Suggestions for ground cover in dry hot shade?

jxa44December 17, 2008

I just saw a picture of cornus canadensis in the "favorite plants of 2008" thread. that picture made me salivate. i have an area at the outskirts of my property that needs a groundcover. it seems that the cornus canadensis needs more water than i can give it. so i was thinking ajuga (catlin's giant)? can anyone comment on the water needs of ajuga? does it do well in dry shade? other suggestions?

many thanx,


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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

"Biokovo" geranium.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2008 at 3:25PM
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I have a friend who has a very large shade bed, which is quite dry. It is very bright shade, with parts getting an hour or so of sun.

Vinca grows well there - it was existing in the bed. Also existing and doing well is sweet woodruff.

We added two things: lamium White Nancy, and chrysogonum Pierre. The lamium has struggled, but the chrysogonum has really taken off and done very nicely. It has pretty yellow blooms, and has a fairly long bloom time.

I will add, however, that she amends this bed every fall with composted manure and shredded leaves. Other than that, it's pretty much left to it's own devices.

I would think that ajuga would do well - it's a pretty tough little plant. Although it might depend on the kind. I tried so hard to get Burgundy Glow established in my dry shade bed, and it just wouldn't take. I got some plain old purple-leaved kind (swapper didn't know what kind she had) at a swap and it's done wonderfully.

P.S. I just noticed in the link below it says c. Pierre likes a moist soil, but again, it has done very well in my friend's dry shade.

Here is a link that might be useful: chrysogonum Pierre

    Bookmark   December 17, 2008 at 6:43PM
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I like both your suggestions. i was thinking ajuga because it will take over the space fairly quickly. it's a pretty large space outside the fence line -- which is open to the deer. they won't likely eat the ajuga, but i think they might eat the geranium. still i'll buy one and test it out :-)

thank you both for your wonderful suggestions!

    Bookmark   December 17, 2008 at 7:10PM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

The toughest Ajuga I know for dry areas is A. 'Chocolate Chip'. Also, deer won't eat G. 'Biokovo', and even better than 'Biokovo' in dry shade is G. maccrorhizum--Big Root Geranium. Both geraniums have extremely fragrant leaves and that makes them unappealing to deer.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2008 at 6:27AM
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terrene(5b MA)

Jxa, you don't indicate in your profile where you live, but Cornus canadensis is a native groundcover in the Dogwood family that grows in the northern tier of the US and Canada (and northern sections of other continents). Its native habitat is coniferous forests, in moist, acidic, shade or part shade. From what I've read, it is a very fussy plant that will not tolerate hot dry conditions and does not grow well in locations where the summers are hot. I can understand why you salivated, it has those beautiful Dogwood flowers and makes red berries very similar to Cornus florida, flowering Dogwood.

I have lots of Vinca in my yard, and it is just about the only plant here that will grow anywhere - including dry shade under a Norway maple! Just be forewarned, vigorous ground covers like Vinca and Ajuga are pretty invasive - the same characteristics that enable them to grow in a difficult location make them vigorous spreaders.

Mowing the Vinca around the edges keeps it under control. I am removing a lot of it from my yard however, because I've discovered that nothing grows well in the middle of the Vinca - it chokes it out. Well except for large shrubs and trees.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2008 at 7:21AM
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OK, let me set the record staight -- i abandoned any hope of growing cornus canadensis before posting this thread because of its water requirements. still, it's gorgeous -- and I soooo wish i could grow it :-)

for those of you wondering, i live in northern california -- sf bay area. i live in a forested area which receives no summer rains. so once this planting gets established it won't get supplemental water.

as for vinca -- i like it, but once it's in it's hard to get out. it's growing wild along the roadsides here. i'd rather not plant vinca -- just yet ;-)

laceyvail, geraniums sound like they might just be the ticket! ;-) but that chocolate ajuga sounds nice too. which do you think would look better in a mass planting? (the only thing in this bed now are daffodils and a few lilacs.)

thanx again everyone for your feedback.


    Bookmark   December 18, 2008 at 1:19PM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

"Biokovo" geranium can take dry shade - mine are thriving under those conditions and spread at a fair clip.

As for the deer eating them, I'm not sure. "Biokovo" has very fragrant foliage (reminiscent of Vernors to my nose), so perhaps the deer will leave this one alone - ?

    Bookmark   December 18, 2008 at 3:05PM
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OK, one last question. what about Epimediums? anyone tried growing them in drought conditions?


    Bookmark   December 18, 2008 at 9:23PM
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franeli(z4 NH)

Seems to me that you need to find a California native plant that will grow well in your location, ie., a plant that will survive no summer rain!
The Cornus canadensis that I am able to grow is native here(it doesn't grow everywhere as it needs a very specific habitat like an acidic seep area and rotting woodland duff).
Mine was growing happily along with some low bush blueberry and over the years I've been adding it to other parts of my property.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2008 at 6:29AM
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coolplantsguy(z6 Ontario)

I grew Epimedium rubrum under a Silver Maple which I considered "dry shade" conditions, but not really "hot and dry shade". In addition, I would really consider them a "true" groundcover.

I would stick with the Geranium suggestion. Any varieties of G. cantabrigiense or G. macrorrhizum will be great.


    Bookmark   December 19, 2008 at 10:17AM
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arbo_retum(z5 ,WinchstrMA)

here are the groundcovers/perennials that successfully grow in our most challenging area,dry full shade under sugar maples: epimedium, geran. macro.,lamiums, jap.painted fern, pachysandra allegheny procumbens(?; the silv./green mottled one). If i had to pick just one, it would, hands down, be the lamium (the silv and green variegated one w/ butter yellow flowers)because a three-four season carpet of that beautiful foliage is just wonderful.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2008 at 1:30PM
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