Searching for shade-tolerant plants is difficult. Finding ones that grow well in dry conditions, especially as groundcovers, is even more challenging.
The four drought-resistant perennials described here include three Salvias and a closely related companion, which is also a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae).
All are comfortable in varying levels of shade. Despite not being made for foot traffic, these short plants handle other important groundcover tasks with finesse. When massed, they discourage weeds, conserve water by shading soil, provide color and add a finishing touch to your landscape.
Understanding Types of Shade
You'll find dry shade under trees, along fences, beneath deep roof overhangs and on the north side of buildings. A number of factors may cause dryness, such as:
Dry shade may include partial and full shade settings as well as locations with morning sun and afternoon shade.
Full sun is defined as direct sunlight for six hours or more a day. So a garden location with less than that amount of sun -- such as in the dappled sunlight under a shade tree -- would be considered partial shade.
Partial shade may be constant or shift to full sun at some times of day. Many mint family plants are adaptable from full sun to partial shade whereas others need partial shade throughout the day.
Full shade is the near absence of direct sun all day. Arizona Blue Sage (Salvia arizonica) is an example of one of the rare sages that tolerate full shade.
Mulching with Gravel
Some groundcovers, such as turfgrass or Horehound, form mats. However, the plants listed here are taller than mat-forming species and cover soil with spreading mounds of soft foliage.
Even if a plant is an efficient groundcover, it may need the boost provided by mulching its soil. Gravel is particularly good for drought-resistant plants, which thrive on its minerals and need mulch that doesn't mold. Gravel filters water quickly.
Mulching helps to suppress weeds while groundcover plants are first establishing roots and again each spring as they re-emerge.
Growing Living Mulches
Plant groundcovers sometimes are called "living mulches." Here are four favorite living mulches to team up with gravel to smother weeds and cool soil on hot days.Although drought-resistant, they appreciate some supplemental watering when rainfall is scarce.
Arizona Blue Sage (Salvia arizonica) Zones 6 to 11
Scorching Pink Mountain Sage (Salvia microphylla 'Heatwave Scorcher') Zones 6 to 9
Hidalgo or 7-Up Plant (Stachys albumentosa)
Making Your Plant Search Easier
Our catalog at Flowers by the Sea Online Nursery offers a number of tools to simplify searches whether you need plants for full sun or full shade, drought or dampness.
For example, the gray product filters on the left side of each plant list page give you the ability to sort for plants based on USDA zone, exposure, size, soil type and water needs.
Our product menu, which is in the thick green band atop each page, offers varied search categories, such as Salvias by Culture. Open that category to search for plant queues filled with choices for Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade, Drought Tolerant, Water Loving and Heat Loving.
Speaking of the last category, if you've had a long, hot day in the garden, you might enjoy the cool-as-iced-tea music video at the bottom of this post. The Flute Choir of Washington State (who knew their were so many kinds of flutes?) performs Deep Space Heat Wave by Jonathan Cohen.
Then, if you have any questions that are raising your temperature, please call or email us. We'll help you chill promptly.