Best Ground Covers for Shade
Shade-tolerant ground covers are low maintenance plants that thrive in cool, moist areas. They can grow where lawn grasses often struggle, and are unfazed by difficult terrain. Most are long-lived perennials that become more beautiful over time.
Have a shady area that could use a makeover? Read on to learn about 8 ground covers that will make your yard prettier and your gardening life easier. All are winter hardy in growing zones 4-8.
Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)
Bugleweed forms a dense, 6” high mat that’s very weed resistant. The plants have thick, scalloped leaves and are available in several different colors, including maroon, sage green, chocolate brown and almost black. Some varieties of bugleweed have glossy foliage, while others have a matte surface. Pretty, violet-blue flower spikes appear in late spring. Deer resistant.
Hostas have a more boisterous personality than most ground covers, but don’t let that deter you. They can be a beautiful and carefree solution for almost any shady area. Just take the time to select cultivars that will grow to be a height and width that’s appropriate for the space available.
To create a unified look, use no more than three different cultivars, and cluster them in irregular groupings. For a more varied, garden-like appearance, combine different heights, foliage colors and leaf textures. If you are working with a small area, plant miniature hostas that will grow just 6 to 8” tall.
Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)
Other plants can’t compete with the glossy, emerald green leaves of this vigorous ground cover. In fact, if the growing conditions are to its liking, lily of the valley can overtake other plants and crowd them out. Make sure to plan accordingly and allow plenty of room for it to run.
Lily of the valley prefers moist soil, but once the plants are established, it will tolerate drier conditions. The foliage grows about 6 to 8” tall and the intensely fragrant, late spring flowers are excellent for cutting.
Ferns add a timeless grace to shade gardens, woodlands and natural areas. They are available in many different heights, from the delicate little Japanese Painted Fern (Anthyrium) to the chest-high Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). For lowest maintenance, plant large areas with a single species. Ferns are rarely damaged by deer.
Japanese Spurge (Pachysandra terminalis)
This dependable, evergreen ground cover grows 6-10″ tall. It features neat rosettes of emerald green leaves and creamy white flowers in early spring.
Pachysandra spreads by underground rhizomes. Eventually, it will grow into a tough, weed proof carpet of foliage. In most areas, this plant will tolerate full sun, but the leaves stay more attractive when it’s grown in shade. Deer and rabbit resistant.
Periwinkle (Vinca minor)
Vinca is a creeping ground cover with small, glossy leaves and wiry stems that can root anywhere they touch the ground. This allows it to fill in large areas relatively quickly.
The plants grow best in soil that stays continuously moist. Flowers bloom in late spring in colors that include white, blue or lavender. Some varieties have green and white, variegated foliage. Grows 3-5” tall.
Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum)
Lamium is a ground cover with small leaves that are decorated with white or silvery markings. Its early summer flower clusters can be pink, white or blue. Look for low-growing cultivars that will stay under 8″ tall. If the plants are shorn after flowering, they will maintain a neat, compact habit all season long. Deer resistant.
Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
A finely-textured ground cover with whorls of bright green leaves and fragrant, starry white flowers in late spring. Plant sweet woodruff in moist, rich soil and full to partial shade. The plants have wiry, underground stems and can be difficult to contain, so plan accordingly. Height is 4-6” tall.