9 Plants For Bringing Color To Dry Shade Gardens

There are so many perks to having a cool, dry shade landscape that’s shielded from rain—it’s comfortable to lounge around in, especially during scorching hot summer afternoons, and we’re protected from UV rays that can damage our skin. The thing is, it isn’t always the most comfortable environment for sun-loving garden plants that want plenty of rainfall. Thankfully, there are all sorts of plants that have adapted to living in dry shade gardens, so you don’t have to lose out on having a colorful yard just because there isn’t much sunlight or rainfall.

Want to bring some color and excitement to your shaded outdoor landscapes? These eye-catching plants are perfect for dry shade gardens, and their distinctive displays are sure to impress!


Asparagus Fern

asparagus fern summerwinds california

The lime green fronds of this popular fern have such a neat texture! They appear to be quite fluffy and feathery, but they actually have tiny spurs hidden in their foliage, making them quite resistant to hungry wildlife. Be sure to wear gloves to protect your hands when planting or trimming back this fern.

Asparagus ferns prefer to have consistent moisture and humidity, so getting out in the garden to water the soil will help it to grow lush and thick. It may even surprise you with some flowers and berries if you take good care of it! Water the soil directly to avoid moisture buildup on the leaves, as this can lead to fungal growth, which plants are more susceptible to in dry shade gardens with less air circulation.

heuchera plant summerwinds california

Heuchera

There are so many incredible varieties of heuchera with vibrant foliage in a fabulous spectrum of different colors. They do produce some inconspicuous flowers, but it’s definitely the leaves that steal the show. They make fabulous container plants, especially in mixed arrangements, but they’ll also be pretty comfortable in a dry shade garden bed.

Heucheras are very low maintenance—stick to watering them regularly during their first year to help them get established, and after that, you can scale it back. Ensure that the soil has a pH between 6.0 and 7.0, and you shouldn’t have any issues getting them to grow.

aucuba plant summerwinds california

Aucuba

This cute shrub hails from Japan and is covered in little white speckles that look like paint. While their flowers aren’t super showy, if you plant a mix of male and female plants, you can expect to see some bright red berries in the fall. Aucuba is one of the best plants for dry shade under trees, because its leaves get brighter in the shade, and may actually turn black if exposed to too much sun.

Aucuba is fairly drought-tolerant, but does best if there is consistent moisture in the soil. However, it’s crucial that the soil has excellent drainage to prevent rotting roots.

Cousin Itt

You can probably imagine exactly what this plant looks like based on the name alone! This shaggy plant has some pretty impressive, emerald green locks, and its downward growth habit makes it perfect for containers and the borders or raised garden beds. Its stems are mostly hidden, so it really looks like a big, flowing mop of hair!

The Cousin Itt plant is tolerant of a range of soils—even poor soils lacking in nutrients—but will perform best if there is good drainage. Occasional watering in the garden is recommended, but if you’re growing them in containers, you’ll benefit from a drip irrigation system of some sort, because these plants tend to get a bit thirsty.

cast iron plant summerwinds california

Cast Iron Plant

This tough-as-nails plant earned its nickname fairly—it’s practically indestructible! While it’s commonly grown as a houseplant, it can tolerate our outdoor conditions in California, especially in darker areas. It’s definitely one of the best plants for dry shade gardens, because bright sunlight causes its leaves to get scorched, and it can withstand neglect that would leave many other plants dry and wilted. Water it only when you’ve noticed the soil has completely dried out.

sarcococca plant summerwinds california

Sarcococca

Also known as sweet box, this pleasantly scented evergreen shrub produces cute, white flowers in winter, followed by bright red berries that transition to black once they mature. Very little maintenance is required for this glossy, dark green shrub—just give it some light pruning in the spring, and apply a layer of mulch to help maintain proper moisture levels. It usually reaches between 3–5 feet at maturity, so it can be shaped into a nice border hedge around the perimeter of your property.

sarcococca plant summerwinds california

Acanthus - Bear’s Breeches

You’ll absolutely adore the tall flower spikes of this perennial plant, and the leaves are strikingly beautiful as well. The petals are white, but they’re hooded by soft, plum-colored bracts, and the leaves have a distinctive shape with several lobes, often mimicked in artistic motifs by designers and architects.

Bear’s Breeches are super drought tolerant once established, so water them regularly for those first few months after planting, and then you can just let it do its thing. They tend to be pretty aggressive growers, so you may need to get in there with the pruning shears once in a while to keep things under control.

Azalea & Camellia Shrubs

If you want a colorful assortment of flowers for dry shade, grab some azalea and camellia shrubs from one of our shops! The ruffled azaleas and satisfyingly spiraled camellias complement each other perfectly. Depending on your chosen varieties and the frequency of pruning, these lush, evergreen shrubs can reach anywhere from 2–20 feet tall at maturity. The camellias are especially nice as cut flowers, so feel free to snip a few off for a personal bouquet.

Looking to pick up some plants that grow in dry, shady areas? SummerWinds has a stellar collection for California gardens. Visit us in-store or order online, and we can arrange for delivery or curbside pickup if needed.


About SummerWinds Nursery: SummerWinds Garden Centers is a leading high-end retailer of garden and nursery products. Headquartered in Boise, Idaho, SummerWinds operates retail nurseries in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area, and in Silicon Valley, California, making it one of the largest independent retail nursery companies in the west. SummerWinds appeals to both the serious and casual gardeners, with a broad selection of premium gardening products and a friendly and knowledgeable staff.