Last updated on January 27th, 2022
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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.
Groundcover plants can be perennials, 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 and provide all year round colour in an area that would otherwise be bare and dull.
Ground cover plants are great for use 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 that are all suitable for shaded areas of the garden and will provide good ground cover and help brighten up the shadier areas of your garden.
Although we have selected the plants because they are suitable for shady areas, most will also grow just as well in open sunny areas as well.
Groundcover shrubs for shade
1. Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’
‘Powis Castle is a low growing evergreen shrub with finely divided silvery foliage that grows well in partial shade. It will get to around 50cm tall and has a spread of around 100cm, grown for its foliage it produces yellow flowers on long upright stalks.
2. 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 is followed by purple berries in Autumn. It’s very hardy and only grows to around 60cm (2ft) tall and has sharp prickly leaves.
3. Ceanothus repens
Also known as California Lilac, this creeping shrub is ideal for partial shade and produces bright 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. It has a spread of 250cm making it excellent for covering large open spaces.
4. 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 groundcover plant. If allowed, this plant will keep spreading and produces white flowers followed by red berries. A great, very low growing, ground spreading plant.
5. Cotoneaster Horizontalis
Popular with the birds, the Cotoneaster horizontalis has small green leaves and produces pinkish to white flowers in spring followed by bright red berries in Autumn that 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 and once fully established it will tolerate drought dry conditions.
There are a few colourful varieties of Euonymus, these include ‘Emerald Gaiety’ with its green leaves that have cream edges and the ‘Emerald n Gold’ that has 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.
Other shrubs suitable for using for ground cover in shade include:
- Hebe pinguifolia pagei
- Hypericum calycinum
- Mahonia Apollo
- Pachysandra terminalis
- Sarcococca humilis
- Vinca major
Groundcover perennials for shade
1. Acanthus Mollis
This perennial has large deeply-cut green leaves that make it excellent for use 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 them in beds and borders where the flowers can be enjoyed.
2. Ajuga reptans
Often sold as a rockery plant, this evergreen perennial has burgundy red foliage and will keep spreading if allowed. It only gets to around 10cm tall, however, it does also produce spikes of often beautiful blue flowers that don’t get very tall.
3. 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.
4. 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 amongst daffodils and snowdrops.
5. Dicentra Formosa (Bleeding Heart)
Often called ‘Bleeding Heart’, this attractive spreading rhizomatous perennial is very hardy and will grow well in partial shade. They are famous for their pink and white nodding flowers that appear from around early spring to early summer, which provides a fantastic show of colour.
6. 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.
7. Geranium wallichianum
This ground spreading perennial has large lobed leaves and blue saucer-shaped 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 more often than not they are purple. A beautiful plant that will 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, for example, the Hosta.
Hosta are very popular and are one of the best plants for shade. Much prized for their foliage colours and flowers that 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 something that is necessary.
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 what plants are suitable for your area and it’s important to properly prepare the area before planting anything.
First, clear all weeds, especially 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 weedkillers kill the foliage and roots preventing them from growing again. It is important that you only spray weeds in the spring and summer when the weeds are actively growing. If you spray weeds when they not actively growing they 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
Climbing plants for shade – Read