These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.
Groundcovers for Shade Areas
March 25, 1999
As discussed a few weeks ago, growing a quality lawn in the shade can be very difficult. In some situations, an alternative shade groundcover may be a better option. Keep in mind poor soil drainage can be a problem. Also, groundcovers are low maintenance plantings, but they still require some attention. Here's a rundown of some potential choices.
Ajuga or bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) is popular. 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 locate in a spot protected from winter winds.
Japanese Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis) is another popular choice. Pachysandra features evergreen foliage and reaches about one foot or so in height. Winter wind, full sun, and poor soil drainage can be problems.
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 very easy to grow species 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. Goutweed can become a nuisance if not contained. 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.
Sweet woodruff, Galium odoratum, makes a fine textured, bright green groundcover. White flowers appear in late spring.
Finally, Hosta species commonly called Hosta or Plantain Lily are popular shade plants that can be added to groundcover plantings. Cultivars vary in foliage and flower features. Hostas do best in light shade and well-drained soil.
For more information on groundcovers for shade areas, see the Lawn Challenge.