11 of the Best Ground Covers for Shade

ground cover with green leaves and yellow flowers spreading in a forest amid trees and stumps

Everything about you is low-maintenance — from the way you style your hair to your clothes. So it makes sense you’d want an easy-to-care-for lawn and garden.

One way to do this is by installing ground cover plants. They’re great grass substitutes: They don’t need mowing, and they add a bit of texture and color to your garden spaces. But which ones will look and grow best in the shady areas of your yard?

To help with your selection, we’ve compiled a list of the best ground cover plants for shade.

Best Ground Cover Plants for Shade

1. Bunchberry (cornus canadensis)

Photo Credit: Alpsdake / CC BY-SA 4.0

Need something to fill in the bare areas under your shade trees where sun-loving plants won’t grow? Bunchberry is perfect. Also known as “creeping dogwood,” this low-growing plant, with its bright green leaves, red berries, and white or green flowers, prefers cooler climates and cool, moist soil. It’s also rabbit- and deer-resistant while being attractive to pollinators.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 2 to 6
Bunchberry cultivars: No known cultivars
Care: Low; needs full to partial shade and mulch to maintain moisture and a weekly dose of water.
Flowering: Yes. It produces white or green flowers in spring and summer.
Spread: Spreads slowly via rhizomes (or underground stems), reaching a height of 8 inches.
Cost: Purchase one live plant for about $15.

2. Sweet woodruff (galium odoratum)

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Named for the sweet-smelling aroma it emits, sweet woodruff is an easy-to-grow, deer- and rabbit-resistant spreader. In addition to being a ground cover, you can use this plant in potpourri and perfumes. Sweet woodruff pairs well with coral bells and rhododendrons.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 8
Sweet woodruff cultivars: No known cultivars
Care: Low-maintenance. Plant in full shade or partial shade. Doesn’t need much water.
Flowering: Yes. White flowers pop up in spring.
Spread: Slow to medium growth rate; spreads via stolons to a height of 10 inches.
Cost: Buy 200 seeds for around $7 or a large, potted plant for around $20.

3. Yellow archangel (lamium galeobdolon)

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Named for its appearance —  bright yellow blooms with angel-esque “wings” — this perennial ground cover grows swiftly to blanket any area you’d like. It’s also known as golden deadnettle.

A word of warning: The stems in its root system can embed themselves as soon as they hit the ground. If not kept in check, this plant can become invasive. Plant in full or partial shade and space 12 to 18 inches apart.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9
Yellow archangel cultivars: Hermann’s pride, variegatum, and silver frost
Care: Tolerates a variety of soils. Prune to 6 inches and water regularly until established. No fertilization needed.
Flowering: Yes. Yellow flowers appear in spring and early summer.
Spread: Fast; spreads via stem fragments.
Cost: A live plant will cost you about $5 at most home improvement stores. 

4. Vancouveria (vancouveria hexandra)

The white blooms of vancouveria give this plant its nickname: inside-out flower. The petals grow backward. A deciduous, low-growing perennial, vancouveria grows best in full shade and nutrient-rich, moist soil. 

USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 7
Vancouveria cultivars: No known cultivars
Care: Low-maintenance. Water to keep the soil moist and prune any damaged leaves to encourage new growth.
Flowering: Yes. Small white flowers appear in spring and summer.
Spread: Low-growing spread via underground stems called rhizomes.
Cost: A 1-gallon, potted live plant can cost around $13.

5. Bishop’s hat (epimedium)

Bishop’s hat plants produce heart-shaped or arrowhead-like leaves and bold blooms that come in white, red, purple, yellow, pink, orange, or bicolored. Available as deciduous or evergreen plants, these perennials are perfect as a ground cover or ornamental accent.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 8
Bishop’s hat cultivars: Royal flush, pink champagne, and rubrum
Care: Low-maintenance and drought-tolerant; plant in partial to full shade.
Flowering: Yes. You’ll see two-toned, white, red, pink, yellow, orange, or purple flowers in spring and summer.
Spread: Individual plants spread about 18 inches via rhizomes.
Cost: Live plants will run you about $20 each.

6. Wild ginger (asarum)

Photo Credit: Wasp32 / CC BY 4.0

Not to be confused with the ginger you use in stir-fried dishes, this plant merely smells of ginger when its leaves and roots are crushed. Unlike most flowering plants, the jar-shaped blooms of this one grow at ground-level and may be hidden by stems. Leaves are evergreen, and resistant to deer.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 8
Wild ginger cultivars: Canadian, Chinese, and European wild ginger
Care: Low maintenance. Water regularly to keep the soil moist.
Flowering: Yes. It produces white, green, or purple flowers in early spring and summer.
Spread: Slow-growing via rhizomes
Cost: Live plants cost about $5 each.

7. Japanese pachysandra (pachysandra terminalis)

pachysandra evergreen ground cover plant
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Resistant to drought, deer, and rabbits, this evergreen ground cover flourishes in dry shade. In fact, if Japanese pachysandra receives too much sun, its leaves may burn. Plant it along slopes and underneath trees and shrubs for a beautiful, dark green, weed-free, carpeted lawn.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9
Japanese pachysandra cultivars: green carpet, green sheen, variegata
Care: Low maintenance. This plant can grow well in poor soil conditions. Space plants 6 to 12 inches apart to accommodate spread.
Flowering: Yes. White, aromatic blooms appear in spring.
Spread: Via underground stems called rhizomes.
Cost: Spend around $15 (for one tray) to $80 (for 100 bare-root plants).

8. Bugleweed (ajuga reptans)

bugleweed plant with purple flowers
Photo Credit: Pixabay

A fast-growing ground cover, bugleweed can quickly fill in large, outdoor spaces where grass won’t grow. Its colorful flowers and evergreen foliage will help boost curb appeal, and it’s versatile. You can plant it just about anywhere, including in full shade. It also stands up well to foot traffic and is resistant to deer and rabbits.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 10
Bugleweed varieties: bronze beauty, chocolate chip, black scallop
Care: Low maintenance. No need to fertilize and regular rainfall should provide enough water.
Flowering: Yes. Purple, white, or blue flowers bloom in spring and summer.
Spread: With runners along the surface of the ground, bugleweed reaches a height of 3 to 6 inches. 
Cost: Prices range from about $4 to more than $400 for seeds. Or, get a tray of plants for around $12.

9. Green and gold (chrysogonum virginianum)

Photo Credit: peganum / CC BY-SA 2.0 

This fast-growing perennial is also called “goldenstar” because of its star-shaped, yellow leaves. In addition to the bursts of color and greenery it lends to your landscape, this ground cover has no issues with pests or disease. Plant it in deep shade or partial shade and watch as it attracts a host of butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9
Green and gold cultivars: Eco lacquered spider and superstar
Care: Needs full or partial shade and nutrient-rich, well-drained soil. Water regularly.
Flowering: Yes. Showy yellow blooms appear in spring and summer.
Spread: Low-growing; reaches 1 to 2 inches in height and at least 18 inches in width. Spreads by self-seeding or by rhizomes (underground stems).
Cost: Live plants cost around $11.

10. Mondo grass

Preferring shade, this grass-like ground cover (also known as dwarf lily turf), is evergreen, salt-tolerant, and deer-resistant. It resembles liriope, but has thinner leaves. You also won’t have to worry about any issues with pests or disease.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 6 to 10
Mondo grass cultivars: nippon, variegatus, and kioto
Care: Easy. Mow yearly.
Flowering: Yes. Mondo grass flowers yearly with pink, purple, or white, star-shaped blooms.
Spread: Slow to moderate growth via runners. Reaches 1 foot in height.
Cost: Prices range from $10 to $40.

11. False goat’s beard (astilbe biternata)

Photo Credit: Pixabay

The white or pink flowers resemble the feathery plumes in hats worn by 17th-century swashbucklers, making false goat’s beard an attractive addition to any shady spot. Depending on the variety, this plant can reach heights of 6 feet, so stick with the smaller types (which grow to around 2 feet tall) for use as a ground cover plant for shade. Besides the striking flowers, this plant is also loved for its bright green foliage.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 8
Examples of false goat’s beard cultivars: Bumalda and Etna
Care: Low maintenance. Water as needed to maintain soil moisture; prefers partial shade over full shade. 
Flowering: Yes. White or pink, feathery blooms in spring.
Spread: Grows at a medium rate via rhizomes
Cost: Live plants can cost between $5 and $12.

FAQ About Ground Cover Plants for Shade

Which ground covers should I plant under trees?

Any of the plants mentioned here can be planted under trees, since they’re all good ground cover plants for shade. Other ground covers that do well underneath trees include:

  • Periwinkle
  • Creeping juniper
  • Liriope
  • Lungwort
  • Foamflower 

What are the fastest-growing ground covers for shade?

Yellow archangel, sweet woodruff, and Japanese pachysandra spread rapidly to cover the most square footage in the least amount of time.

When to Call in the Landscaping Pros

The toughest part of landscaping with ground covers? Selecting the right ones for your shaded areas — especially if your yard has a mix of spots that receive full sun.

Hire a landscaping expert to survey the amount of light your property gets and help you devise a plan that works for your land, your aesthetic goals, and your budget.

Main Photo Credit: Pixabay

Andréa Butler

Andréa Butler

Descendant of the Fulani tribe, Gettysburg-obsessed Marine Corps brat, and lover of all things writing and editing, Andréa Butler launched Sesi magazine and has penned articles for sites, such as LivingSocial, Talbot Digital, Xickle, Culturs magazine, and Rachel Ray. Andréa holds a B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and an M.A. in magazine journalism from Kent State University.