Dry Shade Plants

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.

CA Oak Tree

Challenges Posed By California Native Oak Trees

California 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

Flowers Growing in the Shade

The 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 and Digitalsi Purpurea
  • Acanthus mollis – Bear’s Breeches, Sea Dock, Bearsfoot, Oyster Plant
  • Aeonium spp. – Aeonium
  • Aspidistra elatior – Cast Iron Plant
  • Begonia grandis – Hardy Begonia
  • Bergenia cordifolia – Pigsqueak, Heartleaf Bergenia
  • Dianella – Flax Lily
  • Digitalis Purpurea – Common Foxglove
  • Digitalis 'Illumination Flame' – Illumination Foxglove
  • Aeonium spp. and Dianella
  • Echeveria spp. – Echeveria
  • Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' – Bishop's Hat, Barrenwort 'Sulphureum'
  • Fragaria vesca – Wild Strawberry, Woodland Strawberry, Alpine Strawberry, Carpathian Strawberry, European Strawberry, Fraisier Des Bois
  • Geranium incanum – Carpet Geranium
  • Hakonechloa macra – Japanese Forest Grass, Hakone Grass
  • Heliotropium arborescens – Heliotrope
  • Epimedium x versicolor sulphurem and Oenothera biennis
  • Heuchera maxima – Island Alum Root
  • Hostas – Plantain Lilies
  • Muhlenbergia rigens – Deer Grass
  • Nepeta – Catmint
  • Nephrolepis cordifolia – Southern Sword Fern
  • Oenothera biennis – Common Evening Primrose
  • Polystichum munitum – Western Sword Fern
  • Sedum spp. – Stonecrops


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

    Hydrangea quecifolia and Cistus incanus
  • Arctostaphylos manzanita – Common Manzanita, Whiteleaf Manzanita
  • Berberis japonica – Mahonia Japonica
  • Carpenteria californica – Bush Anemone
  • Ceanothus – California Lilac
  • Cistus spp. – Rockrose
  • Correa – the Australian Fuchsia
  • Cotoneaster
  • Fatsia japonica – Glossy-leaf Paper Plant, Fatsi, Paperplant, False Castor Oil Plant, Japanese Aralia
  • Romneya Coulteri and Sarcocca spp.
  • Heteromeles arbutifolia – Toyon
  • Hydrangea quercifolia – Oak Leaf Hydrangea
  • Hypericum calycinum – St. John's Wort
  • Juniperus spp. – Juniper
  • Kerria japonica – Japanese Kerria
  • Loropetalum chinense – Chinese Fringe Flower
  • Mimulus aurantiacus – Sticky Monkey Flower, Bush Monkey Flower, Orange Bush Monkey Flower
  • Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki' – Goshiki False Holly
  • Rosemary and Chinese Fringe Flower
  • Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Sasaba' – Holly Olive, False Holly
  • Pyracantha – Firethorn
  • Rhus integrifolia – Lemonade Sumac, Lemonade Berry, Lemonadeberry
  • Ribes spp. – Gooseberries
  • Romneya coulteri – Coulter's Matilija Poppy
  • Rosmarinus officinalis – Rosemary
  • Sarcococca spp. – Sweet Box

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.

To download a PDF of the above information, including the plant list, click here.

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