5 Ground Covers That Grow in Full Shade

Written by Heather Hall
Updated: October 2, 2023
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If you have a shaded area in your garden, you probably know how difficult it can be to find the perfect plant. This problem is especially true of ground covers. You don’t want your plants to merely survive; you want them to thrive and grow strong to crowd out the weeds! Using ground covers as a living mulch that covers the ground is a trouble-free trick used by gardeners worldwide. Finding the right plant for the right area will ensure that your plants live and grow happily for many years. But which ground covers thrive in full shade? Let’s find out!

First, we should define full shade. Full shade does not mean zero sunshine. It means three hours of direct sunlight or less per day. All plants need at least a few hours of sun to photosynthesize and live. You can tell if a plant is thriving if it puts out firm new growth that is bright and strong, the roots will be healthy, and the plant will be able to fight off diseases and pests easily. Plenty of plants do best in full-shade conditions, and the following ground covers are at the top of the list. 

1. Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)

Sweet woodruff definitely makes the list of plants that thrive in the shade. It looks lovely under shade trees and grows vigorously with only a few hours of sun per day. This ground cover grows to 15 inches high and produces white star-shaped flowers in the first month of summer that lasts through fall. Both the leaves and the flowers of sweet woodruff smell heavenly! After it is finished flowering, it produces spikey round fruits. If you live in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 – 8, you will have no trouble growing sweet woodruff. Provide it with plenty of moisture and rich, slightly acidic soil. It is deer-resistant, and chickens don’t like it much, either. 

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Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) with its white flowers
S

weet woodruff (

Galium odoratum

) grows 15 inches high and produces white star-shaped flowers.

©iStock.com/emer1940

2. Wild Ginger (Asarum shuttleworthii)

Wild ginger is one of the easiest ground covers to grow. It has heart-shaped variegated leaves that are green all year long. It is hardy in USDA Zones 6 – 9. Wild ginger creates a dense ground cover that does an excellent job of smothering weeds. It is low growing, comes in at only four inches tall, and spreads by creeping rhizomes. Wild ginger is drought tolerant once established and prefers acidic or neutral soil with good drainage. It does well in rocky areas because of its deep, strong roots.

Wild ginger (Asarum shuttleworthii) has heart-shaped leaves

Wild ginger creates a dense ground cover that does an excellent job of smothering weeds.

©iStock.com/CarbonBrain

3. Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

Bunchberry is a shade-loving contender that is often forgotten. It makes a bright green mat so dense no weed stands a chance. The leaves are shiny and ovular, with long red-tinted veins running throughout. The effect of the beautiful leaves in their abundance is gorgeous. 

This lovely member of the dogwood family likes acidic soil and is hardy between USDA Zones 2 – 7. Bunchberry is native to Asia and North America and is sometimes called creeping dogwood. It produces white flowers followed by red berries and is a prolific and fast spreader. Bunchberry prefers a cooler climate and will not thrive in hotter areas, but this one is a winner if you live in a northern region.

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) flowering.

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) creates a dense mat that crowds out weeds and produces beautiful white flowers followed by red berries.

©iStock.com/1827photo

4. Dwarf Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum humile)

Dwarf Solomon’s seal is luscious, with soft green leaves and stems under eight inches tall. It is a member of the asparagus family and is native to China, Japan, Korea, and parts of Russia. In the spring, bell-shaped flowers form, and after that, tiny black berries. This one grows slower than some other ground covers on this list, so you may have to pull weeds for the first season while it is getting established. After that, the rhizomes will spread along, providing a thick mat that loves the shade. Dwarf Solomon’s seal prefers acidic soil and mixes well with evergreen trees and tall shrubs. 

Dwarf Solomon's seal (Polygonatum humile) with bell-shaped flowers

Dwarf Solomon’s seal grows slower than other ground covers and produces bell-shaped flowers followed by tiny black berries.

©Walter Erhardt/Shutterstock.com

5. Lilyturf (Liriope muscari)

If you live in USDA Hardiness Zones 6b – 10, this is the shade-loving ground cover for you. It is often called monkey grass and is native to East Asia. It is a common ground cover plant in China and grows naturally in shady forests. It has strap-like leaves that are dark green and grow in clumps about ten inches high. In the summer, purple flower clusters emerge and peek out from the foliage. There are also white-flowered cultivars available now. After the flowers, black-colored berries form that last all winter. The warmer your climate, the faster lilyturf will grow. It is not picky about soil and will tolerate drought conditions once it has firmly established deep roots. It does not enjoy standing water or swampy conditions. Lilyturf is deer resistant

Lilyturf (Liriope muscari) is a shade-loving ground cover

Lilyturf (Liriope muscari) has strap-like leaves that are dark green with purple flower clusters.

©iStock.com/sueuy song

Bonus: Three More Lovely Shade-Loving Ground Covers

While there aren’t that many shade-loving ground covers – we managed to find three more for your consideration. All three are native to American woodlands and offer lovely, delicate flowers in the spring.

Goldenstar

Summer Flowering Bright Yellow Golden Knee or Goldenstar Plant (Chrysogonum virginianum) in a Woodland garden in Rural Devon, England, UK

Goldenstar blooms in spring and again in late summer.


Image: Peter Turner Photography, Shutterstock

©Peter Turner Photography/Shutterstock.com

This lovely native plant can be found in eastern deciduous forests – so it looks totally natural in a shaded yard or garden. Goldenstar’s rich green leaves are scattered with bright yellow star-shaped blossoms that bloom in spring and again in late summer. This slow-spreading ground cover does well in zones 5 – 8 and looks at home when bordering wildflowers and other delicate plants.

Vancouveria

inside-out flower Vancouveria hexandra close up

Vancouveria is native to the U.S. West Coast but is gaining popularity in the east.


Image: Marek Durajczyk, Shutterstock

©Marek Durajczyk/Shutterstock.com

Vancouveria’s masses of pale green leaflets provide an evergreen ground cover that does well in moist, shady lawns and gardens. Growing up to 16 inches high – the delicate green leaves sprout tiny white flowers in early summer. Vancouveria requires diligent watering if grown in the hot South – but does well in zones 5 – 9. When provided with plenty of moisture, acidic soil, and shade Vancouveria will form a tight ground cover that will keep coming back year after year.

Wild Cranesbill

Selective focus of blue violet flower in the garden, Geranium maculatum the wild geranium is a perennial plant native to woodland in eastern North America, Nature floral pattern background.

Wild cranesbill

(Geranium maculatum)

is insect-resistant.


Image: Wut_Moppie, Shutterstock

©Wut_Moppie/Shutterstock.com

If you need a deep, fast-growing cover that looks natural in woodland shade – look no further than this wild geranium! Wild cranesbill features flocks of delicate leaves on tall stems growing up to 24 inches in height. Pretty purple flowers appear in the spring and last for months – adding to this plant’s appeal. Wild cranesbill spreads quickly by self-seeding, is insect-resistant, and thrives in zones 4 – 8.

Summary of the 5 Ground Covers that Grow in Full Shade

#Ground CoverAppearance
1Sweet WoodfuffWhite, heart-shaped flowers up to 15 inches tall
2Wild GingerHeart-shaped variegated leaves grow low to the ground
3BunchberryDense green leaves with white flowers followed by berries
4Dwarf Solomon’s SealGreen stems with bell-shaped flowers growing 8 inches tall
5LilyturfDark green strap-like leaves with purple flowers growing 10 inches tall

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/eyewave


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About the Author

Heather Hall is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on plants and animals. Heather has been writing and editing since 2012 and holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, Heather enjoys hiking, gardening, and trail running through the mountains with her dogs.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Forest Service U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, Available here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/19201
  2. SpringerLink, Available here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11240-009-9495-0
  3. JSTOR , Available here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2404610