look into. Staghorn sumac might work but if it does work you might end up with a lot of it. I would kill the norway maple since it is invasive, alleopathic and downright greedy.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2007 at 6:11PM
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I had a very similar situation and a few years back I started composting the area.I put all the leaves from our property in there and all the dog droppings from our kennel and all house left overs coffee groungs etc. there and once a year I purchase 1000 or more red wiggler worms on line and put them to work.The leaves are waist deep in fall and early summer you would never know a leave were there.Then I planted Rhodadendron,witchhazel,Mountain Laurel,Dog Wood ,Holly,Hosta,Ferns and other shade loving plants and bulbs and it has gone from a sad looking area to one of my favorite gardens.With little effort.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2007 at 3:32PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hi PM2, I have similar conditions in parts of my yard - 1 large Silver maple in front, 2 large Silver maples nearby on the neighbor's side of the property line, and FIVE large Norway maples scattered about.

My plan is to remove all the Acer platanoides from my yard except for one very large one (too expensive at this time). Two large trees have already been girdled and are dying out and the Tree service is scheduled to take down two other large ones as soon as the leaves fall. I can't wait!

I understand your dilemma about not wanted to remove your Norway. Some people have said that limbing up the tree and then planting in between the roots might work. Thinning out the Norway and some of the Silver maples would be helpful. And maybe you could try what Gamekeeper suggested?

I think it would be a losing battle against the Norway though. Bob64 is right, they are highly invasive and have very aggressive canopies and the few things that grow under mine look pretty anemic (including the other invasives) - the one exception being Vinca minor.

Here are the two trees that are slated to come down. I took these pictures from on top of the roof so that I could get the whole tree in the picture. The pictures don't really reflect the enormity of these trees - this first one is easily 32" diameter.

Note the tree behind the Norway below - -that is one of my neighbor's Silver Maples. I like Silver maples though.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2007 at 4:38PM
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EricEden(z7 MD)

I'm in maryland, and under my huge, 60 year old silver maple I grow otto-luyken cherry laurel, mahonia, pachysandra, lamium, and liriope...but I don't know if any of these except the pachysandra is hardy enough to grow in your more northern climate (I'm really on the zone 6/7 border) - good luck! Dry shade is so challenging! - Eric

    Bookmark   November 29, 2007 at 2:18PM
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dragonfly_dance(z7 SENJ)

These are all good suggestions the Bayberry and blackhaw and Virginia creeper. I just wanted to mention also Solomon's Seal and White wood aster, are excellent choices as well I sopecially like the white wood aster, it takes drought and shade and still blooms profusly.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2008 at 7:05AM
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tee530(z6a MA)

If you're interested in trying native grasses, you can look up Hystrix patula (also called Elymus hystrix), or bottlebrush grass, one of the few grasses that can take dry shade. It's a woodlander adapted to dry conditions.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2008 at 2:30PM
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