Grasses to Plant Where the Sun Don’t Shine

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20171017A Luzula_sylvatica Jerzy Opiola, WC

Greater woodrush (Luzula sylvatica) is an excellent example of a shade-tolerant ornamental grass. It will grow and even flourish in the deepest shade! Source: Jerzy Opiola, Wikimedia Commons

When you think of ornamental grasses, an image of a sunny meadow generally comes to mind and indeed, most grass species are native to prairies, steppes and other grasslands, not forests. But does that mean there are no grasses that will grow in shady spots?

Of course not! Even in the very darkest forests, there are some species of grass—both true grasses (plants in the Poaceae or grass family) and grasslike plants from other families, like the Cyperaceae and the Juncaceae—that do very well indeed, even in dry shade. The vast majority of sedges (Carex spp.), for example, adapt very well to shade.

What follows is a list of grasses that easily adapt to at least moderate shade. Most, in fact, do fine in deep shade. If you grow them among dense tree roots (i.e. dry shade), though, here are a few tips on how to get them started.

Shade Grasses

20171017B Chasmanthium latifolium HC

Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) is a classic shade-tolerant ornamental grass. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

  1. Appalachian Sedge (Carex appalachica) zone 4
  2. Autumn sedge (Carex dipsacea) zone 5
  3. Bambou marginé (Sasa veitchii) zone 6
  4. Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) zone 4
  5. Black sedge (Carex nigra) zone 4
  6. Blue lilyturf (Liriope muscari) zone 6
  7. Blue moor grass (Sesleria caerulea) zone 4
  8. Blue sedge (Carex flacca) zone 5
  9. Blue wood sedge (Carex flaccosperma) zone 5
  10. Blue-green moor grass (Sesleria heufleriana) zone 4
  11. Bluejoint Grass (Calamagrostis canadensis) zone 3
  12. Bottlebrush grass (Hystrix patula) zone 3

    20171017 stauden-stade.de

    The bright yellow leaves of Bowles golden sedge (Carex elata ‘Aurea’) certainly light up a shady corner! Source: stauden-stade.de

  13. Bowles golden sedge (Carex elata ‘Aurea’) zone 5
  14. Bristle-leaf sedge (Carex eburnea) zone 2
  15. Broadleaf sedge (Carex siderosticha) zone 4
  16. Brown sedge (Carex buxbaumii) zone 3
  17. Bur sedge (Carex grayii) zone 2
  18. Bur-reed Sedge (Carex sparganioides) zone 4
  19. Bushgrass (Calamagrostis epigejos) zone 3
  20. Catlin sedge (Carex texensis) zone 5
  21. Chinese pink fairy sedge (Carex scaposa) zone 6b
  22. Common wood sedge (Carex blanda) zone 3
  23. Creek sedge (Carex amphibola) zone 3
  24. Creeping lilyturf (Liriope spicata) zone 6
  25. Creeping sedge (Carex laxiculmis) zone 4
  26. Curly wood sedge (Carex rosea) zone 4
  27. Davall’s sedge (Carex davalliana) zone 4
  28. Drooping sedge (Carex pendula) zone 5
  29. Dwarf lilyturf (Ophiopogon japonicus) zone 6
  30. Dwarf whitestripe bamboo (Pleioblastus fortunei) zone 5
  31. Eastern star sedge (Carex radiata) zone 4
  32. Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora) zone 3

    20171017F Deschampsia cespitosa Matt Lavin, Flickr

    Tufted hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) is a widely adapted grass that does fine in both sun and shade. Source: Matt Lavin, Flickr

  33. Field sedge (Carex praegracilis) zone 3
  34. Fox sedge (Carex vulpinoidea) zone 3
  35. Foxtail grass (Alopecurus pratensis) zone 4
  36. Fringed sedge (Carex crinita) zone 3
  37. Golden wood millet (Millium effusum ‘Aureum’) zone 5
  38. Goldfruit sedge (Carex aureolensis) zone 5
  39. Greater woodrush (Luzula sylvatica) zone 4
  40. Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra) zone 4
  41. Japanese sedge (Carex morrowii) zone 5
  42. Korean reed grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha, syn. C. arundinacea) zone 4
  43. Lawn Sedge (Carex leavenworthii) zone 6
  44. Long beaked sedge (Carex sprengelii) zone 3
  45. Mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus) zone 6
  46. Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) zone 4
  47. Oak sedge (Carex albicans) zone 4
  48. Oriental fountain grass (Pennisetum orientalis) zone 6
  49. Oshima sedge (Carex oshimensis) zone 5
  50. Palm sedge (Carex muskingumensis) zone 2

    20171017E Carex pennsylvanica, Susan Harris, Flickr

    Properly spaced, Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) makes an excellent lawn grass for shade. Source: usan Harris, Flickr

  51. Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) zone 3
  52. Pheasant tail grass (Anemanthele lessoniana, syn. Stipa arundinacea) zone 8
  53. Plains oval sedge (Carex brevior) zone 3
  54. Prairie sedge (Carex bicknellii) zone 3
  55. Pretty sedge (Carex woodii) zone 4
  56. Purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea) zone 3
  57. Pygmy bamboo (Pleioblastus pygmaeus) zone 5

    20171017C Carex plantaginea Jay Sturner, Flickr

    Seersucker sedge (Carex plantaginea). Source: Jay Sturner, Flickr

  58. Seersucker sedge, plantainleaf sedge (Carex plantaginea) zone 4
  59. Silver sedge (Carex platyphylla) zone 4
  60. Snowy woodrush (Luzula nivea) zone 3
  61. Spear grass (Achnatherum calamagrostis, syn. Stipa calamagrostis) zone 5
  62. Spring sedge, vernal sedge (Carex caryophyllea) zone 5
  63. Striped tuber oat grass (Arrhenatherum elatius bulbosum ‘Variegatum’) zone 4
  64. Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus) zone 4
  65. Tall moor grass (Molinia arundincaea) zone 4
  66. Tufted hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) zone 2
  67. Veitch’s bamboo (Sasa veitchii) zone 6
  68. Wavy hair grass (Deschampsia flexuosa) zone 420171017A Luzula_sylvatica Jerzy Opiola, WC

Groundcovers for Sun

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20170426A.jpg

Variety of thymes creating a multicolored groundcover.

Looking for a groundcover for a sunny spot? Maybe because the lawn isn’t holding up well or because it’s on a slope or is otherwise hard to mow… or simply because you really don’t want to mow anymore? Here is a list of plants you might find suitable:

  1. ‘Angelina’ Sedum (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’), zone 3, FTR: none
  2. Barren strawberry (Waldsteinia spp.), zone 4, FTR: poor
  3. Barrenwort (Epimedium x rubrum), zone 3, FTR: none
  4. Basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxatilis, syn. Alyssum saxtile), zone 3, FTR: none
  5. Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), zone 2, FTR: moderate20170426WEN.jpg
  6. Bearberry cotoneaster (Cotoneaster dammeri), zone 5b, FTR: none
  7. Bergenia (Bergenia crassifolia, syn. B. cordifolia), zone 2, FTR: none
  8. Bigroot geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum), zone 3, FTR: none
  9. Bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus ‘Pleniflorus’, syn. ‘Plenus’, zone 3, FTR: good
  10. Bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria ‘Variegatum’), zone 3, FTR: poor
  11. Black mondo grass (Ophiopogon plansicapus ‘Nigrescens’), zone 7, FTR: none

    20170426G J Brew, Flickr.jpg

    Bleeding-heart (Dicentra formosa). Photo: J Brew, Flickr

  12. Bleeding-heart (Dicentra formosa and D. eximia), zone 3, FTR: none
  13. Brass buttons (Leptinella squalida ‘Platt’s Black’), zone 4, FTR: good
  14. Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), zone 3, FTR: moderate
  15. Cambridge geranium (Geranium x cantabrigiense), zone 3, FTR: none
  16. Caucasian Sedum (Sedum spurium), zone 3, FTR: none
  17. Creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis), zone 2, FTR: poor
  18. Creeping speedwell (Veronica repens), zone 2, FTR: moderate
  19. Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum), zone 3, FTR: moderate
  20. Crested iris (Iris cristata), zone 3, FTR: none
  21. Crownvetch (Coronilla varia), zone 4, FTR: none
  22. Cutleaf stephanandra (Stephanandra incisa ‘Crispa’), zone 3b, FTR: none
  23. Dwarf knotweed (Persicaria affinis, syn. Polygonum affine), zone 3, FTR: moderate

    20170426D Wouter Hagens, WC.jpg

    Faassen’s catnip (Nepeta faassenii). Photo: Wouter Hagens, Wikimedia Commons

  24. Faassen’s catnip (Nepeta x faassenii), zone 3, FTR: none
  25. Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), zone 3, FTR: none
  26. Goldenstar (Chrysogonum virginianum), zone 4, FTR: poor
  27. Green carpet (Herniaria glabra), zone 4, FTR: good
  28. Hairy greenweed (Genista pilosa), zone 5, FTR: poor
  29. Heuchera (Heuchera cvs), zone 3, FTR: none
  30. Hosta (Hosta cvs), zone 3, FTR: none
  31. Houseleek (Sempervivum spp.), zone 3, FTR: none
  32. Iceplant (Delosperma cooperi), zone 5b, FTR: poor
  33. Ivy (Hedera helix and others), zone varies according to species and cultivar: 4-9, FTR: poor

    20170426E Maja Dumat, WC.jpg

    Kamchatka sedum (Sedum kamtschaticum ‘Weihenstephaner Gold’). Photo Maja Dumas, Wikimedia Commons

  34. Kamchatka sedum (Sedum kamtschaticum), zone 3, FTR: none
  35. Labrador violet (Viola riviniana ‘Purpurea’, syn. V. labradorica), zone 4, FTR: none
  36. Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), zone 3, FTR: none
  37. Lamb’s-ears (Stachys byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’), zone 3, FTR: none
  38. Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), zone 3, FTR: none
  39. Liriope (Liriope muscari), zone 6 ou 7, FTR: none

    20170425C European Environment Agency.jpg

    Golden moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’). Photo: European Environment Agency

  40. Moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia), zone 3, FTR: moderate
  41. Moss phlox (Phlox subulata), zone 2, FTR: none
  42. New Zealand burr (Acaena microphylla), zone 4b, FTR: poor
  43. Oregano (Origanum vulgare), zone 4, FTR: none
  44. Ornamental strawberry (Fragaria x rosea), zone 3, FTR: moderate
  45. Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis), zone 4, FTR: none
  46. Perennial dusty miller (Artemisia stelleriana ‘Boughton Silver’, syn. ‘Silver Brocade’), zone 3, FTR: none
  47. Periwinkle (Vinca minor), zone 2b, FTR: moderate
  48. Rozanne™ geranium (Geranium ‘Gerwat’), zone 4, FTR: none
  49. Scotch moss (Sagina subulata glabrata ‘Aurea’), zone 3, FTR: moderate
  50. Self-heal (Prunella grandiflora), zone 4, FTR: none
  51. Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis), zone 3, FTR: none

    20170426B Crusier, WC.jpg

    Siberian cypress (Microbiota decussata) forms a dense, weed-resistant groundcover. Photo: Crusier, Wikimedia Commons

  52. Siberian cypress (Microbiota decussata), zone 3, FTR: none
  53. Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum), zone 2, FTR: poor
  54. Spotted dead-nettle (Lamium maculatum), zone 2, FTR: none
  55. St. John’s wort (Hypericum calycinum), zone 6, FTR: none
  56. Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), zone 3, FTR: none
  57. Sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina), zone 2, FTR: none
  58. White clover (Trifolium repens), zone 3, FTR: moderate
  59. Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei), zone 5b, FTR: moderate

    20170426H Ghislain118 (AD), www.fleurs-des-montagnes.net

    Woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) Ghislain118 (AD), http://www.fleurs-des-montagnes.net

  60. Woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus), zone 3, FTR: moderate
  61. Yellow archangel (Lamium galeobdolon), zone 2, FTR: none

Keeping Them Under Control

Most groundcover plants are a bit to very invasive… and that’s normal, considering that we choose groundcovers specifically for their ability to cover ground. It does, however, mean that you should always plan on how you eventually intend to slow them down when they’ve filled up their allotted space and start looking for new territory. You could, for example, contain them with a walkway, paving stones, a short wall, logs, lawn edging or deep shade.

Groundcovers for Shade

If you are looking for suggestions of shade-tolerant groundcovers, see the article Groundcovers for Shade.20170426A