Gardeners with shady landscapes are often at a loss for ways to green those dim areas. Many grasses have difficulty establishing in shade. Several attractive and durable ground covers, however, thrive in partial (two to six hours of daily sun) to full shade (less than two hours of sun). With adequate drainage and maintenance to keep them fresh, advises the University Of Illinois Extension, shade ground cover plants make excellent lawn substitutes.
Chinese Astilbe Pumila
Chinese astilbe pumila (Astilbe chinensis var. pumila) is a perennial ground cover native to China, Korea, and Siberia. Hardy to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, it forms six-inch tall clumps of fern-like green foliage. Between May and August, nine-to-12-inch stems bearing feathery spikes of delicate mauve flowers rise above its leaves. Use Chinese astilbe pumila, recommends the Missouri Botanical Garden, as a ground cover or edging in shade, woodland or rock gardens, or in shady borders.
Pumila benefits from consistently moist soil. Plant it in a well-drained, humus rich location with partial to full shade. Regular watering and a summer mulch of compost will maintain its foliage. Divide pumila as necessary every three to four years when its flower production decreases.
Cymbalaria (Cymbalaria aequitrilobia), a perennial shade ground cover hardy to minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit, is native to southern Europe. Standing just three inches high and spreading up to 1.5 feet, it has trailing stems with medium green leaves. Cymbalaria forms a dense mat covered with miniature lavender-blue, yellow-throated flowers in June and July. The blooms resemble snapdragons. Use it, suggests the Missouri Botanical Garden, as a small-area ground cover and rock garden plant or to fill the cracks in stone walls. Evergreen in mild winters, it struggles in hot, humid summers. Plant cymbalaria away from foot traffic in partial to full shade and moderately moist, well-drained soil.
Foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia) grows wild from the Appalachian Mountains south to Alabama and west to Minnesota. It withstands winter temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Nine to 12 inches high and spreading up to two feet, this perennial clump-forming plant spreads quickly. Its heart-shaped, four-inch green leaves may have a reddish cast in autumn. Where winters are mild, the plant is evergreen.
In May, foam flower has 10-to-12-inch stems with spikes of small white or pale pink flowers. Their unusually long stamens have a foamy look. Flowering continues for up to six weeks. Use pest-and-disease-resistant foam flower in shade borders, rock or woodland gardens or along stream banks. It's happiest, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden, in moist, organically rich soil. Consistently wet soils, however, can kill it.