By Erin Marissa Russell
It can be hard to find plants you love for shady areas since so many plants are sun-loving. But if you’re looking for groundcovers that will thrive in the shade, this list of 15 groundcovers for shady areas is for you. We’ve got options for just about any soil type that will thrive in partial shade or full shade, so you’re sure to find a few that will work in your shade garden.
Zones: 5 through 9
Allegheny spurge spreads underground via rhizomes, so before you know it, the plants will form a carpet of turquoise leaves. In early spring before the plant puts out new growth, aromatic flower spikes will open. The flowers are very small and range in color on a spectrum from pale white-green to white.
Allegheny spurge will grow in partial shade to full or heavy shade, but it really flourishes in the sun-dappled spots underneath shade trees. With too much sun, the pretty blue-green leaves may be bleached and battered by the middle of winter. The plants are deciduous in zones 5 through 6 and semi-evergreen to evergreen in zones 7 through 9. Allegheny spurge is happiest in acidic soil that’s moist and rich in organic material, offering plenty of drainage. Mature plants grow six inches to one foot tall, with a spread of one or two feet.
Zones: 5 through 8
Bishop’s hat goes by a few other common names, including barrenwort, fairy wings, and horny goat weed. The delicate little flowers are made up of four petals topped with a center that resembles the face of a daffodil. These flowers come in shades of orange, pink, purple, red, and yellow. The foliage can be arrow-shaped or heart-shaped and is green decorated with red patterns. It is native to North America.
Plant these perennials in partial or full shade. They do well in loamy or sandy soil, as long as it is moist and offers good drainage. The pH can be acidic, neutral, or alkaline. Bishop’s hat grows up to eight to 12 inches tall, with a spread of one to three feet.
Zones: 2 through 6
Bunchberry also goes by the moniker dwarf cornel. It is actually a dwarf strain of dogwood, as you can tell by the white flowers and glossy green leaves. Both the flowers and the leaves of bunchberry are like the ones dogwood trees produce, only smaller. Bunchberry gets its name from the berry-like drupes that appear in red clusters in August. Fall brings foliage colors of red and purple when the leaves change.
Plant bunchberry in partial shade, where soil is average with medium moisture and provides good drainage. For best results, the soil should also be acidic and rich in organic material. Bunchberry does best in cool or cold climates, in the shade of a tree or shrub, whether it’s full or dappled shade. Mature plants grow three to nine inches tall, with a spread of six inches to one foot. Does not tolerate foot traffic.
Zones: 5 through 8
Creeping mazus is a semi-evergreen perennial that spreads quickly and is low to the ground, so it works as a perfect groundcover. In warm regions, it will even retain the greenery of its foliage year-round. At the end of spring and through summer, tiny little purple flowers open among the green leaves that look a bit like tiny snapdragons.
Creeping mazus really prefers to grow in full sun, but it will grow adequately as a groundcover in partial shade. In shade, it does grow a bit more slowly and produce fewer flowers than when it’s grown in full sun. It will grow well in acidic to alkaline soils with pH levels from 5.5 to 8.0 as long as they are moist and provide adequate drainage. The low-slung plants only grow to two or three inches tall, but they have a spread of six to 12 inches.
Zones: 3 through 9
Dwarf Solomon’s Seal is a very hardy plant that can be grown outdoors year-round. It will die back to the roots in winter and return the next spring. It has small pale green flowers that appear in the spring, and the flowers are accompanied by berries so dark blue they appear black. The berries will continue to beautify the plant after the flowers have faded away. The plants spread slowly to create a mat of foliage in the garden that is green in spring and summer and golden yellow in the fall.
This plant can be grown in partial sun or in shade. Plant in acidic or neutral soil that is moist but offers good drainage. To ensure the plants get the moist soil they crave, you should take steps like mixing in organic material and installing a layer of mulch around the plants. Mature plants grow to about nine inches tall, with a spread of one to one and a half feet.
Dwarf Solomon’s Seal is toxic to both people and animals, so don’t grow where children or pets play unsupervised.
Zones: 3 through 8
English primroses grow in expanding clumps and have clusters of flowers that come in quite a variety of styles and colors. To make sure you get the type of English primrose that you prefer, it’s a good idea to buy them while they are blooming. The flowers come in shades of blue, orange, pink, purple, red, white, and yellow.
Grow English primrose (not to be confused with English ivy) in acidic soil that is moist (but not wet) and that offers good drainage. English primroses do well in partial sun or in shade, with most varieties flourishing in partial shade. The mature plants grow to reach six to 20 inches tall, with a spread of eight to 20 inches.
Zones: 4 through 7
European ginger is a creeping ground cover that does especially well in shady areas. The flowers are not significant, but this plant is grown for the beauty of its foliage. The leaves are a deep green and may be heart shaped or kidney shaped. One of the best characteristics of European ginger is that in regions with mild winters, the leaves will stay on the plant and stay green.
This is an easy plant to grow as long as it is planted in a spot with the right conditions. European ginger thrives in partial to full shade. The soil where it is grown should be rich in organic material, slightly acidic, and stay evenly moist while providing good drainage. European ginger is not susceptible to disease or infestation and will even thrive near a black walnut tree. Once established, the plants grow to around three to six inches tall, with a spread of one to one and a half feet.
Zones: 5 through 9
Green and gold is an especially attractive low growing groundcover that thrives in shady conditions. From the middle of spring all the way through fall, the deep green foliage is accompanied by small golden yellow flowers. In most regions, this is a perennial plant, although if your winters are mild, you may see goldenstar stay green all year long.
Grow green and gold in soil with good drainage that is rich in organic material. If your soil is poor, add compost or manure before putting in green and gold for best results. Green and gold thrives in places where the soil is neutral to acidic, with a pH level of 6.8 or lower. These plants do best in partial to full shade, but they are versatile enough to grow in sunnier spots, too. Just make sure that goldenstar is protected from the brunt of direct afternoon sunshine, which can scorch the plants with sunscald. Mature plants are just six to eight inches tall, but they spread well as a groundcover.
Zones: 3 through 9
Hostas also go by the name of plantain lily. These plants are known for the beauty of their foliage, though they do produce pink, purple, or white flowers that bloom at the top of stems that grow high atop the rest of the plant. The leaves are teardrop-shaped, deep green, and glossy. Some varieties are marked or mottled with variegated colors in yellow, cream, white, or pale green.
Although hostas are shade-loving plants, they do need a bit of sun to thrive. You can plant them in shade or partial shade as long as they will get a little sun. However, keep hostas out of full sun. The more yellow coloring a hosta has, the more sun it can tolerate. When it comes to soil, loamy is best, though hostas are adaptable to types other than clay as long as they offer enough drainage. Ideally, soil should be acidic and rich in organic material. Mature plants grow from six inches to four feet tall, with a spread of 10 inches to five feet.
Hostas are toxic to animals, so do not grow where pets play unsupervised. Hostas are NOT deer resistant and are They are not evergreen, so they will die back in the winter and then grow back again the following spring.
Zones: 4 through 9
Periwinkle is a creeping plant with pretty broadleaf foliage. Most periwinkle plants bloom in blue in the spring, but there are blossoms of lavender, purple, and white as well. Periwinkle is a quick spreader that roots to the ground from the joints of its creeping stems. If you’re looking for a flowering ground cover, this may be the one for you.
Periwinkle is a shade-loving plant, but you can grow it in either partial sun, partial shade, or full shade. Bright direct sunlight can scorch its leaves, but it will grow happily in deep shade. It is a good choice for controlling soil erosion on shady or partly-shady slopes. These plants are not particular about the type of soil they grow in and will thrive in loam, sand, or clay that is acidic, neutral, or alkaline. The only real requirement of the soil is that it provides plenty of drainage. Periwinkles is an evergreen ground cover that grows between three and six inches tall, and the vines trail up to 18 inches.
Zones: 4 through 9
Sweet woodruff is beautiful for the delicate white star-shaped flowers that open in spring, but the lance-shaped leaves are also fragrant. It is a low-maintenance groundcover that loves shady areas. Sweet woodruff also goes by the names wild baby’s breath, bedstraw, and sweet-scented bedstraw.
Sweet woodruff is a prolific grower that can be aggressive under the right conditions. The plant thrives in average soil, moderately moist to wet, with good drainage. It can be controlled by occasional mowing with a high blade height. Sweet woodruff should be grown in partial or full shade. The plants grow to between six inches and one foot tall, with a nine-inch to 18-inch spread.
Zones: 5 through 7
Vancouveria also goes by the names American barrenwort and inside-out flower. Foliage varies in color from pale green to blue-green. The flowers, which open in May and bloom through July, are drooping white blossoms clustered in groups of 10 to 30 atop the rising stems.
If you situate your starter plants one foot apart, they will slowly grow into a groundcover similar to epimedium. Grow Vancouveria in partial shade to full shade. Ideally, soil for Vancouveria should be rich in organic material, acidic, evenly moist, and should offer good drainage. The plants are sensitive to heat and dry weather, so they perform best in cool, moist, shady areas.
Zones: 3 through 8
With more than 500 species of violas to choose from, there are all different kinds of blossoms, so you’re sure to find one you like. Violas are also called johnny jump-ups, pansies, sweet violets, or violets, depending on the variety. The blooms resemble cheerful little faces in blue, purple, white, and yellow, which appear in early spring. Violas will die back when hotter weather comes along, so be sure to plant them along with some groundcovers that can handle the heat.
Plant violas in full or partial shade. They do best in a moist soil that has plenty of humus, such as potting soil or garden soil heavily amended with compost. You can also add peat moss to garden soil to give it the acidity violas need to thrive. The mounding plants grow to between four and 10 inches tall, with the same spread.
Zones: 3 through 7
Wild ginger is grown for its deep green kidney-shaped foliage, because the flowers are hidden underneath the lower leaves. The foliage is similar in its shape and in its mounding growth to violets, though the plants are not related.
The best way to get wild ginger plants isn’t from seeds but from underground rhizomes from forest colonies of wild ginger. When plants start to put out new growth at the beginning of springtime is a good time to dig for your rhizomes. Wild ginger flourishes in full shade or partial shade. The best soils are slightly acidic (with a pH level between 5.0 and 6.0) and moist as well as rich in humus. Mature plants grow to around six inches tall, with a spread of one to two feet.
Zones: 5 through 9
Turn a partially shady spot in your garden into a strawberry patch with these cute little plants. Leaves are toothed with a ridged, pleated pattern, and are dotted with small white flowers in the summer. The flowers give way to the tiny wild strawberries, which smell and taste delicious. The plants are known as wild strawberry or wood strawberry most commonly, but they are also called Alpine strawberry, Carpathian strawberry, and European strawberry.
You can grow woodland strawberries in full sun to partial shade. They will grow in full shade as well, but you won’t see as much fruit from the plants as you would if they get a little sun. These strawberries do best in moist, rich soil that offers good drainage. Wild strawberries are versatile when it comes to soil types, but they will really flourish in soil that is alkaline. Mature plants grow to between three and nine inches tall, with a spread of nine inches to a foot.
Now you’ve read about all of our favorite groundcovers for shady areas. Which are your favorites on this list? Or do you have suggestions we didn’t include here? Leave us a comment with your experiences.