15 Best Plants for Ground Cover for Shade

Ground cover for shade can be a tricky problem. Identifying plants that thrive away from the sun, and in your planting zone, can seem a difficult or restrictive task. However this is simply not the case. Even the darkest areas of the garden can support some plant life. This list will provide you with a suggestions for plants that provide ground cover for shade or semi-shade spots.

What Type of Shade Do I Have?

Before we discuss plants to provide ground cover for shade we must first, briefly, discuss what type of shade you have. This is best broken down into one of two options, dry shade and damp shade.

Dry Shade

More common in urban gardens, dry shaded areas are usually found at the base of walls that don’t directly face the wind. This means that the soil is protected from the rain. It can also occur beneath large trees with shallow root systems.

In this scenario the dense leaf canopy of the tree prevents much rainfall from reaching the earth. Any rainfall that does fall is quickly harvested up by the tree’s root system. Sandy or chalk soil can also cause your soil to become dry.

If you are providing ground cover for shade in a dry area you will need to improve the soils moisture retention ability. This will make the soil damper meaning a wider range of plants can be planted. To improve the soil work in plenty of organic matter such as homemade compost or well-rotted manure. Mulching around the base of plants in spring and fall will also help.

1 Providing ground cover for shade filled areas can be difficult
Providing ground cover for shade filled areas can be difficult. However there are a number of plants, such as cranesbill, that not only thrive in shady conditions but also add color and interest. With a little bit of research you will find even the darkest corners of your garden can be packed with color and interest. 

Damp Shade

This soil profile is naturally found in most woodland and forest areas. It occurs anywhere here the environment is largely cool and moist. These conditions can also occur near watery areas or if the soil is largely clay.

To improve damp soil before planting you will need to dig in plenty of organic matter. Homemade compost or well-rotted manure is ideal. This process of working over the soil, while introducing new material, loosens the earth helping to improve drainage.

As with dry soil types mulching plants is also useful. Organic mulch will break down over time helping to keep the structure of the soil healthy and well-draining.

Ground Cover for Shade Plants

Now that we’ve discussed the different conditions and soil types these conditions can produce, we will turn our attention to plants. These are some of the most interesting, widely available and easy to grow ground cover for shade plants.

Ajuga

This is a creeping evergreen that will quickly spread providing plenty of ground cover for shade areas. In the spring it produces blue or purple colored flowers, bringing a bit of color to the darkness. A versatile plant that tolerates some drought, it prefers damp soil.

Aquilegia

An old fashioned plant commonly used in cottage garden schemes. Its distinctive flowers mean that the plant is often known as Granny’s Bonnet. Happy to grow in partial light, its rich, surpsisingly dense foliage pleasingly spreads providing ground cover for shade.

2 Aquilegia plants are usually grown for their attractive colorful flowers

Aquilegia plants are usually grown for their attractive, colorful flowers. However these plants also produce masses of thick, green foliage. This makes them an ideal choice if you want to provide ground cover with flowering plants. 

Bellflower

Another plant with a range of different varieties to choose from. Working well in traditional and cottage garden schemes, bellflower is best used in the darker positions at the back of a border. Its bell shaped flowers will attract butterflies, bees and pollinators to your garden.

Bergenia

Also known as Elephants Ears, these plants produce masses of large green leaves. Some varieties such as Overture will darken to a red or bronze hue in the winter months. On top of this foliage pink or purple flowers will emerge in the spring. It is also a great choice for a shady, forest planting scheme.

Bleeding Heart

Producing arching stems on which sit distinctive heart-shaped flowers Bleeding Heart prefers partial light positions. It also grows well in damp soil types. This plants spreading habit is a great way to fill the tricky space between larger shrubs.

Corydalis

One of the smaller plants on our ground cover for shade list. Corydalis spreads in clumps. During the summer months clusters of bright flowers will sit on top of bright green leaves. Its seeding habit means it slowlys spreads through your space. It is also commonly used in forest planting schemes.

3 An attracitve woodland plant Corydalis flowers in shades of pink purple white and yellow

An attractive woodland plant, Corydalis flowers in hues of pink, purple, white and yellow. Thriving in dappled light positions these are an ideal choice for planting around trees and larger shrubs. 

Cranesbill Geranium

Cranesbill geraniums, of which there are many types, produce dense green foliage. This is ideal for suppressing weed growth. Many varieties such as Dusky cranesbill Geranium Phaem are also tolerant of partial and fully shaded positions. This makes them ideal ground cover for shade plants. Take some time to find a variety which suits your growing conditions.

Deadnettle

Sometimes called Spotted Deadnettle, the purple flowers and speckled foliage will bring color and interest to dark areas. Preferring damp soil, with a little extra care it can be successfully grown in drier conditions. If you do decide to plant deadnettle, be warned it has an invasive growth habit, particularly in damp and preferable conditions. Deadnettle can also be planted as part of a living wall.

Golden Star

Golden Star produces eye-catching star shaped yellow flowers. These sit on top of the plants rich green foliage. The flowers of the plant also give it its other common name, Green and Gold Ground Cover. A versatile plant, it thrives in a range of soil conditions.

Hosta

Hosta is one of the most popular plants for providing ground cover for shade. Just make sure you work the soil over before planting so that it is well draining. Easy to grow, Hostas are available in a range of shades and shapes. They can also be grown in containers as well as beds or borders. When planted in beds Hostas can be used to add structure or definition to a space.

4 The large rich foliage of the Hosta is a popular ground cover plant

The large, rich foliage of the Hosta is a popular ground cover plant. Easy to cultivate different varieties of the plant produce different colored and shaped leaves. Planting combinations of different varieties can help to increase interest in a dark space. 

Hellebore

A winter flowering plant that is common in cottage and traditional garden planting schemes. Hellebores are ideal if you want ground cover for shade in a  dry soil position. During the winter the plant will produce large, saucer shaped flowers in shades of green, mauve, purple, pink and white.

Ivy

Hedera Helix, or English ivy will not only provide ground cover for shade but it can also be trained to climb along walls or trellises. An evergreen plant it can be used to create leafy backdrops to borders, living walls and beds, bringing color to the garden throughout the year. Insects and birds will also be attracted to it.

Lily of the Valley

A bright way to provide ground cover for shade areas and forest schemes. Lily of the valley is best known for its fragrant white flowers. Like many of the plants on this list it prefers the soil to be kept damp. Like Periwinkle, Lily of the Valley has a tendency to spread. If left unchecked it can take over areas.

5 The delicate flowers of Lily of the Valley are also pleasingly fragrant
The delicate flowers of Lily of the Valley are also pleasingly fragrant. For such a delicate looking plant it has a profuse growth habit and will happily spread through beds and borders if allowed to. 

Lords and Ladies

This is a perennial plant that grows wild in woodlands. Lords and Ladies provides ideal ground cover for shade areas beneath trees and shrubs. Here it sucks excess moisture from the soil, meaning the soil doesn’t become waterlogged and the root systems of other plants won’t develop rot. It’s distinctive flowers, which emerge in the spring, are replaced by thick clusters of dark red berries.

Lungwort

Named for its mottled foliage, which is said to resemble lungs, Lungwort is a popular ground cover for shade plant. If you are a fan of foliage you will be spoiled for choice here as different varieties of Lungwort have different leaf markings. On top of the fascinating foliage sits blue, violet, purple, pink, red and white funnel shaped flowers.

Pachysandra

Growing up to a foot in height, Pachysandra’s deep green leaves provide plenty of ground cover for shade. These plants are often used to fill spaces between larger shrubs and bushes. Its spread and thick foliage will prevent weeds from emerging, helping to keep the area tidy.

Periwinkle

A hardy plant that is great around trees or on slopes. Periwinkle produces light blue and lilac colored flowers. Another plant with a spreading habit, you will need to regularly tend to periwinkle to prevent it taking over an area. Like other plants on this list, Periwinkle can be planted as part of a shady living wall.

6 Another flowering option Periwinkles attractive flowers will happily spread throughout beds and borders

Another flowering option, Periwinkles attractive flowers will happily spread throughout beds, and borders. The plants also look particularly attractive providing color and interest at a low level in a woodland planting scheme. 

Snowdrop

Flowering in late winter, pretty white snowdrop flowers are a reliable indication that spring is about to arrive. Snowdrops thrive in full shade, and in particular heavy or moist soils. They are commonly grown in cottage garden and forest planting schemes. This makes it an ideal plant for our ground cover for shade areas list.

Stinking Iris

Thriving in full shade, its evergreen foliage is a great way to bring structure to a space. During the summer months the plant produces purple-green flowers. In the fall these are replaced with large seed pods, if left unharvested these will split to reveal rows of orange or red colored seeds.

Sweet Woodruff

Another aromatic way of providing ground cover for shade. This fragrant plant produces attractive star shaped clusters of foliage on top of which sit white flowers. Sweet Woodruff is a great way to introduce texture as well as scent and color to a dark area.

Wood Spurge

A great choice for dry soil profiles, Wood Spurge does particularly well beneath trees. It can also be planted in woodland borders and forest schemes. Like other plants on this list it will require regular pruning, if left unchecked it will become invasive.

Winter Aconites

Aconite plants grow in clumps, filling darker areas with bright yellow flowers during the latter part of winter. These plants thrive in damp positions away from the direct light of the sun. This makes them an ideal choice to provide ground cover for shade as well as an inclusion in a woodland garden.

7 The bright flowers of Winter Aconite adds color to dark areas
The bright flowers of Winter Aconite add color to dark areas. They are also a popular plant for pollinators such as bees. In addition, their clumping growth habit means that their green foliage provides plenty of pleasing ground cover. 


Now that we’ve given you some ideas for ground cover for shade areas it is time for you to make your decision and get planting. Remember dark corners of your garden don’t have to remain that way.

Choosing the right plants can help to lift even the darkest corners of a garden. Introducing color, texture and variety by way of ground cover for shade plants will help to enliven and add interest to a garden.

Plants to Provide Ground Cover for Shade Cover Image