Gardening Groundcovers Shade Gardening

Got Shade? Grow Groundcovers

Pachysandra terminalis

By Larry Hodgson

It’s hard to create an English-style flower border in the shade. There just aren’t that many shade plants that bloom heavily enough and for long enough in spots the sun barely reaches. That’s one reason so many gardeners opt for a simple groundcover: a carpet of foliage that at least gives an attractive effect and hides the bare soil and also fallen leaves and branches.

Here are some groundcovers that adapt well to shady locations.

The term “zone” in the chart below refers to the coldest hardiness zone where the plant grows well.

  1. Archangel, yellow (Lamium galeobdolon) zone 3
  2. Astilbe (Astilbe spp.) zone 4
  3. Baneberry, red (Actaea rubra) zone 2
  4. Baneberry, white (Actaea pachypoda) zone 2
  5. Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) zone 2
  6. Bellwort (Ulvularia spp.) zone 4
  7. Bergenia (Bergenia spp.) zone 3
  1. Bleeding heart, Pacific (Dicentra formosa) zone 3
  2. Bleeding heart, wild (Dicentra eximia) zone 3
  3. Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata) zone 4
  4. Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) zone 3
  5. Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) zone 2
  6. Chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’) zone 4
  7. Deadnettle, spotted (Lamium maculatum) zone 2
  8. Epimedium (Epimedium spp.) zone 3
  9. Fern, Christmas (Polystichum acrostichoides) zone 3
  10. Fern, female (Althyrium filix-femina) zone 4
  11. Fern, Japanese painted (Athyrium niponicum pictum) zone 4
  12. Fern, northern maidenhair (Adiantum pedatum) zone 3
  1. Fern, Ostrich (Matteucia struthiopteris) zone 3
  2. Fern, sensitive (Onoclea sensibilis) zone 3
  3. Foamflower (Tiarella spp.) zone 3
  4. Geranium Rozanne™ (Geranium ‘Gerwat’) zone 3
  5. Geranium, big root (Geranium macrorrhizum) zone 3
  6. Geranium, bloody (Geranium sanguineum) zone 3
  7. Geranium, Cambridge (Geranium cantabrigiense) zone 3
  8. Grass, Japanese forest (Hakonechloa macra) zone 5
  9. Hellebore (Helleborus spp.) zone 5
  10. Heuchera (Heuchera spp.) zone 3
  11. Heucherella (X Heucherella spp.) zone 3
  12. Hosta (Hosta spp.)
  13. Ivy, hardy English (Hedera helix ‘Baltica’, ‘Thorndale’, Wilson’, etc.) zone 5
  14. Ivy, Russian (Hedera pastuchovii) zone 4
  15. Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.) zone 3
  1. Meadowsweet (Filipendula spp.) zone 3
  2. Moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia) zone 3
  3. Moss (various species) zones 1 to 10, depending on the species
  4. Pachysandra, Japanese (Pachysandra terminalis) zone 4
  5. Partridge berry (Mitchella repens) zone 2
  6. Periwinkle, lesser (Vinca minor) zone 4
  7. Phlox, wood (Phlox divaricata) zone 3
  8. Sedge, broadleaf (Carex siderosticha ‘Variegata’) zone 4b
  9. Sedge, Pennsylvania (Carex pensylvanica) zone 3
  10. Self-heal (Prunella grandiflora) zone 3
  11. Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum spp.) zone 3
  12. Solomon’s seal, false (Smilacina spp., now Maianthemum spp.) zone 3
  13. Strawberry (Fragaria spp.) zone 2
  14. Strawberry, barren (Waldsteinia spp.) zone 4

Violet, Labrador (Viola rivinia ‘Purpurea’, syn. V. labradorica) zone 4

Wild ginger, Canada (Asarum canadense) zone 3

Wild ginger, European (Asarum europaeum) zone 5

Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei) zone 5b

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) zone 2

Woodruff, sweet (Galium odoratum) zone 3

Woodrush (Luzula sylvatica) zone 4

Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria) and lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) also make good groundcovers for shade, but I can’t recommend them: they’re far too invasive; indeed, almost impossible to control.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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