15 Stunning Perennial Ground Cover Plants That Thrive in the Shade

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These beautiful compact shade plants can be used as perennial ground cover which will add interest to your garden while helping to keep the weeds down.

I love growing these compact perennial plants under shade loving shrubs and backyard trees.
ground cover perennials that love shade

Perennial Ground Cover Plants

Compact perennial plants that can be planted under taller plants add interesting layers to your garden and help to keep the weeds down.

Although there are some perennial ground cover plants that bloom brilliantly in the shade, many rely more on foliage and color variations rather than flowers to create interest.

I find that dense planting of shade tolerant perennials requires very little maintenance and minimal weeding, as long as they are adequately watered. I also amend the soil with compost and triple mix prior to planting and use a thick layer of mulch to retain moisture and restore nutrients.

Keep reading to see some of my favorite compact shade perennials that grow to be less than 18” high, and are excellent ground covers.

Want to find some taller plants that will grow in the shade? Click here to see our article on Bushes To Plant Under Trees.

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20 Responses

  • I really like all of your articles. I have tried all the plants you recommended and most of them have done really well in a place I thought was too shady for anything to grow. Thanks so much.

    • Hello Nancy. Hellebores will not grow in any zones higher than 9. So they should be fine in a northern Florida Zone 9 garden but will succumb to the heat in the Miami area. Springhill Nurseries (www.springhillnursery.com) have a good selection of hellebores or you could try Wayside gardens (www.waysidegardens.com) as another source. I hope this helps.

  • All of these are lovely shade plants but I would not refer to them as ground covers due to their height. Moss or pachysandra are better definitions of ground covers.

    • Hi Holli…I think you have a stricter definition of ground covers than I do. For me, any plant that is fairly low growing, doesn’t require a lot of maintenance and creates a thick enough blanket of foliage to prevent a lot of weeds from growing up between them qualifies πŸ™‚

    • Hi…Keeping them well watered and fertilized is one possible option. It could also be that the plants are root bound. If that’s the case, pull the roots apart and transplant into a bigger pot. The other possibility is that they are still getting settled…it sometimes takes Hellebores a year or two to bloom after they have been planted. So if it’s a fairly new container you may just have to be patient πŸ™‚

  • Are the Virginia Bluebells invasive? You mentioned fern peony. That is a plant that I am not familiar with. Could you tell me more about it?

    • Hello Becky, Thank you for your interest. Virginia Bluebells, although native to the north eastern states, are not invasive in my zone 5 Toronto garden. They form a slow growing clump that goes dormant in the summer. Self seeding is minimal in my experience.

      Japanese fern peony is a lovely little bush 1-2 feet high that has delicate fern-like blue-green foliage and big red flowers in the spring. It is considerably more expensive to purchase than a regular peony because it is difficult to propagate. Once established in a part-sun location it needs little care except cutting off the spent blooms to let the plant conserve energy. I have mine at the front of the border by the path where the gorgeous blooms can be appreciated. Once a season I put organic fertilizer around, but not touching, the stem and mulch. It will grow in sandy or clay soils and does not like to be planted too deep. I cut the stems off 2 inches from the ground in the fall.

  • My favorite is oregano! Oregano likes all kinds of soil, can improve your soil conditions even, is delicious and deer hate it. Plus, plant and forget about it until you harvest it to add to your cooking. Love it!

    • Thanks, Audrey! I had not thought of using Oregano as a ground cover, but you’re right…it would work pretty well for that πŸ™‚

    • Thanks for drawing this to my attention. Foam flower is considered a close cousin to astilbe, as the leaves look very similar. It can stand more shade than astilbe, too.

  • I love in North Yorkshire U.K. Hellebores ,heuchera and Japanese anemone grow well here .I have just purchased mertensia Virginia and bletilla striata, after seeing your list ,so wish me luck

    • Hello Judith Of course I wish you luck with your new additions to your garden. I love m. Virginia and I thank you for bringing bletilla striata to my attention. I will add it to my spring list if I can find it in Toronto. I see it has been awarded the RHS award of merit so I think it will make a nice groundcover for you. I’d be interested to hear how these plants do for you.

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