Best Ground Covers for Shade

Low-Growing Plants That Thrive in Partial Shade

Ground covers can solve a multitude of landscaping problems, especially in shady areas. Here are just a few ways they can make your yard and garden more attractive, while also making maintenance easier. See below for a list of 8 shade loving ground covers. 

Less Work. Ground covers don’t need weekly mowing and trimming. In fact, once they’re established, they rarely need any attention at all.

More Attractive. Just as the right carpet can pull a room together, the right ground cover can connect trees, shrubs and other features into a unified whole.

More Tolerant. Lawn grasses often struggle in the shade, resulting in bare spots and disease problems. A shade loving ground will thrive in conditions other plants won’t tolerate.


Versatile. Ground covers are a great solution for steep slopes and other areas that are difficult to access. They will also mask surfaces that are uneven due to rocks or tree roots.

Natural Looking. Bark chips and stone mulches have their place, but a ground cover can do the same work, while looking less formal and more naturalistic.

Good Companions. Ground covers are ideal companions for spring-flowering bulbs. They create an attractive backdrop for the bulbs and will also help to hide the bulbs’ fading foliage.


Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)

Bugleweed forms a dense, 6” high mat that is very weed resistant. The scalloped leaves come in many colors, from maroon to sage green, chocolate brown to almost black. Some varieties have glossy foliage and others have a flat, matte surface. Pretty, violet-blue flower spikes appear in late spring. Deer resistant.



Hostas are bigger and have more personality than most ground covers. Stick with just one or two varieties if you want a simple, unified look. For a more varied, garden-like appearance, combine different heights, foliage colors and leaf textures. For small areas, there are miniature hostas that grow just 6” tall.


Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

Weeds can’t compete with the glossy, emerald green leaves of this vigorous ground cover. In fact, Lily of the Valley will overtake most other plants, so make sure to give it plenty of room to run. Height is 6 to 8”. Late spring flowers are intensely fragrant and nice for cutting.



Ferns add elegance and grace to shade gardens, woodlands and natural areas. They come in many different heights, from the delicate little Japanese Painted Fern (Anthyrium) to the chest-high Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). For lowest maintenance, plant large areas with a single species. Ferns are rarely damaged by deer.


Japanese Spurge (Pachysandra terminalis)

A dependable, evergreen ground cover with tidy rosettes of emerald green leaves. Spreads by rhizomes into a dense carpet of foliage. Pachysandra tolerates sun, but looks more attractive when grown in shade. Grows 6 to 10” tall. Deer and rabbit resistant.


Perrywinkle (Vinca minor)

A creeping ground cover with small shiny leaves on wiry stems. The trailing stems root as they run to fill in any open spaces. Vinca prefers moist soil. Flowers appear inlate spring and come in white, blue or lavender. Some varieties have variegated foliage. Grows 3-5” tall.


Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum)

Lamium is a low-growing ground cover with decorative foliage that is usually variegated and often frosted with silver. The early summer flower clusters are pink, white or blue. Grows 6-10” tall. Can be shorn after flowering to maintain a compact habit. Deer resistant.


Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)

A lacey ground cover with whorls of bright green leaves and fragrant, starry white flowers in late spring. Plant sweet woodruff in moist, rich soil and full to partial shade. Once established, it spreads freely. The foliage is fragrant when crushed, especially after being dried. 5-7” tall.


Learn More: