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UNL Extension in Lancaster County

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Groundcovers for Shady Places

by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator

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Perhaps you have a shade area that is difficult to grow grass in. Looking ahead to this growing 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.

vAnother 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.


This resource was added January 2006 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office


Contact Information University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lancaster County
Web site: lancaster.unl.edu
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A, Lincoln, NE 68528 | 402-441-7180