These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.
Groundcover as Lawn Alternatives in Shade
January 22, 1998
Last week's column contained an overview of lawn planning for the 1998 season. Perhaps you have a shade area that has been difficult to grow grass in. Looking ahead to this season, maybe a groundcover is the answer for that spot.
There are several groundcover species for shade locations. While they may tolerate shade, many do not grow well on poorly drained soils. Also, consider groundcovers as minimum maintenance plantings, but they still require some attention.
Ajuga, or bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) is a popular groundcover. Many cultivars available, with purple, blue, red, or white flowers appearing in late spring. Ajuga can grow in sun or shade, and reaches four to six inches in height. This plant has fairly shallow roots, and spreads via stolons. It's best to locate in a spot protected from winter winds.
Another popular choice is Pachysandra terminalis, or Japanese Pachysandra. This is one of the best groundcovers for shade, but avoid winter wind and full sun. Pachysandra features evergreen foliage and reaches about one foot or so in height.
The Hosta species, commonly called Hosta or Plantain Lily, is a great choice for shade and is featured in many catalogs. The large, ribbed foliage, which varies considerably with the variety, stands out the most. Flowers are usually purple, although white varieties are available. 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.
Two easy to grow groundcovers for shade are Aegopodium podagraria, or goutweed, and Convallaria horizontalis, or Lily-of-the-Valley. Goutweed is very easy to grow and can become a nuisance if not contained. Lily-of-the-Valley features fragrant white flowers, popular in weddings. It's a good choice for difficult areas, but may invade other areas.
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.