Drought Tolerant Perennials for the Shade

Some areas of the United States are naturally drought-prone, or have dry soils throughout much of the year.  Other areas experience drought conditions from time to time.  To keep your yard looking its best through wet and dry, plant  perennials that are well-adapted to dry shade in your shady landscape beds.

Perennials for Dry Shade

Hosta are the workhorses of the dry shade garden.  They have thick, fleshy masses of roots that help store water during times of drought.  They grow best in rich soil with a pH of 6.5-7.5, which is a fairly wide pH range.  You can easily divide Hosta by digging up the entire clump and breaking apart pieces of the clump with a gardening fork or sharp spade.  It is a good idea to divide in the fall, at lease a month before a hard frost is expected in your area, so that the plant can re-establish roots. Sweet woodruff, or Gallium odoratum, is a ground-cover perennial that blooms with delicate white flowers in the late spring to early summer.  It can become invasive, but stays in check while growing in cooler regions (zones 3 and 4), or in drier areas. Epimedium is a favorite plant of every self-proclaimed "plant geek."  That doesn't mean that homeowners looking for great landscape plants can't fall in love with Epimedium, too.  These shade perennials are part of the barberry family, but they are a lot more attractive, and easier to care for.  There are, literally, hundreds of varieties of this plant, but it is just now getting easier to find them in local garden centers. Their heart-shaped leaves are sometimes evergreen (depending upon the variety), and their wiry, maidenhair fern-like stems let the leaves rustle in the breeze, which gives them interest, year-round.  This plant has lots of funny nicknames, many of which I don't, actually, think I should print here!  It mostly goes by its genus name, pronounced just the way it looks-Ep-I-medium. Heuchera, or coral bells, are a favorite plant of gardeners and plant breeders.  That's a match made in heaven, because there are new cultivars of coral bells hitting the market every gardening season.  You will mainly want to consider growing these beauties for their foliage.  You can pick up plants with chartreuse, silver, purple, pink, rust-colored, and many other combinations of foliage.  They look great when planted in combination with ferns, and other delicate-leafed plants. Helleborus, or the Lenten rose, grows well in zones 5-9, but will grow well in a protected location in zone 4.  In zone 4-6, they can grow in shade or part shade.  In especially hot and humid areas, they grow best in full shade.  In zones 6 and warmer, their palm-shaped leaves are evergreen.  Their late winter to early spring blooms add lots of interest to the garden, in a season when little else may be blooming. Tiarella, also called foamflower, is a woodland wildflower that looks similar to heuchera, but blooms earlier and is generally smaller.  The leaves are a medium green, rough-textured, and the flowers range in color from white to pale yellow to pink. Liriope, or creeping lilyturf, looks like a small ornamental grass, but is actually part of the lily family.  Also called border grass or monkey grass, this is a pretty agressive groundcover.  It does grow well in deep shade, however, and can take cold and summer heat, equally well.  It blooms with a purple flower spike during the summer, and does take well to edging. Planting a garden in the dry shade doesn't have to be boring. Most of the plants mentioned will spread as ground covers, or can be divided as they grow. Plant these, and before you know it, you'll have a beautiful dry shade garden, and less lawn to water!
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