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Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 22, 2018

Top ground covers for shady areas

By Jean Thomson | May 24, 2018

If you are one of the many gardeners who uses hostas or laments so that grass won’t grow under shade trees, you may be looking for ground covers that will do just what the name says: cover the bare soil.

A well-chosen ground cover can do more, providing aesthetic appeal and even pollinator-friendly blooms.

Two top choices are native woodland wildflowers. First, Canadian wild ginger (asarum canadense) is a low-growing plant with heart-shaped leaves but rather insignificant flowers.

It likes moist, well-drained soils with plenty of organic matter and can handle heavy shade. A similar plant, European wild ginger, is not native but is also an excellent ground cover.

A second native option is wild geranium (geranium maculatum). This plant is taller and offers beautiful pink or lilac blooms in the spring.

The deeply cut leaves continue to be attractive after blooms are gone. Wild geranium likes moist, well-drained soils and partial shade. It is a lovely choice for slopes or for areas under small trees that allow some filtered light.

Another beautiful ground cover for even heavy shade is barrenwort (epicedium spp.). It is a low-growing plant featuring small heart-shaped leaves and, in early spring, delicate flowers. The leaves are often tinged or bordered with red. This is a slow plant to spread, and some cultivars are rather expensive.

A good spreader among ground covers for shade is bugleweed (ajuga spp). A low-growing plant, it performs well in partial shade. Leaves are usually dark green, but various cultivars offer combinations with bronze, purple, and other colors. Flowers are typically a lovely violet-blue.

For areas of dry shade, a recommended ground cover is yellow archangel (lamium galeobdolon). Fairly short plants produce yellow flowers in spring. Cultivars ‘Variegatum’ and ‘Herman’s Pride’ feature green leaves with silver markings.

Spotted dead nettle (lamium maculatum) is an excellent ground cover for moister areas in partial shade. Another low-growing plant, it blooms from late spring to midsummer. Cultivars beacon silver, pink pewter, and white Nancy provide silver leaves with narrow green margins.

Finally, creeping lily-turf (liriope spicate) is a rhizomatous perennial that substitutes well for grass in shady areas.

Plants grow no more than a foot tall with grasslike deep green foliage that persists through winters. By late winter the foliage will be looking rather scruffy, but can easily be mowed or cut back with grass shears to promote new growth.

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