Gardening Groundcovers Shade Gardening

Got Shade? Grow Groundcovers

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
  1. Violet, Labrador (Viola rivinia ‘Purpurea’, syn. V. labradorica) zone 4
  2. Wild ginger, Canada (Asarum canadense) zone 3
  3. Wild ginger, European (Asarum europaeum) zone 5
  4. Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei) zone 5b
  5. Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) zone 2
  6. Woodruff, sweet (Galium odoratum) zone 3
  7. 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.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

1 comment on “Got Shade? Grow Groundcovers

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