Plants for Dry Shade Areas

two images with bugloss, ferns and evergree next to a pink flower with the words, dry shade gardening on the image

We know that it can be challenging to find plants that thrive in dry, shady areas of your garden and landscape.

What does dry shade mean? Dry shade means a garden without direct sunlight, and with light that rarely reaches the ground. This includes areas in your garden that are located under eaves, covered porches, balconies, or even under the canopies of large evergreens or established California native oak trees.

Challenges Posed By California Native Oak Trees

looking up at trees into the skyCalifornia native oak trees are very sensitive to over-watering. They usually don't require irrigation—even during dry California months. In addition, native oaks should not be watered within their driplines, and sprinklers that throw water against the oak's trunks should be avoided.

If you have soil that is bone dry, it's primarily due to the limited amount of rainfall that is able to penetrate the dense mass of the tree's canopy. Plus, the tree's thirsty and extensive system of feeder roots soak up all available water.

Some Ways You Can Alleviate These Pre-Existing Conditions:

  • Most trees can be limbed up a bit or the canopy can be selectively thinned to let in more light.
  • Conifers can handle the careful pruning of smaller branches (less than 2-inches in width).
  • If your soil is dry, you can always provide additional water.
  • Never remove more than a fifth of the foliage of any tree during one calendar year.
  • The thinning of branches on large trees is a job best left to an ISA certified arborist.

Plants That Thrive In A Dry Shade Garden

TheAn area of landscape that would be considered dry shade with trees and yellow flowers plants featured below were selected based on their low water requirements (once established). Following are some additional guidelines that will encourage their successful growth:

  • Water - All young plants need irrigation to get established. This could take one or more growing seasons, depending on the plant. A drip irrigation system is easy to install and adjust the water output of, as the plant's root system matures.
  • Soil - Hard, dry soil may need to be amended to let water and air pass through to the plant's roots. Soil can be amended with SummerWinds Planting Mix or other types of organic matter. Speak with one of our Trusted Garden Advisors  for advice about your specific landscape challenges.


These perennials can add color and texture to your dry shade garden year after year. Some of our favorites include:

acanthus mollis

Acanthus mollis – Bear’s Breeches, Sea Dock, Bearsfoot, Oyster Plant


Aeonium spp. – Aeonium

bergenia cordfolia plant

Bergenia cordifolia – Pigsqueak, Heartleaf Bergenia

dianella plant growing next to river rocks

Dianella – Flax Lily

Multiple echeveria spp in different colors

Echeveria spp. – Echeveria

fragaria vesca

Fragaria vesca – Wild Strawberry

hakonechloa macra grass

Hakonechloa macra  – Japanese Forest Grass

heliotropium arborescens

Heliotropium arborescens – Heliotrope

heuchera maxima

Heuchera maxima – Island Alum Root

green hosta

Hostas - Plantain Lily

nephrolepsis cordifolia

Nephrolepsis cordifolia - Southern Sword Fern

ground cover sedum spp

Sedum spp. – Stonecrops

Perennial List Continued

  • Aspidistra elatior – Cast Iron Plant
  • Begonia grandis – Hardy Begonia
  • Digitalis Purpurea – Common Foxglove
  • Digitalis 'Illumination Flame' – Illumination Foxglove
  • Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' – Bishop's Hat, Barrenwort 'Sulphureum'
  • Geranium incanum – Carpet Geranium
  • Muhlenbergia rigens – Deer Grass
  • Oenothera biennis – Common Evening Primrose
  • Polystichum munitum – Western Sword Fern


Below is a list of shrubs that grow well in dry shade areas:

berberis japonica plant

Berberis japonica - Mahonia Japonica

cistus or rockrose plant

Cistus spp. – Rockrose

coton easter growing over a shale retainer wall

Cotoneaster -  cordifolia – Pigsqueak, Heartleaf Bergenia

hydrangea quercifolia

Hydrangea quercifolia – Oakleaf Hydrangea
juniperus spp

Juniperus spp. – Juniper

mimulus aurantiacus

Mimulus aurantiacus – Sticky Monkey Flower

osmanthus heterophyllus goshiki

Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki' -  False Holly

Looking down a blurred sidwalk on the left and there is a pyracantha shrub up close on the right with stunning red berries

Pyracantha -  Firethorn

rhus intergrifolia with one big red flower powering up from the center

Rhus intergrifolia -  Lemonade Sumac

Shrubs List Continued

  • Correa – the Australian Fuchsia
  • Fatsia japonica – Glossy-leaf Paper Plant, Fatsi, Paperplant, False Castor Oil Plant, Japanese Aralia
  • Heteromeles arbutifolia – Toyon
  • Hypericum calycinum – St. John's Wort
  • Kerria japonica – Japanese Kerria
  • Loropetalum chinense – Chinese Fringe Flower
  • Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Sasaba' – Holly Olive, False Holly
  • Ribes spp. – Gooseberries
  • Sarcococca spp. – Sweet Box

Please note that the selection of perennials and shrubs listed above may vary by location

Stop by your local SummerWinds Nursery today, to speak with one of our Trusted Garden Advisors about all the ways you can grow beautiful plants in dry, shaded areas of your garden landscape.

At SummerWinds, We Guarantee Success!