Made in the Shade Groundcovers

Virginia Bluebells
Bare, shady spots in your garden can be beautiful when carpeted with a colorful mix of perennials that thrive in the shadows. Here's a collection of some of our favorite groundcovers that don't mind living on the dark side.


As hardy as it is colorful, Ajuga reptans is a super reliable groundcover for shady or partially shady locations. Growing just 6 inches tall, ajuga is a great choice to edge a garden path or walkway. Ajuga spreads slowly so it won't grow out of control and become a management nightmare. Plus, this ground-hugging beauty offers a variety of foliage colors including green, burgundy, or variegated. All varieties develop short spikes of gorgeous blue, white, or pink flowers in the spring. Zones 3-9

Japanese Forest Grass

The graceful, bamboo-like stems of Japanese forest grass, Hakonechloa macra, will add a touch of elegance to any shady location. Japanese forest grass is a slow grower that will eventually reach 18 inches in height and width. It’s especially effective planted along a wall or raised bed where the plant’s slender foliage can cascade over the edge. Japanese forest grass prefers slightly moist, well-drained soil and is deer resistant. Zones 4-9


The pretty straplike leaves and elegant, lavender flower spikes of liriope are a winning combination for shady or partially sunny locations. Growing 12 to 18 inches tall, liriope makes an excellent edging plant along a walkway or drive. These tough evergreen perennials will tolerate a wide range of soil conditions and are deer and rabbit resistant. Some varieties also bear variegated foliage. Zones 5-10


Add a double dose of color to your shade garden with heuchera, occasionally called coralbells. Not only do these amazing perennials come in a wide variety of leaf colors (purple, orange, green, silver, cherry, gold, and chartreuse), they also sport graceful spikes of red, pink, purple, or white flowers every summer. Heuchera also makes a terrific groundcover when planted en masse in a shady or partially shady location. Heuchera grows 1 to 2 feet tall in rich, slightly moist soil. Zones 4-9


Ideal for dry, shady locations, Epimedium grandiflorum, also called barrenwort, sports colorful mottled foliage and crownlike blooms of yellow, pink, white, or rose. Once established, epimedium will spread slowly, forming dense clumps that are deer and rabbit resistant. Although epimedium is deciduous, it will retain its foliage in warmer regions of its range. Epimedium grows 12 to 18 inches tall. Zones 5-8

Bleeding Heart

It’s hard to imagine any shade garden without bleeding heart. These easy-care perennials are prized for their finely cut blue-green leaves and heart-shape pink or white blooms. Bleeding heart, Lamprocapnos spectabilis, comes in several different forms, some of which go dormant after flowering while others bloom on and off all summer long. Both types make a great groundcover, especially when interplanted with hosta and heuchera. Bleeding heart grows 1 to 4 feet tall, depending on variety, and prefers a rich, slightly moist soil. Zones 3-9


The silvery-white leaves with green margins of lamium keep this easy-care groundcover colorful all summer long. Growing 6 to 9 inches tall, lamium, occasionally called spotted deadnettle, also produces short spikes of white, pink, or bluish-purple flowers in late spring and early summer. There are lamium varieties that offer solid green, gold, or variegated leaves. Lamium makes a superb groundcover in shady or partially shady locations and is relatively drought and deer resistant. Zones 3-8


The jewellike blue, white, or purple blooms of periwinkle, Vinca minor, are a welcome treat when they appear atop its rich, dark green leaves. Blooming in late spring and early summer, periwinkle thrives in shade or partial sun and will quickly cover open areas in your landscape. Periwinkle grows 4 to 6 inches tall and is deer and rabbit resistant. In warmer parts of its range, periwinkle retains its foliage through the winter. Zones 4-8


If you’re looking for a gorgeous, fast-growing groundcover that thrives in shade, you can’t go wrong with hostas. These extra easy-to-grow perennials come in a wide variety of shapes and colors and form large, thick clumps that will keep weeds at bay. In addition to the beautiful foliage, hostas also develop lovely spikes of white or lavender flowers in the summer. Use dwarf varieties to edge a path, and mix medium and tall hostas with other shade-dwelling perennials. Hostas prefer rich, slightly moist soil. Zones 3-8

English Ivy

Carpet barren areas in your shade garden with English ivy. Once established, this vigorous creeping vine will create a thick layer of handsome, dark green foliage. English ivy, Hedera helix, will leap up and over walls, fences, or garden statuary. English ivy doesn’t mind poor soil but does best in rich, well-drained soil. The plants are drought resistant and attract hungry songbirds that find insects in the dense growth. English ivy grows 6 to 9 inches tall, but can reach a height of 80 feet if allowed to scale trees or houses. It can also be invasive, so do some research before planting. Zones 4-9

Wild Ginger

An American native, wild ginger, Asarum canadense, grows just 6 inches tall, but this little gem can have a big impact in your shade garden where it will slowly form thick clumps four to six feet in diameter. Wild ginger is not related to culinary ginger, although in Colonial times the roots of this plant were used as a ginger substitute. Wild ginger has pretty, dark green, heart-shaped leaves with cup-shape, brownish-yellow spring flowers that are often hidden beneath the foliage. It prefers moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Zones 4-6

Sweet Woodruff

Heavy shade is no match for sweet woodruff, Galium odoratum. This fast-growing perennial groundcover thrives in partial to full shade and spreads quickly by underground roots and self seeding. Sweet woodruff has lovely light green, whorled foliage that’s topped with starry white flower clusters in April and May. It grows 8 to 12 inches tall, and the aromatic foliage is often used in sachets, potpourris, or in the making of May wine. Once established, sweet woodruff can become a bit invasive but is easily controlled by mowing. Zones 4-8


Probably the best groundcover for shady, dry locations, pachysandra will quickly carpet an area with color even when rainfall is scarce. A reliable perennial, Pachysandra terminalis has shiny, evergreen foliage that keeps the landscape colorful in the dead of winter. When spring arrives, pachysandra is sprinkled with clusters of pleasing small white flowers. A green and white variegated form is also available. Because of its drought resistance, pachysandra is particularly useful planted under tall, shallow-rooted trees such as maples. Zones 5-9

Mondo Grass

Forming tight mounds of dark green foliage, mondo grass, Ophiopogon japonicus, makes a lovely evergreen groundcover for rock gardens, slopes, or along a walkway. Mondo grass prefers partial shade where it receives a few hours of sunshine a day. The plants grow 12 to 15 inches tall and wide and sport spikes of lilac flowers in mid-summer. Zones 6-11


Brighten a dreary corner of your landscape with astilbe. This spectacular perennial develops feathery spikes of pink, white, red, salmon, or lavender flowers in early summer and quickly forms thick clumps that prevent weed seeds from germinating. Astilbe prefers partial to full shade and rich, slightly moist soil. Most varieties grow 1 to 3 feet tall, but there are also dwarf types that rarely grow over 10 inches high. Zones 3-8


For instant impact in your shade garden, plant violas. These cheerful bloomers make a wonderful temporary cover, popping into bloom in the early spring. Although violas are generally annual or biennial in nature, many varieties spread by underground runners or by self-sowing, so you can enjoy new plants every year. Violas come in a wide variety of colors and bicolors and grow 6 to 8 inches tall. Violas may die back once the weather heats up in mid-summer, so be sure to interplant them with other groundcovers that are more drought tolerant. Zones 4-8

Ostrich Fern

Deep shade is no match for ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris. This vigorous fern thrives in the dark corners of your garden and will quickly form a thick mat of foliage that no weed can penetrate. Ostrich fern grows 3 to 6 feet tall. The plants prefer slightly moist soil and cool temperatures and may die back in midsummer if not protected from the sun. Use ostrich fern in woodland gardens mixed with hosta and astilbe. The plants are also rabbit resistant. Zones 3-7

Virginia Bluebells

If you like to hike in the woods, chances are you've seen Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica, in all its glory. This early spring bloomer seems to explode from the ground, producing flower stalks crowded with bluish-pink trumpet-like blooms. Virginia bluebells thrive in partial to full shade and, over time, form solid mats of foliage and flowers. Sadly, once the weather warms up, Virginia bluebells go dormant until the following spring, so be sure to interplant it with other colorful shade-loving groundcovers such as lamium, sweet woodruff, or epimedium. Zones 3-8

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