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Zone 5 Dry Shade Gardens: Growing Zone 5 Plants In Dry Shade

Zone 5 Dry Shade Gardens: Growing Zone 5 Plants In Dry Shade


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By: Jackie Carroll

Dry shade describes the conditions under a tree with a dense canopy. This article focuses on zone 5 dry shade plants. Read on to find suggested flowering plants for dry shade in zone 5.

Zone 5 Dry Shade Gardens

If you have a tree with a dense canopy, the area under the tree is probably in dry shade. Moisture is blocked from above by the tree’s leaves and branches and absorbed from below by thirsty roots, leaving little moisture for other plants to survive. There is no doubt that this is a difficult area to landscape, but there are some shade-loving plants that thrive in dry conditions.

There isn’t much you can do to improve the conditions under the tree. Adding a layer of better soil or organic matter under the tree can seriously damage the roots and even kill the tree. When growing zone 5 plants in dry shade, it’s better to find plants to suit the conditions rather than trying to change the conditions to suit the plants.

Plants for Dry Shade

Here are some preferred plants for zone 5 dry shade gardens.

White Woods asters have thin, dainty white petals that show up well in the shade. These woodland plants look right at home under a tree where they bloom in August and September. Add spring color by planting golden narcissus bulbs. The bulbs will have plenty of sunlight to bloom and fade before a deciduous tree leafs out.

Lenten roses produce large blossoms in late winter or early spring. They come in white and a range of purples and pinks. The blossoms have thick petals, often with veins in contrasting colors. These lovely, fragrant flowers are often used as a groundcover under trees. Interplant with white anemones for a longer-lasting display.

How about adding some foliage to your zone 5 dry shade garden? Christmas ferns don’t just tolerate dry, shady conditions, they insist on it. They look best when massed together in large swaths. Yellow archangel is a groundcover that produces tiny yellow flowers in June, but it’s best known for the striking, variegated foliage. The white markings on green leaves stand out in the shade of a tree.

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20 Great Plants That Grow in Shade

Gardening in the shade has the reputation of being difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. By choosing the right shade-loving plants, it’s possible to have a beautiful landscape even in limited light. Some of the most popular garden plants are reliable standbys for a reason: with the right location and care, they provide season-long enjoyment even for novice gardeners.

Here are some of the best shade plants to get you started on the road to a lush, shady oasis:


Creating a Rain Garden

Creating a rain garden can be as simple as directing the flow of water from your roof to a spot that you’ve already planted with water-loving plants—or, you can start from scratch.

The size of the garden depends on the size of the impermeable area draining into it. Aim to make the bed 20% to 30% the size of the roof or driveway from which the water is being funneled. For example, a 300 sq. ft. garden to hold the runoff from a 1000 sq. ft. roof. The deeper the garden and the more freely draining the soil, the greater the volume of water a given area will be able to accommodate.

Create a basin by digging out dirt from a dry area at least 10 feet away from the foundation of yourhouse and downhill from the water source. Avoid directing runoff to a naturally low spot that is already saturated with water or to your septic system.

A rain garden is NOT for areas that already get standing water it’s a temporary water holding basin. Look for a low spot that is fairly flat with soil that allows any standing water to drain within a day or two after a storm is best. To check if the soil drains fast enough, dig a test hole about 10 inches deep and fill it with water. If the water drains away within 48 hours, you’re good to go.

Replace heavy soil with one-half sand, one-quarter compost, and one-quarter topsoil—a fast-draining mixture.

Pile stones and extra soil on the downhill side of the garden to act as a berm and create a bowl where water can pool to a depth of about 6 inches.

If water does not naturally flow to your rain garden, dig a shallow (3- to 4-inch-deep) trench from your downspout to the garden, line it with landscape fabric, and cover with stones to create a streambed effect.

Planting a Rain Garden

We’ve provided some sample plant lists below. Contrary to common belief, a rain garden is not meant to be a place for wetland plants.

Most of the plants in the center are woody and herbaceous plants that can tolerate temporarily saturated soil.

  • Plant the center of the garden with perennials and native plants that tolerate wet feet.
  • Around these, place plants that tolerate occasional standing water.
  • At the outer edges, set plants that prefer drier soil.

Some of our favorite plants are natives, including purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), summersweet (Clethra alnifolia ‘Hummingbird’), and lady ferns (Athyrium felix-femina) for the shady areas.

Mulch with compost or shredded hardwood (bark chips may float away in a heavy rain). If the water that flows into the garden washes out the mulch, break up the flow entering the basin with a well-placed rock or two.

A rain garden is a beautiful addition to your landscape, and a great way to support more biodiversity in an environmentally sustainable way.


Ferns for Dry Shade

Ferns are really useful plants for dry shade as they create a sense of moist lushness in what can be a rather barren environment.

Many ferns are plants of moist woodland, rich in leaf litter, so take the time to prepare the planting site well by digging in plenty of well rotted organic matter and providing a mulch of good compost or leaf mould.

If you provide a little extra care whilst your plants are young they will rapidly become established and well able to cope with the dry conditions.

The ferns below are very common in the wild and may be so familiar a sight that you would not consider planting them deliberately - but don't let this put you off as they can add a whole new dimension to your planting.

Dryopteris filix-mas (Male Fern)

  • Form: fern
  • Foliage: deciduous or semi-evergreen
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy USDA zones 4 to 8
  • Soil: prefers moist humus rich soil but will tolerate drier conditions once established
  • Situation: sun or shade
  • Height: 1.2m (4ft)
  • Spread: 1m (3ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: The tall elegant fronds are invaluable for adding height and structure to a dry, shady border and creating a sense of lushness. Provide extra water until plants are well established.

Polystichum munitum (Western Sword Fern)

  • Form: fern
  • Foliage: evergreen
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy USDA zones 4 to 9
  • Soil: well drained humus rich soil
  • Situation: prefers light to partial shade but can tolerate sun to full shade
  • Height: 1.2m (4ft)
  • Spread: 30cm (1ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: A native of western North America, this tall imposing fern forms arching clumps of dark green leathery fronds and looks good both as a specimen plant or grown en masse.

It is one of the most useful plants for dry shade as it is evergreen and provides structure and architectural interest throughout the year. Remove any dead fronds in spring before new growth begins.

Polystichum setiferum (Soft Shield Fern)

  • Form: fern
  • Foliage: evergreen
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy USDA zones 5 to 8
  • Soil: any well drained, fertile, humus rich soil
  • Situation: full or partial shade
  • Height: 1.2m (4ft)
  • Spread: 1m (3.3ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: This is one of my favourite ferns and appears in my list of plants for deep shade but it is so useful that I'm not going to apologize for including it here as well!

The tall, finely divided fronds make this handsome plant a real winner, adding year round architectural interest and structure to your garden. The feel of the soft fronds also adds tactile appeal.

Also consider: Any of the many named forms of P. setiferum are suitable. The Hard Shield Fern, P. aculeatum also tolerates dry shade.


Spring and Summer Bloomers

A desire for blooming perennial flowers is hard to fulfill in dry shade. Spring-bloomers include Lenten rose (Helleborus hybridus), which reaches 1 to 2 feet in height, with late-winter/early spring blooms in colors from brownish purple to pale green. Later in spring, old-fashioned bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) offers arching stems of distinctively-shaped pink blossoms. Summer foliage dieback is unattractive and leaves a noticeable gap. Whether classified as a border plant or a ground cover, lilyturf (Liriope muscari) grows in 6- to 12-inch grass-like clumps, with an abundance of summer purple or lavender flower stems in partial dry shade blooms lessen as shade increases. Native geranium, or cranesbill (Geranium spp.) is usually recommended as hardy through USDA zone 8 add its blue flowers to sheltered dry shade sites.


8 great groundcovers for dry shade

Given plenty of moisture, these tough-as-old-boots groundcovers can easily become invasive, but grown in dry shade, they will be far less unruly. Plants will require supplementary watering for one year while they become established.

[Common and botanical name / Hardiness zone / Dimensions (height x width)]

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) Zone 2, 6 x 12 in. (15 x 30 cm) Considered invasive in some jurisdictions.

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) Zone 3, 4 x 12 in. (10 x 30 cm) Considered invasive in some jurisdictions.

Spotted deadnettle (Lamium maculatum cvs.) Zone 3, 6 x 12 in. (15 x 30 cm)

False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) [syn. Smilacina racemosa] Zone 3, 24 x 24 in. (60 x 60 cm)

Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) Zone 2, 36 x 36 in. (1.2 x 1.2 m)

Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis) Zone 4, 8 x 12 in. (20 x 30 cm)

Lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor) Zone 3, 4 x 24 in. (10 x 60 cm) Considered invasive in some jurisdictions.

Labrador violet (Viola riviniana [Purpurea Group], syn. V. labradorica) Zone 3, 4 x 6 in. (10 x 15 cm)


Watch the video: Top 5 Favorite Flowering Perennials For Shade