What you can grow in dry shade: Really, they’ll grow!
We need to deal with the soil we’ve got
All homeowners would like to have all the soil in their whole estate rich, well-drained, and in full sun. Since that is implausible, we need to deal with the soil we’ve got. Plants need two things to grow: sunlight and water. If they have at least one of these, they will learn to adapt to most any area. Dry shade is the worst soil plants must deal with. One of these dry shade spots is the area under trees that won’t even grow grass.
There are at least three plants that have learned how to grow and prosper in these difficult places. One is a native, Solomon’s seal. This Zone 3 plant can often be found in wooded areas around here. One trick it has is that it has rhizomes, water-storing thickened roots that help it do well in dry areas. It is quite an attractive plant, running from 1 to 3 feet tall with upright, arching unbranched stems. In early spring, April to May, it blooms with small yellow bell-shaped flowers that dangle under the large oval leaves. The flowers are unscented. In fall it has blue-black berries swinging under leaves that have turned a bright yellow. There is an Asian-European cousin that has light green leaves with a white edging. Its flowers have a sweet smell. This mounding plant likes part to full shade and is not happy in very hot weather. It likes to grow under trees that protect it from the hot sun.
The next plant, lungwort, likes moist well-drained soil, but not wet feet. That being said, once it is established, it will do quite well in dry shade. This plant is only about 12 to 24 inches tall, a low mounder. The leaves are gray-green and luminous. There are spots on their fuzzy leaves that can be white or silver. The spots are actually air pockets that keep the undersides of the leaves cool. While often planted for the mottled leaves, lungwort blooms in the spring. The flowers stick above the leaves, start out pink then gradually turn blue. This color change should give a clue that they are related to Virginia blue-bells that have that same color change to their blooms in the spring.
There are many varieties of lungwort. Silver Bouquet has almost silver leaves. They almost glow under a tree. Mrs. Moon has dark green leaves with silver spots, and many other cultivars have white mottling. You will discover baby lungwort plants popping up in odd corners. They do transplant quite well.
The third plant that has adapted to dry shade is the bigroot geranium. It is another plant with rhizomes, the water-saving roots. This plant is semi-evergreen with fragrant gray-green leaves and blooms from April to July. There are several cultivars of this plant. Flowers can be magenta, white and most red shaded colors in between. It does well in full to part shade, hates hot humid weather and wet feet. It gets so thick it won’t let weeds through. Has no pests, not even rabbits will nibble this toughie. This is the one to plant if you want a spreader. It spreads by seed and roots, and sneaks into every place it can find bare or almost bare soil.
Any of these three will make your yard prettier and your trees happier that they have shade on their roots, keeping them cooler, instead of hot, naked dirt.
Bev Johnson is a Master Gardener with the University of Minnesota Extension. Her column appears in the Weekend Edition.
By Bev Johnson
Source, credits & more information: FergusFallsJournal