Oregon State University Extension Service


Drought-Tolerant Plants for Shade

Water-wise gardening conserves water and helps protect the environment. A xeriscape is a “dry scene” that uses very little water, but a water-wise garden includes any style that is designed to conserve water.

Definitions

  • “Tough” plants grow well in our climate, do not require frequent care, are attractive in the home landscape, and are generally available at local nurseries.
  • “Water-wise” plants -- once established in adequate soil -- perform well with one inch of water per month or less (perhaps more in 90-degree temperatures and when younger).
  • Full sun: 6 or more hours of direct sun
  • Light shade/part sun: about 4 hours of direct sun, a short-term opening to the sky or low sun early or late in the day
  • Filtered light or dappled shade: in irregular shadows of thin-leafed or tall, open trees; about ½ the sky shows through the canopy
  • Open shade: fully exposed to sky but with little direct sun, such as on the north side of buildings
  • Deep shade: under dense-leafed trees with less than ¼ of the sky showing through the canopy
  • Trees that leaf out early: aspen, birch, willow, maple
  • Trees that leaf out later: oak, chestnut, sweet gum, beech, tupelo, catalpa, ash, elm

Shrubs

Plant Name Shade Type Resist Deer? Notes
Pieris japonica—lily-of-the valley shrub light, dappled very good  
Euonymus japonica and E. fortunei light, dappled fair  
Ilex crenata – Japanese holly light fair  
Deutzia light good  
Choisya ternata – Mexican orange light, dappled good 'Sundance' variety needs full sun
Skimmia open, deep, dappled very good  
Kerria japonica –Kerria rose light, open, dappled, deep very good fewer flowers with more shade
Myrica californica –Pacific wax myrtle light, open, dappled, deep very good  
Holodiscus – ocean spray light, dappled very good  
Gaultheria shallon - salal light open, dappled, deep very good  
Mahonia aquifolium – Oregon grape light, open, dappled, deep very good  
Mahonia x media– Japanese mahonia, 'Charity', 'Arthur Menzies', 'Winter Sun' light, dappled very good  
Mahonia eurybracteata ssp. ganpinensis 'Soft Touch' light, open, dappled very good 2013 Plant of the Year at the Royal Horticultural Society's Chelsea Flower Show
Sarcococca – sweet box dappled, open, deep very good some morning sun OK
Ribes: R. sanguineum – red currant dappled, light, open good  
Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’– coast silk tassel light, dappled fair G. fremontii—Fremont silk tassel is smaller, hardier
Hypericum-- shrubby St. John’s wort light, dappled ???  
Rhamnus californica-- coffeeberry light, dappled good needs decent drainage
Daphne odora; D. × transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and 'Summer Ice' light, open, dappled very good like all daphne, needs very good drainage & non-acid, porous soil (pH of 7.0 for odora); light shade only for 'Eternal Fragrance' and 'Summer Ice'
Symphoricarpos – snowberry, coralberry light, dappled good/fair  
Viburnums: V. tinus 'Spring Bouquet', V. davidii, V. opulus, V. acerifolium light, dappled good V. davidii also does well in open shade
Elaeagnus × ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’ –variegated silverberry light, open, dappled, deep very good needs decent drainage
Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Howard McMinn' light good needs excellent drainage, unamended soil, good air circulation
Calycanthus—Carolina allspice, sweetshrub light, dappled   flowers larger on named hybrids of Chinese, floridus, others
Buxus sempervirens-- common boxwood light, open, dappled, deep very good try it unclipped for a dense but soft look
Osmanthus: O. delayvi, O. x burkwoodii--sweet olive; O. heterophyllus-- false holly light, open, dappled, deep very good varied sizes and leaf types, can be clipped, most also like full sun-- sweet olive have spring bloom; false holly (heterophyllus) in fall
Ruscus aculeatum –butcher’s broom light, open, dappled, deep ?? but prickly what look like leaves are actually flattened shoots; needs decent drainage; most cultivated varieties are self-fruiting

Perennials

Plant Name Shade Type Resist Deer? Notes
Brunnera macrophylla – Siberian bugloss light, dappled, open good  
Acanthus mollis, A. spinosus – bear’s breeches light, dappled very good A. spinosus is more compact
Bergenia cordifolia, B. ciliata dappled, open, deep good  
Heuchera – coral bells light, dappled fair  
Digitalis – foxglove light, dappled fair  
Dicentra formosa – native bleeding heart light, open, dappled good goes dormant early without a bit of summer water
Smilacina racemosa--false Solomon's seal light, open, dappled, deep good red berries; drought tolerant in humus-rich soil
Polystichum: P. munitum— sword fern, P. setiferum— soft shield/Alaskan ferns, P. acrostichoides—Christmas fern, P. tsus-simense-- Korean Rock Fern light, open, deep, dappled very good evergreen; drought tolerant staples in the shade garden
Dryopteris filix-mas – male fern light, open, deep, dappled very good  
Blechnum spicant—deer fern light, open, deep, dappled very good  
Athyrium – lady fern 'Ghost', 'Japanese Painted' dappled, open, deep very good not all lady ferns are drought tolerant
Pulmonaria--lungwort light, open, dappled good good monthly water in summer, cut back right after bloom to curb powdery mildew
Hosta—plantain lily open, dappled, deep no more drought tolerant with good soil and more shade
Fuchsia—hardy fuchsia light, open, dappled fair  
Disporopsis pernya— evergreen Solomon's seal light, open, deep, dappled very good well-behaved clumping habit
Hellebores: H. orientalis— Lenten rose, H. foetidus— stinking hellebore, H. argutifolius—Corsican hellebore, H. lividus— Majorcan hellebore light, open, dappled very good H. niger, the Christmas rose, needs extra water. Corsican and Majorcan enjoy some sun
Anemone japonica— Japanese anemone, A. nemerosa—wood anemone light, open, dappled ate the flowers, not leaves withhold summer water to curb Japanese anemone spread
Geranium macrorrhizum– big root geranium light, dappled may eat flowers  
Lewisia cotyledon, L. rediviva—bitterroot light ate the flowers requires excellent drainage
Trachystemon orientalis– Abraham, Isaac, Joseph or Oriental borage light, open, dappled good self-sowing not observed, unlike common borage

Groundcovers

Plant Name Shade Type Resist Deer? Notes
Euphorbia robbiae light, open, dappled, deep very good good news: spreads well under trees, makes dense groundcover bad news: rhizomes spread too well, sap is irritant
Cyclamen coum (winter bloom) C. hederifolium and C. mirabile (late summer) light, open, dappled, deep very good plants spread as ants move the seeds about; seedlings are easy to control
Corydalis lutea light, open, dappled, deep good plants self-sow significantly but are easy to pull; gives three-season bloom
Oxalis oregana—evergreen Oregon oxalis or redwood sorrel light, open, dappled, deep good spreads slowly but well under trees and rhododendrons; three-season bloom; deciduous variety considered invasive
Vancouveria hexandra, V. chrysantha—inside-out flower open, deep, dappled very good V. hexandra—white flowers, deciduous V. chrysantha—yellow flowers, evergreen Mahonia nervosa– longleaf
Oregon grape light, open, dappled, deep very good slow-spreading
Liriope spicata—creeping lily turf light, open, dappled, deep very good moderate spreading
Ophiopogon japonica— mondo grass O. planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’— black mondo grass light, open, dappled, deep very good spreads better with occasional water
Epimedium—bishop’s hat dappled, open good leaves look better with occasional water; moderate spread rate
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides—dwarf plumbago, deadwort light, dappled fair late to leaf out, blooms better with occasional water; moderate spread rate
Waldsteinia ternata—barren strawberry light, dappled very good a dense, evergreen weed-buster
Sarcococca hookerana var. humilis open, deep, dappled very good

no afternoon sun; a dense, evergreen weed-buster

Blechnum penna-marina-- alpine water fern light, open, dappled very good occasional water helps it spread; dense and evergreen
Lamium maculatum – dead nettle open, deep, dappled good The unnamed L. galeobdolon variety is quite invasive; 'Hermann's Pride' is the more contained variety of that type. Recommend L. maculatum, which has many calmer, named varieties with short stem length between leaves: 'Ghost', 'Anne Greenway', 'Purple Dragon', 'White Nancy', 'Beacon Silver', 'Pink Chablis'
Cardamine trifolia—threeleaf cardamine light, dappled fair well behaved, evergreen
Asarum caudatum –Western wild ginger open, deep, dappled good requires some patience; needs a couple of years to establish before it will perform well

Source URL: https://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/flowers-shrubs-trees/drought-tolerant-plants-shade