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Dry Shade Plants

Annual Flowers for Dry Shade Areas

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Annuals for dry shade is a bit of a misnomer. First, most of the aren’t true annuals, we just grow them that way. More importantly, they’d all welcome regular watering. However the 10 annual flowers listed here will all bloom and grow in partial shade with minimal supplemental water and give a much needed shot of color to a shady corner.

1. Balsam (Impatiens Balsamina)

Balsam (Impatiens Balsamina)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti
Balsam is a member of the Impatiens family. There are annual and perennial balsams. Annual balsam is very easy to grow from seed and blooms pretty much all summer. It can withstand short periods of drought, but can’t stand wet feet. Balsam flowers in shades of white, pink, rose, and red and grows and blooms fine in partial shade. At 2' tall, it is one of the taller annuals.

2. Cleome or Spider Flower (Cleome hassleriana)

Cleome or Spider Flower (Cleome hassleriana)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti
Drought tolerant Cleome will bloom where it’s planted. In full sun, the plants can top out at over 6' tall. You probably won’t get that much height in partial shade, but you will still get plenty of blooms. There are some stunning new shades of purple cleome, as well as the pink and white standbys. Cleome is a self-seeder, but It’s easy enough to pull out in the spring and I’ve never seen it become a nuisance.

3. English Daisy (Bellis Perennis)

English Daisy  (Bellis Perennis)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti
OK, English Daisies are supposed to be perennial plants down to USDA Zone 4, so maybe they shouldn’t be included here. But since we won’t be growing them in ideal conditions, I wouldn’t necessarily count on them returning next year. English Daisies grow to about 12" tall, with daisy-like blooms on top of slender, bending stems. They look like refined wildflowers, in shades of pink and white.

4. Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris)

Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti
There are lots of dwarf Nicotiana on the market, in a variety of colors, but tall, white-flowers Nicotiana sylvestris is still an attraction. Nicotiana sylvestris grows about 5' tall and supposedly gives off a perfumed scent in the evenings, when its flowers face upward. I’ve never seen that happen. But I still grow it for the dangling white tubular flowers that grow in clusters and jingle in the breeze.

5. Forget-Me-Nots (Myosotis dissitiflora)

Forget-Me-Nots (Myosotis dissitiflora)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti
Not all Forget-Me-Nots are annuals. The annual variety grows to about 6-12 in. tall with the typical Forget-Me-Nots blue flowers blooming in late spring or early summer. It may not be perennial, but it will self-seed with abandon, so expect many more plants next year, unless you deadhead before the seeds form. Annual Forget-Me-Nots prefers partial shade.

6. Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea)

Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti
Most foxgloves are biennials, growing only a low, rosette of leaves the first year, then sending up a tall flower spike the 2nd year. But knowing that gardeners are impatient people, the nursery trade kindly starts ‘annual’ foxgloves in the fall so that they’re ready to jump right into flower their first year in our gardens. 'Foxy' is the most common variety of ‘annual’ foxglove. It’s a dwarf foxglove, growing about 8-12" tall and coming in shades of pink and white with the spots and mottling you’d expect, inside the glove.

7. Impatiens (Impatiens wallerana)

Impatiens (Impatiens wallerana)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti
Impatiens are the workhorses of shade gardens. They really prefer a slightly moist shade, but can grow and bloom with a little abuse, too. Just don’t leave them on their own in a drought. Impatiens make a good indicator plant, if you want a signal that it’s time to water. They will wilt and drop their blooms and then languish for a week even after you’ve watered them. But they won’t die without a fight. In partial shade, with minimal water, your Impatiens will shine.

8. Lobelia (Lobelia erinus)

Lobelia (Lobelia erinus)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti
Lobelia has been bred to bloom and bloom it does. There are trailing varieties and others that grow as nice neat mounds. The flowers are small, about ½" wide, but profuse. Blue Lobelia is the most commonly offered, but it also comes in white and pinkish-red. Lobelia is great for baskets and along the edge of a bed. Although Lobelia is a full sun annual, it will bloom in shade and actual prefers partial shade during hot, dry summers.

9. Pansy (Viola x wittrockiana cultivars)

Pansy (Viola x wittrockiana cultivars)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti
Pansies are "the" cool weather annual, which makes them perfect for shady gardens. Regular water will keep them blooming longer, but pansies are surprisingly tough flowers and even if they stop blooming for awhile, they’ll perk back up when conditions improve. I like to move my early season container pansies to an out of the way shady spot for the summer, then pot them back up to begin blooming again in the fall.

10. Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)

Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti
Sweet Alyssum is underused in shady areas. The plants stay low growing (3-5") and form dense clusters of flowers in white or purple. I like to under plant other flowers with Alyssum and have often lined an entire walkway with the plants. There is a sweet scent to some varieties, but you really have to get down close to tell. Sweet Alyssum is extremely drought tolerant and blooms longest if you give it a good shearing in mid-summer.
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