Struggling with dry shade

clemmielover(5)July 15, 2013

But the kind of shade that's from a second story overhang, the bed is under it in N exposure and proven to be a dread to fill.
These last few years I gone trough coral bells, astilbes, hostas, creeping phlox, perennial vinca and a whole lot of annuals.
This year I tried again with the hostas but the biggest ones in my garden and theyre all loppsided from the uneven light source.
The sun reaches in there, for about 4 hrs before climbing over the building.

At this point I don't care if it is flowering plants as long as they come back reliably and fill this spot up.
Besides the crooked albeit majestic hostas I resolved this year to adding two more six packs of the perennial vinca, it seems to be able to survive once it takes root.
On the western end of the house I planted a herbaceous clematis Arabella, looks just like the vinca blooms but on steroids.
I plan to allow it to scramble inwards in the bed thus keeping the base of the plant under open sky with some evening sun as the sun sets in west, this way it also benefits from the nearby downspout. Next to it on the pillar holding up the roof I'm planting a David Austin rose called Abraham Darby whos supposed to be very fragrant reblooming and pink peach in color. This too will have it's feet in the corner of the bed benefiting from both morning sun and evening exposure.

I'm pretty sure I'll have to relocate the mature hostas as theyre already looking stressed.
Can anybody with better experience advice on companion plants that will have a fighting chance in these conditions?

I really wish to have it in the ground well before my zone 5 season ends as we have a large celebration early summer next year and this bed is the one right next door to our front entrance.
I must get it up and running now so it has a chance to fill in.
which reminds me.. sigh..

I have similar issues with a bed under a Oak tree, also on the North lawn so plenty of morning-noon sun but competition from the tree roots and added shade from the the crown.
The asiatic lilies I need to move are sprawling out and away from the circular bed and needs to be moved next week.

Any advice is greatly appreciated!

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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Add organic matter, like leaves, compost, yard trimmings from your mower bag (as long as there aren't weed/grass seeds in it,) smallish trimmings from other plants, finely shredded mulch, anything to prevent the moisture from evaporating so fast, and to add tilth and humus to the soil as it decomposes.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 4:41PM
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Once you have the soil amended with some organic matter, check the pH and adjust if needed. State cooperative extension services often offer this service free of charge - it's a quick and simple test, and important as a plant's ability to take up nutrients is compromised if the pH is outside its preferred range.

There are several plants that will grow in dry shade; just a sampling is listed below. You will have to check to be sure these are winter hardy in your zone 5 (I'm in USDA zone 7, so have milder winters).

Epimedium (one of my favorites; some varieties are clumping, others are creeping), tiarella (another favorite), heuchera, heucherella, some ferns (wood fern - dryopteris, Christmas fern), solomon's seal (spreads by underground runners; the variegated variety will brighten a shady area), liriope (evergreen, does tend to creep), native wild ginger all can create a nice groundcover. For late winter/early spring color, plant a few snowdrops (galanthus). Crested iris should do well, also. All are perennials.

A few shrubs: kerria, cotoneaster, aucuba (gold dust plant - doesn't look it, but it's evergreen ... here), sweet box (I love this evergreen low-growing shrub that spreads politely and has very fragrant but inconspicuous flowers in late winter/early spring).

For the shade under the large tree, remember that any plants you place there will be competing not only for light and water, but for nutrients as well, so look for plants that will do well in poor (or "lean") soils. Oaks usually cast a dappled shade and prefer a slightly acidic soil; you should be able to find several perennials, shrubs, bulbs and understory trees that will happily coexist, as they would naturally in the forest, with that oak.

Dealing with shade can be a challenge, but please try to avoid turning to plants that are invasive in your area. In my region, English ivy, vinca, bishop's weed (aegopodium), Japanese barberry, Japanese honeysuckle (native honeysuckle, lonicera sempervirens, is OK), are some common ones. And chameleon plant (houttuynnia) - don't go there - in my innocence I bought some for my bog years ago, believing the line that it would not survive outside the moist boggy soil or our winters. Hah. I'm still trying to get rid of it. We are fortunate to have several resources in our region, among them the New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team ( If you don't have a local resource, some national sites you might check out are
The U.S. National Arboretum's site:
USDA National Agricultural Library's site:
or do a search for "invasive plants" and you'll probably get lots - just evaluate the sites carefully.

This post was edited by agardenstateof_mind on Tue, Jul 16, 13 at 19:43

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 7:35PM
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SouthCountryGuy Zone 4b-5 SE BC(Zone 4b-5 SE BC Canada)

I agree with purpleinopp. I had a garden bed like you describe. I put 3-4" of fine bark mulch on it and I haven't had to water it yet this year. Last rain was over 2 weeks ago. I even wasted money putting in a drip system. If possible I highly suggest mulching the top.


    Bookmark   July 17, 2013 at 1:09PM
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Plants that are thriving in my dry shade are Liriope, perennial vinca, lemon balm, and blue spruce sedum.An odd mix, right? I'm in zone 7A/B Oklahoma.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2013 at 8:28PM
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