Choosing Groundcover Plants for Shade

Learn about groundcover plants that will thrive in shade and grow successfully in your lawn and garden spaces.
Cool in the Shade

Cool in the Shade

Photo by: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover © 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover , 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

The lush, natural-looking planting design, shown above in a dappled glade of silver birches, can be easily recreated in any shady area of the garden, whether or not you have trees. The limited color palette gives a tranquil, calming feel: the golden foliage of Carex elata 'Aurea' complements the soft greens and whites of Dryopteris filix-mas and Aquilegia vulgaris var. stellata "Greenapples", making the vibrant purple flowers of Polemonium and perralchicum "Purple Rain" all the more striking. You will need approximately 10x10 feet (3x3 m) of space to grow these plants. These grasses, which are best-suited for a shady patio, courtyard or terrace, prefer free-draining soil and dappled shade.

Materials Needed:

  • 5 Aurea (Carex elata) plants
  • 5 Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) plants
  • 5 Greenapples (Aquilegia vulgaris var. stellata) plants
  • 2 Purple Rain (Polemonium yezoense var. hidakanum) plants
  • 7 Fröhnleiten (Epimedium x perralchicum) plants

Planting and Aftercare

Lightly turn over the soil before planting, being careful not to damage any tree roots. The plants should be positioned as randomly as possible — lay them out while they are still in their pots to make sure you get an even, natural-looking spread. Scatter the Dryopteris and Carex first, allowing about 12 inches (30 cm) between plants, and then position the nodding Aquilegia and scrambling Epimedium between them to fill in the gaps. These plants will require little maintenance, but it is important that the growth of the Epimedium is kept in check so that it doesn't swamp any of the other less vigorous plants.

Aurea (Carex elata)

Aurea Ideal Groundcover for Shady Areas

Aurea Ideal Groundcover for Shady Areas

Photo by: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover © 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover , 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas)

Male Fern Ideal Ground Cover for Shady Areas

Male Fern Ideal Ground Cover for Shady Areas

Photo by: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover © 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover , 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Greenapples (Aquilegia vulgaris var. stellata)

Greenapples Groundcover for Shady Areas

Greenapples Groundcover for Shady Areas

Greenapples, or stellata, is a lush groundcover that gives a natural look to shady areas.

Photo by: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover © 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover , 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Purple Rain (Polemonium yezoense var. hidakanum)

Purple Rain Colorful Groundcover for Shade

Purple Rain Colorful Groundcover for Shade

Purple Rain, or hidakanum, is a lush colorful groundcover that gives a natural look to shady areas.

Photo by: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover © 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover , 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Frohnleiten (Epimedium x perralchicum)

Frohnleiten Used in Shade as Groundcover

Frohnleiten Used in Shade as Groundcover

Keep Reading

Next Up

Choosing Groundcover Plants for Sun

Learn about groundcover plants that will thrive in sunlight and grow successfully in your lawn and garden spaces.

Choosing Terrarium Plants

Making a terrarium is even easier with this helpful guide to choosing terrarium plants.

Seek Cover: Grow Groundcover Plants

Use low-growing perennials and shrubs as groundcovers to cover slopes or to replace high-maintenance lawns.

Choosing Plants for Year-Round Color

Certain plants will inject color into the garden all year. They provide structure and a sense of permanence as everything else changes.

Choosing Plants for Your Landscaping

Get tips for selecting and placing plants that work for your yard.

Choosing Plants for a Sensory Garden

A specially planted sensory garden heightens the experience of all of the senses, rather than concentrating primarily on sight.

Choosing Plants for Flowerbeds & Borders

Use tall wispy grasses and structural foliage plants to add focal points to borders and flowerbeds.

1,000+ Photos

Browse beautiful photos of our favorite outdoor spaces: decks, patios, porches and more.

On TV

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.