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Dry Shade Gardens
There are lots of challenging conditions in landscaping and gardening. One of the most challenging is dry shade. These areas are generally caused by large shade trees which can easily out-compete smaller plants for water and nutrients. They can also be caused by overhanging eaves in the shade of a building. Very few plants like dry shade. The best way to grow a beautiful garden here is to irrigate, limb up a tree so much sunlight reaches the ground or both.
Short of that, there are some plants that grow in these conditions, and some techniques that will help plants do better. First, it’s good to note that no grass does well in dry shade in our area. It’s often more economical to replace a lawn with mulch or groundcover in these areas. Mulching up to 4 inches can also help an area retain some moisture. And if there’s no irrigation present, make sure to water plants deeply and infrequently so that the water will penetrate the mulch and then be protected from evaporation. Planting or building barriers to slow down wind can also help an area not dry out as fast but is a fairly expensive and long-term solution.
The best way to have a lovely dry shade garden is to install plants that are adapted to these extremes. Many groundcovers are adapted to these areas and can replace lawns. (Keep in mind all of these plants will perform better with some supplemental water in the summer.) Groundcovers that grow in dry shade include liriope, yellow archangel, and ajuga. Even pachysandra and vinca minor will do fairly well with just a few waterings during especially dry conditions. Perennials include hostas, lungworts, columbines, and hellebores. Shrubs include boxwoods, yews, some viburnums, Oregan grape hollies, and Japanese kerrias. Small trees include Japanese Maples (although they must be watered during drought.) This list is not extensive and there are other plants that work.
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