Finding plants that thrive in shady area and under trees is a problem
but not impossible. If that's a dilemma for you, I have some helpful
QUESTION: "I love reading your column each week! You have great
advice on plants. I recently read your column that mentioned vinca
minor and pachysandra terminalis for shady areas.
"We have a backyard that faces woods to the north and the yard portion
is only about 30' wide between the deck and the woods. About half of
the western side of this backyard is totally shaded due to trees and
is bare dirt.
"We have three boys (as well as other neighbor boys) who run around a
lot in the yard and we haven't been able to get any grass to grow
successfully in that area. It grows in May and June and then once the
tree leaves come in the grass dies due to lack of sunlight! We have
tried all types of grass and none work.
"During the rainy season other backyards drain through our yard to the
creek in the woods, so the area it gets pretty muddy but it does drain
and there is no standing water.
"I am so tired of this ugly look that is so hard on bare feet as
well! Can you recommend any low-growing or appropriate groundcover
that would work in such a shady area?" - Lisa Knapp
ANSWER: Thanks for the compliments and for being a reader to the
As a reminder to you and other readers, I'll mention a few suitable
groundcovers, below. It is fairly easy to work with any of these shade-
tolerant groundcovers but you will have to establish for at least one
growing season before the area can suffer a lot of traffic.
As always, the best first step is to establish the area where you want
to plant your groundcover. Regular readers know that I recommend using
a garden hose that you place on the ground and move around and
indicate the perimeter of the area you intend to plant. Step back and
take a look. Not quite satisfied yet? Simply move the hose a little
(or a lot) until you see the desired outline of the proposed area.
This is the landscaper's equivalent of the carpenter's motto, "Measure
twice, cut once." Moving a hose now is easy; moving plants later
Once you have determined the shape, fill in the area with top soil,
compost or plantable mulch. Keep in mind that during the rainy season
you have to have a way for the water to travel so do not block the
natural flow. You might then want to put some type of edging around
the perimeter to establish a boundary. Then you can plant your
groundcover in early spring. You can also plant groundcover in the
fall, but if you do, make sure you mulch in the roots for winter and
then let it go until the following spring.
Here are some shade-loving groundcovers that are worth investigating:
<a href="http://www.greenwoodnursery.com/page.cfm/47177 ">Pachysandra
This is the most reliable cold-season groundcover for shaded areas and
is ideal for planting under the canopies of established trees where
little else grows. It's also good for planting by on the north side
of wall or on north-facing slopes. Green Sheen has extremely glossy
foliage that sometimes looks too good to be real!
<a href="http://www.greenwoodnursery.com/page.cfm/18866 ">Pachysandra,
An alternative (or addition) to the Green Sheen, the variegated
Japanese thrives even in the dense shade of evergreens. It is low-
growing and compact, retaining its beauty with white tinged leaves
even in adverse conditions.
<a href="http://www.greenwoodnursery.com/page.cfm/72712 ">Dicentra
This is a relatively new Bleeding Heart variety that produces masses
of pendulous bright pink candy-like flowers. I would recommend that
Candy Hearts be planted where they'll get some partial sun for part of
the day but they are shade-tolerant.
<a href="http://www.greenwoodnursery.com/page.cfm/10114 ">Ajuga Reptans
A creeping, mat-forming evergreen perennial that does well in shady
area. It spreads rapidly to a width of 24 to 36 inches and a height
of only six inches. The cream and maroon variegated leaves make a
pleasant contrast in any garden.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs
and landscaping to <a
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