Bring life to areas that receive partial shade in the garden with groundcover plants that feature variegated leaves, colorful blossoms or both. Even when the ground is riddled with tree roots, you can usually find planting pockets for groundcovers.
To get groundcovers started, dig planting holes twice the size of the plants’ roots, fill partially with compost, add the plant and then backfill with more compost. Water plants thoroughly before and after planting. Add mulch between plants to retain moisture and prevent weeds.
Try these groundcover plants for shade.
Lamium (dead nettle) is an attractive relative of mint that loves partial shade. Selections with delicate flower spikes and variegated leaves make dependable spreading perennials that are perfectly at home between foundation shrubs or tumbling along shady sidewalks. ‘White Nancy’ yields white leaves with green edges and white flowers, while ‘Beacon Silver’ has mostly silver leaves and pink blooms. Another pink bloomer, ‘Shell Pink’ features a silver stripe down the center of each leaf.
Lamium tolerates sun or shade and is perennial in zones 4 through 8. There’s more good news: It’s deer resistant, as well as heat and drought tolerant, once established.
Bugleweed (ajuga) is best known for its spikes of blue flowers in spring. Although it’s not just the flowers that make this a standout choice. ‘Burgundy Glow’ has variegated leaves that change their tint with the seasons, becoming redder in cool weather. ‘Black Scallop’ has very dark glossy leaves.
Bugleweed can become invasive when grown in rich soil in a sunny site, but shade and cold winters slow its growth, making it easier to manage. To prevent reseeding, use a weed trimmer to lop off the bloom spikes soon after the flowers fade, before mature seeds have time to develop. Ajuga is hardy in zones 4 to 8. The blue flowers are appealing to bees and other pollinators.
Dwarf periwinkle (vinca minor) covers the ground with starry purple blossoms in spring. Look for cultivars with variegated leaves because they are less aggressive spreaders than those with glossy green leaves. Dwarf periwinkle is one of the few groundcovers that will grow near evergreen trees and can help stabilize sloping sites.
Look for native perennials like foamflower (tiarella) that will grow into drifts of green leaves etched in bronze, topped by bottle-brush flowers in spring. They will form green carpets when planted in moist areas or near water features. ‘Running Tapestry’ spreads quickly in moist soil, and has green leaves marked with red and white flowers in spring.
Violets, sometimes regarded as weeds in lawns, are a valuable addition to the shade garden. When grown in clumps, they produce flowers for weeks while also serving as host plants for bright orange fritillary butterfly larvae. If you have violets in your landscape, consider moving them to a shady spot and let them grow undisturbed.
More Groundcovers for Shade
- Algerian ivy
- Asiatic jasmine
- Cast iron plant
- Creeping phlox
- Ferns, natives like Autumn and Christmas
- Mondo grass
- Phlox subulata
- Virginia creeper
- Sweet woodruff
Tip: Test more than one type of groundcover, because one species may like your shady spot more than another.
How to Plant Groundcovers
1. Prepare the soil. Groundcovers by nature are undemanding plants, but most plants will appreciate organic compost added to the planting bed. Begin with a soil test to give your plants the best start, and amend the soil according to the test recommendations. Learn more about DIY soil tests.
2. Space plants properly to get the solid mat effect that will suppress weeds and prevent erosion. Low growing plants get spaced 12 inches apart. Slow growers get spaced 18 to 24 inches apart.
3. Keep your new groundcover plantings watered and mulched until they’re established.
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