Drought & Shade Tolerant Plants

Selecting plants to fill a shady, dry spot can challenge any gardener. Plants that can tolerate both shade and drought offer benefits other than just the aesthetic, though. Drought-tolerant plants require less water, which lowers bills, conserves valuable resources, and creates less pollution and runoff. Such plants also tend to grow slowly and require little maintenance. Help plants thrive in dry, shady conditions by amending soil with organic matter and adding a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch.

Evergreen Shrubs

Not many evergreen shrubs can tolerate dry conditions and also thrive in shade. Exceptions include Alexandrian laurel (Danae racemosa), aucuba (Aucuba japonica), boxwoods (Buxus spp.), Florida leucothoe (Agarista populifolia), Indian yellow jasmine (Jasminum humile), Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia), mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), sweet box (Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis) and tea camellia (Camellia sinensis).

Deciduous Shrubs

Deciduous, drought-resistant shrubs for shade include black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), blueberry (Vaccinium spp.), Chinese witchhazel (Hamamelis mollis), flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum), Florida azalea (Rhododendron austrinum), fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica), hazel (Corylus spp.), large fothergilla (Fothergilla major), maple-leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), mountain andromeda (Pieris floribunda), pinxterbloom azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides), snowberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), strawberry bush (Euonymus Americana) and thyme (Thymus spp.).

Ground Covers

Ground covers that tolerate dry shade include Corsican violet (Viola corsica), dymondia (Dymondia margaretae), creeping barberry (Mahonia repens), euphorbia (Euphorbia myrsinites), heartleaf saxifrage (Bergenia cordifolia), hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius), honey bush (Melianthus major 'Antonow's Blue'), panchito manzanito (Arctostaphylos x coloradoensis), sea kale (Crambe maritime), spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum), sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) and woodland stonecrop (Sedum ternatum).


Perennials add texture and colour to shady spots. Shade- and drought-tolerant species include astilbe (Astilbe spp.), bleeding heart (Dicentra spp.), blue shade (Ruellia squarrosa), cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior), corydalis (Corydalis lutea), great bellflower (Campanula latifolia), hardy begonia (Begonia grandis), Hinckley's columbine (Aguilegia Hinkleyana), lily turf (Liriope spp.), plantain lily (Hosta spp.), primrose (Primula spp.), St. John's wort (Hypericum spp .) and wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa).


Many fern species thrive in shady spots. Species that also tolerate drought include beaded wood fern (Dryopteris bissetiana), interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana), lacy fancy fern (Dryopterisintermedia) long-eared holly fern (Polystichum neolobatum), marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) and soft shield fern (Polystichum setiferum).

Ornamental Grasses

Grasses that grow in shady, dry spots include bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix), crinkled hairgrass (Deschampsia flexuosa), drooping sedge (Carex pendula), evergold sedge (Carex oshimensis 'Evergold'), Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) and white variegated monkey grass (Ophiopogon japonicus 'Fuiri Gyoku Ryu').

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About the Author

Based in the Southwest, Linsay Evans writes about a range of topics, from parenting to gardening, nutrition to fitness, marketing to travel. Evans holds a Master of Library and Information Science and a Master of Arts in anthropology.