If you ask ten gardeners to list the 5 best groundcovers, you are are likely to get ten different answers. One thing most gardeners are interested in are the groundcovers which do best in shade.
This assortment of plants has many uses and is often planted where turfgrass will not grow. Groundcovers act as living mulch once established. They also prevent weed growth and soil erosion, and if done properly, complement the overall landscape with color and texture.
Groundcovers may be evergreen or deciduous and range from a few inches in height to a couple of feet. Most can multiply and spread; some excessively so.
After gardeners have considered the plants hardiness zones, shade and sun tolerance, and other cultural requirements; the big factor in selection is the plants personal appeal.
Fortunately there are so many new cultivars of groundcover plants from which to choose that most gardeners now consider the previous standby English Ivy as “old hat”. Newer groundcover varieties tend to have colorful variegated leaves and more and different colored flowers to blend into the landscape.
Below are selections for areas with medium shade, access to water, a border to contain the plants and no traffic. This is a situation commonly found under trees in the average landscape. There is also a table of groundcovers for shade which is a result of a survey of Tulsa Master Gardeners sometime back.
Note that all of these groundcovers below may, if they are located in the right environment, become invasive.
Several species of Lamium and their cultivars are very useful as rapidly spreading and mounding groundcovers, in zones 4-8. Silvery leaves among darker plants acts like a spotlight in a shady corner of the garden. They are semi-evergreen or perennial in the Tulsa area and easy to care for. Afternoon shade and summer watering is needed to tolerate the heat. Depending on the cultivar, blooms may be white, pink or yellow. A large bed of Archangel is a traffic stopper.
Vinca minor, or Common Periwinkle, is on everyones list of groundcovers for shade. It spreads rapidly, tolerates heavy shade and is evergreen. It does not climb into shrubs as some vines do. Attractive variegated cultivars, white or gold, are available. These are useful not only as a groundcover, but look nice trailing out of a shady hanging basket. Blue flowers are an added attraction for two weeks in the spring. It tolerates some traffic.
Moneywort is either applauded or hissed, depending on your experience. It is a low growing vigorous spreader, forming a mat than tolerates some traffic and definitely serves as a mulch and weed preventer. It also can be invasive into lawns and ornamentals if not curbed, from whence come the hisses. Moneywort, also called “creeping Jenny”, is usually evergreen, it will grow in deep shade and thrives in moist areas. It does particularly well around structures, such as decorative rocks
Liriope, a member of the lily family, has 2 species useful to gardeners, Liriope spicata and Liriope muscari. Spicata spreads rapidly and muscari is a clumping slow spreader; both have underground rhizomes. They are evergreen, tolerate dense shade or mostly sun and have few problems. Liriope, also called Monkey Grass, is arguably the most commonly used plant for edging, but does fine as a groundcover. It may grow to 18’ in height, has purple blossoms in late spring and black berries in fall. Variegated cultivars are very attractive.
Another groundcover found on most people’s short list is Ajuga. It is usually evergreen, hardy in zones 3 to 9 and is about 4’ tall after forming its typical dense matt. It grows in partial shade to shade though does best with 3-4 hours of sun. It spreads by horizontal runners and can be aggressive. Leaves are green to purplish and spring blossoms purple, white or pink, depending on the cultivar. There are many cultivars of this plant. They have variations of color and size of leaves as well as flower colors to fit most any whim.