Choosing Groundcover Plants for Shade

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

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Cool in the Shade DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover © 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

This lush, natural-looking planting design, shown here 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 AreasEnlarge Photo+Shrink Photo-DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover © 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas)

Male Fern Ideal Ground Cover for Shady AreasEnlarge Photo+Shrink Photo-DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover © 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

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