A ground cover shade plant can be the busy gardener's best friend. It's the all-purpose answer for those bare, shady spots where grass won't survive, too little rainfall means dry, dusty soil and too much rainfall means messy mud or erosion. Ground cover shade plants bring attractive foliage and colorful blooms to those sun-deprived areas, transforming them from eyesores to eye-catching.
Cymbalaria (Cymbalaria aequitriloba) is a perennial ground cover native to Southern Europe. Reaching only 3 inches tall and up to 18 inches wide, it has trailing stems with small green leaves that create a thick shady-area mat. In June in July, miniature lavender, yellow-throated blossoms resembling snapdragons add to its appeal. Largely insect-and-disease-resistant, it's hardy to minus 10 degrees F.
Use cymbalaria, advises the Missouri Botanical Garden, as a slope or small space ground cover where it will not receive foot traffic. It likes partial to full shade and averagely moist, well-drained soil. Plants prefer cool summers and mild winters and suffer in hot, humid weather. Provide winter protection where temperatures approach the lower end of its hardiness range.
Meehan's mint (Meehania cordata) is a perennial ground cover native to woods, forests and slopes from Pennsylvania, south to North Carolina, and west to Illinois. It has 1-inch, heart-shaped green leaves on square stems. The plants form mats from 3 to 6 inches high and up to 18 inches wide. They are hardy to minus 30 degrees F. In May and June, Meehan's mint has 3-inch tall spires of lavender, wooded flowers. Its only minor problem is a vulnerability to slugs.
Use the plant, suggests the Missouri Botanical Garden, as a shade or woodland garden ground cover or in shade borders. It prefers partial to full shade and will even accept sun in consistently moist soil. Plant it in a fertile, humus-rich, well-draining location.
Hosta 'Ginkgo Craig'
Hostas (Hosta) are perennial shade garden staples. The 'Ginkgo Craig' hosta cultivar is a dwarf plant standing just 3 to 6 inches high and 9 inches to 1 foot wide. An easy-care plant with narrow, pointed white-edged green leaves, 'Ginkgo Craig' is hardy to minus 40 degrees F. Its attractive foliage, emerging in early spring and continuing until frost, is the plant's most valuable ornamental feature. Weeds have serious trouble becoming established beneath 'Ginkgo Craig's' leaves.
In July and August, the plants revive the late summer garden with 18-inch spikes of striped, purple, orchid-like blooms. Mass them, recommends the Missouri Botanical Garden, as a shady area ground cover. They also work well as edgings or along border fronts. For best results, plant them in dappled shade and fertile, moist, well-draining soil.