These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.
Groundcover Plants for Shade
February 1, 2001
Shade areas often present a challenge for gardeners. Lawns typically struggle and the list of landscape plant material grows smaller. There are several plants commonly known as shade groundcovers that are available for difficult shade sites, however. While they can tolerate shade, poor soil drainage does present a problem. Also keep in mind while considered low maintenance, they will still require some attention from time to time.
Hostas are one of the first plants mentioned when discussing shade sites. Many cultivars are available, and vary in foliage and flower features. Hostas do best in light shade and well-drained soil.
Vinca minor, or Periwinkle, is vinelike in growth, rooting as it creeps along the ground. It can be planted in sun or shade, but avoid wet sites and protect from winter winds. Periwinkle has lilac to blue flowers. Periwinkle usually fills-in an area rapidly after planting.
Ajuga or bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) is another popular groundcover, which spreads quickly after planting. Many cultivars are available, with variations in both flower and foliage color. Ajuga can grow in sun or shade, and reaches 4-6 inches in height. This plant has fairly shallow roots, and spreads via stolons. It's best to protect Ajuga from winter winds.
Japanese Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis) features evergreen foliage and reaches about one foot or so in height. Winter wind, full sun, and poor soil drainage can be problems.
Some groundcovers may become too aggressive and get out of bounds quickly. Two examples are Aegopodium podagraria, or goutweed, and Convallaria horizontalis, or Lily-of-the-Valley. Both are good choices for places few other plants grow well, but may invade other areas. Lily-of-the-Valley features fragrant white flowers, popular in weddings.
Purple Wintercreeper Euonymus, Euonymus fortunei 'Colorata', is another good groundcover that roots as it creeps along the ground. Plant in the shade and provide protection in winter for leaves to remain on plant.
Finally, sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is not used extensively but makes a fine textured, bright green groundcover. White flowers appear in late spring.