Planting in the shade can seem intimidating; you can't just go to the nursery and buy any colorful thing you see, because sun is a necessity for many plants. But there are more options for shade-loving plants than you may realize, and if the particular plant you're needing is a ground cover, you have lots of options. Many ground covers are not only shade-friendly, but they are also evergreen and/or have a blooming period, which gives you those flowers even in the shady areas.
English ivy (Hedera helix) is the best-known and most shade-tolerant of the shade-loving ground covers. It is an evergreen, with thin, woody stems covered by dark green, glossy leaves. English ivy spreads by runners and can become an invasive beast if not pruned and contained. It loves growing up brick walls, trees, sides of houses, anything that stands still long enough. However, if you need a quick cover that can tolerate deep shade, English ivy is your best choice.
Bugleweed (Ajuga) is a small ground cover, 6 inches in height, and it produces flowers in May and June. Flowers can be rose, white or blue, with blue being the most common. Depending on the variety, bugleweed is a semi-evergreen or an evergreen. Its foliage of small, rounded leaves is colorful, ranging from bronze to purple and all shades of green. It's an ideal choice for an area of partial shade or to fill in between and under trees, as it will tolerate both shade and sun and thrives in all but the hottest areas.
Creeping lilyturf (Liriope spicata), when flowering, can be up to 15 inches tall. Its lavender flowers, which appear in spring, are on spikes and are dramatic against its grass-like leaves, which fall up and out to create a cascading effect. Creeping lilyturf is an evergreen that grows best in the southern zones and the mid-Atlantic regions. It is equally happy in shade or sun, tolerant of heat and drought, and happy to grow even in poor soil.
Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) is an evergreen creeping plant, not a tuft of grass; the name refers to its tuft-like flowers which appear in spring and last into the summer. It gets up to 8 inches tall. It spreads rather slowly, so don't expect your area to be covered in one season. Not only does it provide the evergreen leafing that keeps your ground from going bare in the fall, but the lovely summer blooms are prolific and range from white to deep pink. Candytuft needs well-drained soil and light shade or sun; if you provide that, it will grow in almost any area.
Periwinkle (Vinca minor) can be from 4 to 9 inches tall, and has small, oval-shaped leaves. It spreads nicely as it does so both by roots and above-ground runners. It has small, blue flowers, which bloom in late spring through early summer, and the plant is evergreen. It prefers soil that is slightly moist, so keep an eye on it during the hot, dry part of the summer. Once it is well established, it can help prevent erosion.
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