As if finding attractive plants that thrive in shade isn't enough of a challenge, shady spots under evergreen trees, such as pines, often have dry soil, as well. Dry shade conditions tend to create the most difficult sites to plant, according to the University of Minnesota Extension. For a thriving garden, even under a pine tree, choose plants that tolerate both drought and shade. Help your plants by amending soil with rich, organic matter and mulching the plants themselves.
Though many perennials require full to partial sun to produce the most robust, colourful blooms, some species can thrive in dry shade. These include the ajuga or bugleweed (Ajuga reptans). This perennial is hardy to U.S. Department of Agriculture zone 3. Bugleweed grows from 6 to 12 inches tall and produces small, purple flowers. Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) also thrives in dry shade. This 12-inch-tall perennial has round leaves and produces small, reddish-purple blooms in spring. Other dry shade perennials include corydalis (Corydalis lutea), Siberian forget-me-not (Brunnera macrophylla) and fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia).
Certain fern species can thrive in dark, dry sites. These include the soft shield fern (Polystichum setiferum). This evergreen fern grows between 18 to 24 inches tall and has droopy fronds. The soft shield fern is hardy to zone 7. The male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas), an evergreen, grows to 3 feet tall. This dark green fern requires wind protection. The hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctiloba) grows up to 2-1/2 feet tall. This fast-growing plant tolerates drought and smells like freshly cut hay.
Ground covers can fill in bare spots underneath pine trees and help reduce soil erosion. Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) spreads to 12 inches wide. This perennial ground cover produces fragrant, white, bell-shaped blossoms in summer. Dead nettle (Lamium spp.) spreads between 8 and 12 inches wide. This ground cover has silver-streaked foliage and produces pink and white flowers. Both lily of the valley and dead nettle are hardy to zone 3. The periwinkle (Vinca minor) spreads between 6 and 12 inches. This evergreen plant produces blue spring blossoms and may require protection from winter cold.
Several shrub species can tolerate dry shade. Deciduous shrubs for under-tree planting include the oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), a drought-tolerant shrub that grows from 4 to 6 feet tall and thrives in full to partial shade. Oakleaf hydrangea bloom with white flowers in midsummer. The mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium). also tolerates dry shadel this shrub grows between 4 and 6 feet tall and blooms with yellow flowers in early summer. Evergreen shrubs for dry shade include mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), a hardy shrub that grows from 4 to 8 feet tall. The mountain laurel produces showy pink flowers in late spring. Several species of mahonia (Mahonia spp.) tolerate shady spots. The University of Delaware recommends the Arthur Menzies cultivar for dry shade. This plant has pointed, leathery foliage and produces blue berries in fall.
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- University of Minnesota Extension; Dry Soil Shade or Under Trees; Theresa Rooney
- University of Delaware Extension; Plants for Dry Shade; Valerie Easton 2008
- North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension; Drought-Tolerant Shrubs; Erv Evans
- North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension; Hardy Ferns; Erv Evans; 2002