12 Tough Perennials That Grow in Dry Shade

Those shaded spots in your yard don't have to be barren. Rely on these easy-care plants to add color and interest without needing to be watered all the time.

A shady spot such as under a large tree can be challenging to work with in your garden, especially if it stays on the dry side. Most common shade plants are native to moist woodland conditions, so they need a lot of additional watering during a drought. But if you pick the right plants that will tolerate an extended dry spell, you can create a thriving perennial garden, even in a tricky spot. Most of the varieties listed here mix and match well together. To help get your plants off to the best start possible, keep them well-watered throughout the first year. After that, they will likely do fine with whatever rainwater they get.

01 of 12

Hosta

hosta perennials shade plants
John Reed Forsman

One of the most tried-and-true shade plants, hostas are low-maintenance with hundreds of varieties to choose from. Because the foliage is so diverse in size, shape, and color, mixing and matching hostas is easy to do. Smaller varieties can also form a pretty garden border or fill in space around the base of a tree.

Growing Conditions: Part shade in well-drained soil

Size: Up to 3 feet tall and 8 feet wide

Zones: 3-9

02 of 12

Lungwort

Lungwort
David McDonald

Another shade-loving plant that tolerates dry soil is lungwort. This perennial has tough leaves, which can be spotted or solid green. In the spring, lungwort produces bright blue, pink, white, or purple flowers. When used as a groundcover, lungwort helps discourage weed with its dense growth.

Growing Conditions: Full sun to shade in well-drained soil

Size: Up to 12 inches tall

Zones: 2-8

03 of 12

Bleeding Heart

‘Gold Heart’ Bleeding Heart Dicentra spectabilis
Peter Krumhardt

If you're aiming for a cottage garden vibe in the shade, try bleeding heart. Its heart-shape blooms appear in spring, then the plant will "play dead" once summer comes. No need to worry, it's just resting and will come back next year. Plant bleeding heart with other colorful plants that can take the stage later in the year.

Growing Conditions: Part shade to full shade in well-drained soil

Size: Up to 3 feet tall

Zones: 3-9

04 of 12

Coralbells

Heuchera 'Midnight Bayou' Coralbells
Samantha Hedum

Native to rocky cliff settings where water drains easily, coralbells tolerate dry shade gardens well. Though this perennial does bloom, it's the foliage that really stands out. Varieties like 'Marvelous Marble' grow beautiful, multicolor leaves with a marble-looking surface. Other varieties have leaves that almost look spray-painted while some have deep vein colors.

Growing Conditions: Part shade to full shade in well-drained soil

Size: Up to 3 feet tall

Zones: 3-9

05 of 12

Hardy Ferns

japanese painted fern perennials shade
Lynn Karlin

You may think of ferns as plants that you'd find in a rainforest or tropical location. However, plenty of ferns will grow well in dry shade. For example, the Japanese painted fern (shown here) has beautiful silver and burgundy leaves, while the autumn fern takes on a gorgeous golden red color in fall. Other than the occasional slug, pests tend to leave ferns alone.

Growing Conditions: Part shade to full shade in well-drained soil

Size: Dependent on variety (Japanese painted fern can grow up to 3 feet tall)

Zones: Dependent on variety (Japanese painted fern is hardy in Zones 4-9)

06 of 12

Ajuga

ajuga reptans plants
Marty Baldwin

Along with pretty blue spring flowers, ajuga also has fantastically colorful foliage that makes a pretty groundcover in dry shade gardens. Some varieties like 'Burgundy Glow' grow so densely that its silvery-green leaves marked with pink, burgundy, and white can almost smother weeds. 'Black Scallop ('Binblasca') features large purple leaves that have a unique shine to them; Chocolate Chip ('Valfredda') has small, narrow green leaves heavily flushed with burgundy purple.

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade in well-drained soil

Size: Under 6 inches tall

Zones: 4-10

07 of 12

Bigroot Geranium

Bigroot geranium with pink flowers
Denny Schrock

One of the very best perennials for dry shade, bigroot geranium has deeply lobed leaves that look like snowflakes. The foliage is a bit fuzzy, making it deer and rabbit resistant. In autumn, the leaves turn beautiful shades of reddish-orange. Over time, bigroot geranium will slowly spread to form a dense carpet of foliage over the ground.

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade in well-drained soil that's rich in organic matter

Size: Up to 18 inches tall

Zones: 3-8

08 of 12

Cushion Spurge

yellow cushion spurge growing in garden
Peter Krumhardt

Though cushion spurge is often grown in full sun, it does tolerate shade, especially in hot-summer areas. In spring, cushion spurge produces tiny chartreuse flowers surrounded by showy bracts (much like its relative, the poinsettia, it offers showy pink, red, or white bracts around the little flowers). Once it's finished blooming, count on the mound of gray-green foliage to stay attractive through autumn, when it often turns a reddish color.

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade in dry, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 3 feet tall

Zones: 3-10

09 of 12

Hellebore

hellebores confetti cake pink blooms
Carson Downing

Sometimes also called Christmas or Lenten rose because of its early bloom season, hellebore is one of the toughest shade-loving plants around. With thick, almost leathery leaves, it's easy to see why. Hellebores are evergreen perennials in mild-winter climates; in the coldest places they grow, the foliage usually dies back during the winter. Because all parts of this plant are highly poisonous, it's very resistant to deer and rabbits. Hellebore flowers appear in shades of white, cream, yellow, green, red, and purple, and the blooms can be single or double (such as 'Confetti Cake' shown here).

Growing Conditions: Part shade to full shade in well-drained soil that's rich in organic matter

Size: Up to 3 feet tall

Zones: 4-9

10 of 12

Foamflower

foamflower perennial vertical stalks white blossoms
David McDonald

Native to North America, foamflower uses runners to spread quickly to form a fairly dense mat of foliage. In spring, it produces little frothy wands of white or pink flowers. Some varieties also have interesting foliage, such as 'Running Tapestry', which features a purple blotch in the center of the leaves, and 'Susquehanna', which has lobed leaves heavily marked in dark purple.

Growing Conditions: Part shade to full shade in well-drained soil rich in organic matter.

Size: Up to 12 inches tall

Zones: 3-9

11 of 12

Lilyturf

purple lilyturf liriope groundcover
Doug Hetherington

At first glance, it's easy to mistake lilyturf for an ornamental grass because of its rich green, glossy, grass-shape foliage. However, it's actually a member of the lily family. This perennial is ultra-tough, deer- and rabbit-resistant, and looks good through spring, summer, and fall (as well as winter in the South, where it's an evergreen). In late summer, the plants produce clusters of tiny lavender-purple blooms that may turn into black berry-like fruits.

Growing Conditions: Full sun to full shade in well-drained soil

Size: Up to 12 inches tall

Zones: 5-10

12 of 12

Deadnettle

deadnettle lamium ground cover near pathway
Janet Loughrey

Another top groundcover for dry shade, deadnettle (also called lamium) has attractive foliage that's often marked with silver. Several varieties offer mostly silver leaves or even chartreuse. Deadnettle blooms on and off throughout the summer, producing clusters of lavender, pink, or white flowers. If the soil stays too dry for extended periods, leaves may develop brown edges. If this happens, you can cut the plant back and it will quickly sprout fresh new foliage.

Growing Conditions: Part shade to full shade in well-drained soil

Size: Up to 3 feet tall

Zones: 4-8

Start to design your shade garden with these plants as a base, and you shouldn't have any problem filling up the bed. Once you master these plants, you can use that confidence to experiment with new varieties.

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