Help! What will grow here?

West Plains, MO(Zone 6b)

Hello! We have a rock patio that I would *love* to plant some plants around it. Problem is, we are in the Ozark mountains and have a rocky, sloped, clay yard to deal with. It is especially rocky in this part of the yard - I would pick up all the rocks I could before planting, of course. But is there anything that will grow in dry rocky shade? This photo was taken last April 4th, when no trees had leafed out (wow! this april, the trees are already fully leafed out!); so normally there is quite a bit of dappled shade. In the front of it, where some steps are, it is in full sun most of the day.

Thumbnail by ericabelle
Durhamville, NY(Zone 5b)

Moss if it is damp.

Hobart, IN

Hmmm - raised beds with some native rock retaining good soil would give you lots more options.

West Plains, MO(Zone 6b)

yes I'm definitely not against raised beds - we have a bed behind the patio that is all rock, too. That is probably what we will need to do. It is very dry around the patio. Wild strawberries seem to like growing on one side of it though - don't they like moisture?

Williamstown, NJ(Zone 6b)

I love the patio.
Have you thought about using plants that do well in dry areas and rock gardens like heather, creeping phlox..etc.

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

The sedum family would love being planted there.

West Plains, MO(Zone 6b)

Oh yes rock garden plants would look great there. And it is sunny on two edges of the patio. What about dry shade? Are there any drought tolerant ferns? Are hellebores drought tolerant? I've also heard that epimedium is drought tolerant, but how tough are all these plants for dry shade? Once they get established could any of these be care free?

Hobart, IN

Epimediums can handle some dry shade once they're established. They'd need to be watered the first year or so until they settle in. Since their foliage hangs on through the winter, you might want to cut it back before the flower stems start emerging in early spring (and so you can see the flowers) but beyond that, they're pretty care-free.

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Lamiastrum is a great ground over for dry shade. Variegated green/white
foliage and cheery yellow flowers in the spring. I have no experience with clay so don't know if that's a problem, but it is tough.


Perham, MN(Zone 3b)

Vinca minor would probably do OK too. Ditto on the lamiastrums, but be *very careful* about which you get; some are extremely invasive! Ask specifically for lamiastrum 'Herman's Pride,' and accept nothing else. There are some new Jacob's Ladder (polemonium) that you could look at. Wild ginger (asarum canadensis) might work, and has very interesting leaves. Bergenia would be another good candidate. Rat-stripper has smaller leaves that can be a nice contrast, just like the creeping phlox someone mentioned. Here's a link for rat stripper info: It says "mostly found on calcareous soils and rocky locations", ha ha! Sounds perfect!

Can you break the soil up at all, or amend it in any way? I think anything you can do to make the ground more hospitable would pay off in spades, whereas anything you plant in a really hard and rocky area will always struggle, and even if it's tolerant enough to survive, you won't find its appearance rewarding.

If you're open to doing something with raised beds, you don't have to restrict yourself to drought-tolerant, do you? If you use good quality top soil and amend with compost, you should be able to plant a huge variety of things, as long as you're willing to bring the hose over there once in a while, if it doesn't rain. Hostas are actually pretty drought-tolerant, in general, for the shadier part of this area, and you can get them in almost any size you like. I'm partial to the substantial-leaf monsters myself (especially because slugs almost never bother them), but the options are endless. My hostas have shown zero damage at times when nearby astilbe have gotten a little crispy. With amended soil in a raised bed, you could enjoy a huge variety of heucheras, pulmonaria, primroses, etc.

I envy you your very interesting possibilities with this great stone patio! It's a wonderful structure. I always think every "weakness" in a garden area (yours being the soil and slope issues) is an opportunity for creative thinking.

Hobart, IN

'Herman's Pride' as well as the smaller varieties can be very invasive if it's not monitored. Wild ginger gets seeded around and can be very tough to remove.

Perham, MN(Zone 3b)

I have not had any greater problems with Herman's Pride or ginger getting out of hand than with any other perennials that make viable seeds; and Herman's Pride is certainly *far* less dangerous to your environment than the fast-growing, vining forms of lamiastrum. My solution to all of those self-seeding problems is, if possible, deadheading (as with daisies, for instance, some cultivars of which are famous for being wildly invasive and producing vast quantities of viable seed, which can grow nearly anywhere); or cultivation/mulching (as with Herman's Pride). Certainly in a small area such as that in the photo, the use of "Preen" or similar pre-emergent herbicides is a possibility, if it's not against one's gardening philosophy. These chemicals don't always eliminate every seedling - much depends on timing of the application and post-application circumstances - but at the very least pre-emergents can reduce the amount of time the gardener spends dealing with tiny seedlings. Ginger has tough roots - true - but in tough conditions, that may be considered a virtue. (One curious bit of trivia about as arum canadensis is that the seeds must be spread by ants; they don't just blow around. Cool. Unlike, say, forget-me-nots, which can go everywhere in a hurry.) Those roots are also pretty near the surface, so if a patch needs to be rogued out, it can be done, and can be done thoroughly. Unlike lily-of-the-valley, which you can *never* get all of, once established, no matter what you do. I'm so regretting ever planting it anywhere except in the woods.

Since we're talking about a potentially challenging area, it would seem to me the best idea to turn to plants that can "take it."

I forgot, above, to mention daylilies, which might work pretty well in the sunnier part, if you want the most flowers, and many of which will still do OK in half-day sun.

West Plains, MO(Zone 6b)

Great advice! Yeah, I'm definitely going to start working on the "de-rocking" process of preparing to biuld some raised beds (WITH rocks - ironic, haha!) The plants would not have to be too drought tolerant - that area gets a few swipes of the sprinkler system each day. It is in the very back of the yard, so it doesn't get much. The area may actually hold more water than I think - we have always had this mystery in that part of the yard: it looks very dry, but we have always had a some mosquitos and gnats in that area. So there is moisture somewhere - if I can just locate it and harness it for good and not for evil! =)
Joanic: Thanks for all the great suggestions - you're right, if it is a completely dry site, nothing is going to look good year round. I will work on clearing and building the rock beds and then take your plant suggestions. I definitely agree with you on the issue of turning weaknesses into interesting opportunities, but it has taken me a few years to appreciate some of our yard's interesting possibilities. The rocky sloped yard is a pain sometimes, since all our beds really need to be raised beds and water erosion and runoff can be problems.

Louisville, KY

It looks like an exciting project...pls keep us posted.

Perham, MN(Zone 3b)

You're removing rock and using it to build the raised beds? Perfect! Now that's what I call turning a weakness into a strength! My husband and I did exactly the same, when dealing with a sandy slope near our foundation. I live in the lake country of Minnesota, in an area where glaciers left a lot of sand with large stones mixed in. When we were trying to dig a garden to plant a hedge, our shovels struck these monsters again and again, and we had to painfully pry them out. But they became a low curved wall, eventually, and it looks right because it's all *from here.* I think your place is going to look great too!

Don't forget to walk around your neighborhood and see what other people are growing that you like. If it works for them, it might work for you too. (Although what I always tend to do is see what my neighbors are growing and avoid it! I'm just always wanting to be different, I guess.) And maybe there's some way you can hide a hose back there.

One other thing about design in general - I think you'll like your results best if, once you've found plants that are tolerant of your conditions, you take into account the nature of their foliage, even more than the color of their flowers. Perennials don't bloom *all* the time, so there's a large part of the year where you'll just be looking at leaves. If all those leaves are medium-sized and medium-green on medium-tall plants ... boring.

BTW - with regard to mosquitoes - they don't have to have puddles. They suck on plant leaves for moisture, and they're fond of shade. It might be the shadiness they're going for.

Narberth, PA(Zone 6b)

I liked your question for my own garden and did some researching online, found this (you'd have to check zone compatibility):


Asarum caudatum *

Asarum hartwegii *

Dicentra formosa *

Epimedium pubigerum *

Epimedium x perralchicum * (good groundcover)

Epimedium x rubrum * (good groundcover)

Oxalis oregana * (good groundcover)

Smilacina racemosa *


Aucuba japonica *

Buxus sempervirens *

Elaeagnus pungens *

Elaeagnus x ebbingei *

Fatsia japonica *

Gaultheria shallon *

Ilex crenata *

Mahonia nervosa *

Myrica californica *

Nandina domestica *

Osmanthus delavayi *

Osmanthus x burkwoodii *

Ruscus aculeatus *

Ruscus hypoglossum *

Sambucus nigra *

Sambucus racemosa *

Sarcococca confusa *

Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis *

Sarcococca ruscifolia *

Vaccinum ovatum *

Vaccinum parvifolium *

X Fatshedera lizei *


Arum italicum *

Cyclamen hederifolium *


Dryopteris erythrosora *

Dryopteris expansa *

Polystichum munitum *

Foxboro, MA

I'm a firm believer that 'you can't kill a hosta'. I'd try a few of those in the dappled sunlight. Dig in some compost or peat when you plant if the clay is really packed.

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