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Garden Obstacles: Shady and Dry*

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

Many think dry shade is an impossible place for a garden. On Long Island, we have several dry woodland settings. Some are thick with Oak, Pine, and Maple trees, while others are Beech, and Hickory (for what to plant under Hickory, Black Walnut and others in the Juglandaceae family, see trees. Usually the canopy is open enough for dappled sunlight, sometimes it is not. With the right native plants, you can create a lovely understory garden with many layers. It is very important to 'leave the leaves' in this garden setting. It will save moisture and keep the soil cool for these shade loving plants. Just make sure these leaves are not smothering the crowns of young, newly establishing plants.

The layers of a woodland garden: the Canopy is your large trees like Oaks, Pines and Maples. The Shrub & Understory layer is for small trees and tall shrubs like Dogwoods, Hop Tree and Sassafras. The Field & Herb layer is for perennials like Wood Asters and Wild Columbine. The Ground & Soil layer is for ground cover plants like Barren Strawberry and Wild Geranium and leaf litter.


Actaea racemosa - Black Cohosh

Ageratina altissima - White Snakeroot

Aquilegia canadensis - Wild Columbine

Aralia nudicaulis - Wild Sarsaparilla

Asclepias exaltata - Poke Milkweed (woodland edge)

Chimaphila maculata - Spotted Wintergreen

Chrysogonum virginianum var australe (ground cover)

Eurybia divaricata - White Wood Aster

Geranium maculatum - Wild Geranium (ground cover)

Geum fragarioides - Barren Strawberry (ground cover)

Helianthus divaricatus - Woodland Sunflower

Heuchera americana - Alumroot

Pachysandra procumbens - Allegheny Spurge (ground cover)

Podophyllum peltatum - May Apple

Scutellaria incana - Downy Skullcap

Solidago bicolor - White Goldenrod

Solidago caesia - Bluestem Goldenrod

Symphyotrichum cordifolium - Blue Wood Aster

Thalictrum thalictroides - Rue Anemone (ephemeral)

Trichostema dichotomum - Forked Bluecurls


Dennstaedtia punctilobula - Hayscented Fern (ground cover)

Polystichum acrostichoides - Christmas Fern


Cornus florida - Common Dogwood

Juniperus virginiana - Eastern Red Cedar

Ptelea trifoliata - Hop Tree

Sassafras albidum - Sassafras


Clethra alnifolia - Sweet Pepperbush (does not flower as well in full shade)

Cornus alterniflora - Pagoda Dogwood

Cornus racemosa - Gray Dogwood

Gaultheria procumbens - Wintergreen

Hamamelis virginiana - Witch Hazel

Symphoricarpos albus - Common Snowberry

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus - Coralberry

Vaccinium angustifolium - Lowbush Blueberry

Viburnum acerifolium - Mapleleaf Viburnum

Xanthorhiza simplicissima - Yellowroot


Carex albicans - White-tinged Sedge

Carex eburnea - Bristleleaf Sedge

Carex pensylvanica - Oak Sedge (ground cover)

Carex swanii - Swan's Sedge

Chasmanthium latifolium - River Oats

Deschampsia flexuosa - Wavy Hairgrass

Juncus tenuis - Path Rush

Luzula acuminata - Hairy Wood Rush (ground cover)


Parthenocissus quinquefolia - Virginia Creeper (ground cover)

Pictures: First Row: Bluestem Goldenrod (NCSU), Barren Strawberry (NCSU), Virginia Creeper fall color (NCSU), Second Row: White Goldenrod (NCSU), Sassafras flower (KMS), Wintergreen (KMS), Third Row: Hop Tree flower (KMS), Wood Rush winter color (KMS), Witch Hazel flower (KMS), Bottom Row: Blue Wood Aster (KMS), Oak Sedge (KMS), Gray Dogwood berries (KMS)

*Remember even though you are planting for dry shade, the new transplants will need supplemental water while establishing their root systems. This can be 1-3 years depending on the plant.


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