Tough Plants for Tough Places

Ilona Erwin

Have a challenging area to plant?

What do we do with those problems areas? Well, we might just want to pave them, but what if we need a few green things growing there? Here are some tough plants to try in those problem spots.

Sunny and Dry:

You’ll notice many of these plants originate in prairie environments.

Read about a prairie garden.

Sedums, including Variegated Sedum Spectabile, have succulent leaves. They look good during all seasons and some of them are used as groundcovers. [Variegated Sedum Spectabile]

Achillea, especially A. filipendulina, will give you long lasting golden yellow flowers whose form is a contrast to the daisy flowers.[Yarrows]

Michaelmas Daisy, grows strongly to 4 feet high, covered in bright aster daisies in September. [Symphyotrichum -as they are now called]

Coreopsis, a versatile perennial with golden blossoms. [Cut and Come Again]

Echinops ritro, steel blue orbs of thistle type, these are good perennials for exposed spots. [Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’]


Eryngium flower

Eryngium, Sea Holly comes in gray and steel gray blue with flower bracts of interesting shape. They are very deep rooted. Mix well with the other plants mentioned in this list.[Eryngium]

Gaillardia, bright orange and yellow daisy flowers grow on dunes and in the prairies. Showy.[Blanket flower]

Gypsophila paniculata, deep rooted baby’s breath is delicate in look, and a favorite cut flower. [Gypsophila paniculata]

Nepeta Musinii, catmint produces small spikes of lavender flowers with neat little gray leaves. [Catmint]

Rudbeckia, everyone knows the Black-eyed Susans by now, and for good reason. [Rudbeckia fulgida]

Statice, especially S. latifolia. grows well in difficult situations as long as they have sun. Long lasting heads of flowers which are also useful as cut or dried flowers. Salt tolerant. [Sea lavender]

photo by Lennart

photo of Echinops by Lennart Tange


Many plants which thrive in woods are shade loving, but they also require moisture and lots of organic matter in the soil. If you have low light, but more average conditions try these plants which are often used as ground covers, also.

Hostas, large leaves and beautiful flowers are premium plants for any garden. [Hosta profile]

Ivy will grow in most areas once it has a good start. There are many forms and variations of green to liven up shady corners.[Ivy, -coming soon]

Tradescantia virginiana, the spiderwort, needs average moisture, but bears blue or white flowers in shady spots. [Spiderwort profile and pictures ]

Hemerocallis, daylilies come in a great mob of colors, heights, and types- you have only to chose the ones you prefer.[Daylilies]

Sweet Woodruff, is delicate in looks only, and is fragrant as new mown hay.[Galium odoratum] This plant does require some moisture to thrive, so it isn’t the solution for dry, sunny or dry and shady areas.

Cyclamen hederifolium, loves shade, but needs a bit of organic matter and moisture retention in the soil. [C.hederifolium]

Dry Shade:

Dry shade is the toughest of them all, perhaps paving or a rock mulch will be useful, even if you have areas of these plants. Rocks provide shade at the roots and conserve the moisture under them.

Lamium maculatum, will grow dependably in a dry, shady place once coddled a bit at the first. Plant with a little organic matter and keep moist for the first season. [Lamium ‘Beacon Silver’, ‘White Nancy’]

Cyclamen coum, has the most beautiful heart shaped leaves and little recurved flowers. Grown form a large sized corm. [C. coum]

Vinca minor, with its smooth foliage and blue flowers covers tough spots under trees. Widely used as a groundcover, it also has a variegated form. [Vinca minor]

Festuca ovina glauca, a blue leaved fine grass. Not for the deepest shade, but tolerant of light shade and low moisture. [Grass profile]
Tough Plant for Tough Places Garden Plan

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.