Ground cover plants for shade

Ground cover plants for shade

Ground cover plants for shade

Ground cover plants for shade can be useful for planting under trees, under large shrubs as well as next to walls and fences where they may not get much sunlight.

Ground cover plants can be perennial, which means they die back in winter before growing again in spring. There are also some attractive low growing shrubs such as Ceanothus ‘Repanda’, many of which are evergreen which provide all year round colour which would otherwise be a bare and dull area.

Ground cover plants are great for using in low maintenance gardens and often help to reduce and suppress weeds, they are also good for planting on steep sloping banks where access and maintenance may be difficult.

We have compiled a list of plants which are all suitable for shaded areas of the garden and will provide good ground cover and help brighten up that shady area of your garden.

All though we have selected the plants as they are suitable for more shady areas, most will also grow just as well in more open sunny areas as well.

Ground cover shrubs for shade


Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’

‘Powis Catstle’ is a low growing evergreen shrub with finely divided silvery foliage which grows well in partial shade. It will get to around 50cm tall and has a spread of around 100cm, grown for it’s foliage it produces yellow flowers on long upright stalks.

Berberis ‘Darwinii Nana’

There are many varieties of Berberis but ‘Darwinii Nana’ is one of the best for using as ground cover. It produces bright yellow/orange flowers in spring when not much else is flowering, which are followed by purple berries in Autumn. It’s very hardy and only grows to around 60cm (2ft) tall and has sharp prickly leaves.Berberis Darwinii Nana Ground Cover shrub in flower

Ceanothus repens

Also known as California Lilac, this creeping shrub is ideal for partial shade and produces briht blue flowers from spring and through the summer. This evergreen shrub has small ovate dark green leaves and eventually will reach a height of 100cm and has a spread of 250cm making it excellent for covering large open spaces.

Cornus canadensis

Known as ‘creeping dogwood’, this shrub has green ovate leaves that form a mat of foliage and grows to around 10-15cm tall making it a true ground cover plant. If allowed this plant will keep spreading and produces white flowers followed by red berries. A great very low growing ground spreading plant.

Cotoneaster Horizontalis

Popular with the birds, Cotoneaster horizontalis has small green leaves and produces pinkish to white flowers in spring followed by bright red berries in Autumn which the blackbirds love. There is an attractive variegated variety called Cotoneaser ‘Variegata’, which is deciduous and not evergreen like the standard Horizontalis. It grows to around 100cm tall and has a spread of 180cm (6ft), it prefers moist but well-drained soil but will tolerate drought dry conditions once established.


There are a few colorful varieties of Euonymus which include ‘Emerald Gaiety’ with its green leaves with cream edges and ‘Emerald n Gold’ with green leaves with golden yellow edges as pictured below. Excellent for ground cover, it only gets to around 60cm (1ft) tall but has a good spread of 90cm (3ft). It also grows well up walls and makes a good low growing hedging plant.

Euonymus Emerald n Gold ground cover shrub

Other shrubs suitable for using for ground cover in shade include:

  • Gaultheria
  • Hebe pinguifolia pagei
  • Hedera
  • Hypericum calycinum
  • Lonicera
  • Mahonia Apollo
  • Pachysandra terminalis
  • Sarcococca humilis
  • Vinca major

Ground cover perennials for shade


Acanthus Mollis

This perennial has large deeply-cut green leaves which make it excellent for using as a ground cover plant. It produces spikes of striking purple and white flowers that can get tall at around 100cm so be sure to plant in beds and borders where the flowers can be enjoyed.

Acanthus mollis perennial suitable for providing ground cover

Ajuga reptans

Often sold as a rockery plant, this evergreen perennial has burgundy red foliage and will keep spreading if allowed. It only get to around 10cm tall but does also produce spikes of often beautiful blue flowers but they don’t get very tall.

Alchemilla mollis

Commonly known as Lady’s Mantle, this is an excellent choice for those looking for a plant to form a large carpet of foliage. It has large soft, hairy, light green leaves and produces yellow flowers just above the foliage.

Hardy Cyclamen

Hardy Cyclamen are very popular and are at home when planted under trees, hedges and produce striking, often pink, red or white flowers in autumn and early spring. They provide a splash of colour when nothing else is flowering and look fantastic planted with daffodils and snowdrops.

cyclemen perennial for dry shade.

Dicentra Formosa (Bleeding Heart)

Often called ‘Bleeding Heart’, this attractive spreading rhizomatous perennial is very hardy and will grow well in partial shade. It’s famous for there red and white nodding flowers that appear from around early spring to early summer which provide a fantastic show of colour.

Euphorbia amygdaloides purpurea

This shade loving perennial is admired for its deep purple foliage and is excellent for planting in groups in a shady spot where other plants may fail. It also produces yellow flowers in spring.

Geranium wallichianum

This ground spreading perennial has large lobbed leaves and blue saucer shapes flowers. This spreading perennial only gets to around 30cm tall and will continually spread.


Heuchera is a very popular perennial and has an evergreen type nature and rarely dies back so is ideal for planting for ground cover. There are many varieties available in a large array of colours but are often purple. A beautiful plant which will often grow well in partial shade and is even at home in pots. They are also not attacked by slugs and snails which can be a problem with other plants such as Hosta.

Heuchera Melting Fire perennial ground spreading plant


Hosta are very popular and are one of the best plants for shade, much prized for there foliage colours and flowers which are sometimes scented. They only get to around 20cm tall but will spread up to 5ft. They are often attacked by slugs so slug control may be needed.

Other perennials that are suitable for ground cover in shade include:

Lilly of the valley

Pachysandra terminalis

Polypodium vulgare


Tips before planting

Hopefully you will have some ideas of which plants are suitable for your area, its important to properly prepare the area before planting.

First clear all weeds specially perennial weeds, this is best done before planting. If you have a small area to plant you can probably just remove all weeds by hand but if you have a larger area you may find it easier to treat the area with a good systemic weedkiller. These types of weedkiller kills the foliage and roots preventing it from growing again, its important you only spray weeds in spring and summer when the weeds are actively growing. If you spray weeds when they not actively growing, weedkillers are not very effective and your weeds will likely not be killed, a mistake many gardeners make.

Other ‘shade’ related articles that may be useful

Plants to brighten up your shady garden – Read

Plants that thrive in dry shade – Read 

Climbing roses for shade – Read

Climbing plants for shade – Read

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