How to Grow: Ground Covers for the Shade

Learn about the best ground cover plants and techniques to grow in the shade.

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Oak Tree, Tree, Oak, Majestic, Old, Grand, Big, ShadeOne of the most common questions I get from gardeners is what ground covers can I grow in shade? First of all, all shade is not created equally. Shade under an evergreen tree is different than shade under a small crabapple. So, it’s best to match the type of shade you have, with the ground cover. Here’s a guide.

Part shade is when you get 3 to 4 hours of direct sun a day, not necessarily all at once. Impatiens, vinca, hellebore and coral bells grow well in part shade. Dappled shade is the light you get under a large, open canopied tree, such as a honeylocust, or a smaller tree, such as a plum. Plant lamium, sweet woodruff and pulmonaria in dappled shade. Medium shade is found under large trees, such as maples, with limbs no closer than 20 feet off the ground or on the north side of a building. Here you’re limited to plants like hostas and ferns. Deep shade is what you find under evergreens, such as hemlock, and large, thick-canopied deciduous trees such as Norway maple. Moss and mulch are about the only plants that survive here.

I have a few favorite ground covers for special situations. If you want something to spread wildly, try lily of the valley or mint in part shade. But be aware these plants are very aggressive and can become weeds in the wrong place. For edibles, try alpine strawberries. Hellebores are good in dry shade so are a nice choice under mature trees with lots of roots. For a flowering ground cover in a dappled shade try meehan’s mint. This unusual ground cover is not as aggressive as other mints and produces beautiful blue flowers even in the shade.

From the Vermont Garden Journal on Vermont Public Radio.

Go here for a video on edible groundcovers