Plants and Groundcovers for Shade

Trees making it difficult to plant grass? Join the club. A love affair with big shady trees makes it frustrating to find sharp-looking plants and groundcovers that will thrive in the shade. It is one of the most often asked questions that my customers ask.

Try these on for, size:

• Southern shield fern Dryopteris ludoviciana
This deciduous native fern is tall -- it grows up to 4 feet with 1-foot wide fronds. This fern will tolerate more sun than most ferns, if moisture levels are adequate. Cut it back in August. Also known as a wood fern or Southern maiden fern.

• Spreading sword fern Nephrolepis cordifolia
Great ground cover for moist shade. Grows into spreading masses.

• Crested iris Iris cristata
A spreading evergreen that has pale flowers in spring, and of course, loves shade.

• Walking iris Neomarica gracilis
Prefers good morning sun with afternoon shade. Produces white blooms with yellow, blue and brown markings.

• Pigeonberry Rivina humilis
Produces small flowers and red berries. Good for growing under trees and tall shrubs. Likes moist, productive, and well-drained soil. Not good in droughts (oh well).

• "Katie's compact" ruellia Ruellia brittoniana "Katie's compact"
A top choice. Forms clumps with dark green foliage, and has purple flowers. Not particularly cold-hardy but will come back.

• Australian violet Viola hederacea
Evergreen and spreading. What else do you need?

• Creeping jenny Lysimachia nummularia
Especially good for areas that stay rather wet. Good for sun or shade. Has yellow flowers in summer.

• Ajuga Ajuga reptans
Fast growing and has dark blue flower stalks. Will grow in deep shade but requires decent drainage.

Not a comprehensive list, by any stretch. If you have a suggestion, share it with us by commenting below.
Special thanks to Landa Gay, from the Houston Chronicle and


nonot said…
I'm wondering if these suggestions are only appropriate for the approximate latitudes of Georgia and Texas. I'm in southwestern PA, including the higher elevations. My wife is interested in species native to the areas, and knows her stuff, but I'd like to pep things up. Obviously, I enjoy your website and tend to rely on you, rather than doing the necessary research.
J Milton said…
A couple of things:

Most of these plant suggestions are not native to the US, and those that are, aren't native to southwestern Pennsylvania. The question is "How native is native?" Reading between the lines of your comment, I'll bet your wife will only want plants that are indigenous to your local area. To plant otherwise, could incur a wrath not seen since Genghis.

Try this book.
J Milton said…
The title of the book is Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening and Conservation

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