17 Beautiful Ground Covers for Shade

If your garden and surrounding property feature lots of shade, you’re not alone! Join organic farmer Jenna Rich as she shares her research on 17 beautiful ground covers for shady areas.

Partridge berry ground cover in a shady garden. Plump red berries accent shiny green leaves on this ground cover.


Most of the plants I write about prefer full sun. But what about those of us with shady areas? There must be something out there for us, right? 

Outside the new home I’m building with my partner, we have some beautiful rock retaining walls that are in the shade most of the day. I have dreams of lush trailing greens and flowering vines hanging over the rocks. I’ve been trying to find the perfect ground cover for the rocky soil in our climate. 

In that light, please enjoy this list of 17 beautiful ground covers for shady areas I’ve researched so you don’t have to. Enjoy!

Why Should You Cover the Ground In Your Garden? 

I bet you’ve heard that mulching can help the soil retain moisture, suppress weeds, hold soil in place, and prevent erosion. Well, covering the ground around a shade garden is no different! Grass creeps in fast and is hard to get rid of, so when starting a shade garden, we recommend killing back any grass in the area and starting with a blank slate. 

Some plants don’t mind being stepped on, creating a lovely green path, while others do well under patios and along rock walls. Here are 17 of our favorite ground covers that work well in shady areas

Golden Japanese Stonecrop

Close-up of Sedum makinoi 'Ogon' in a rock garden. Its small, succulent leaves are fleshy and spoon-shaped, showing a brilliant golden-yellow color. The foliage forms are dense, cascading mats, creating a visually appealing carpet.
‘Ogon’ sedum thrives in full shade, boasts low maintenance, and adapts to various environments.
botanical-name botanical name Sedum makinoi ‘Ogon’
plant-type plant type Annual
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 2-4” tall, 8-12” wide
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 7-9

While most sedums require full sun to partial shade, ‘Ogon’ can tolerate full shade. Grown mostly for its bright gold greenery, it also blooms in the summer with a yellow flower. In the fall, the foliage transitions to a deep reddish-purple.

This unique sedum grows low to the ground, just about three inches tall, forming a dense mat-like cover. It’s perfect for a shady rock garden, around raised beds, or under a patio. 

As far as maintenance, Golden Japanese Stonecrop won’t ask much from you. It prefers the soil to remain moderately moist but is also heat and drought-tolerant once well-established. 


Close-up of a flowering Bunchberry plant (Cornus canadensis) in a garden. Bunchberry is a charming and diminutive woodland plant, admired for its distinctive appearance. Its low, creeping stems give rise to whorls of four to six broadly oval leaves, forming a lush carpet on the ground. The leaves display deep green coloration and a prominent, parallel venation. The delicate white bracts resembling petals surround a cluster of tiny greenish-yellow flowers in the center.
This white-flowered ground cover is perfect for cold, wet soils.
botanical-name botanical name Cornus canadensis
plant-type plant type Herbaceous perennial, evergreen 
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade 
height height 4-9” tall, 6-12” wide 
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 2-7

If you grow in a colder region, you may sometimes feel limited by your choices for cold, consistently moist soils. Enter bunchberry, which can be found growing even in Alaska. Known commonly as creeping dogwood, dwarf dogwood, bunchberry dogwood, and Canadian bunchberry, this plant makes an attractive, medium-green flowering carpet. 

In late spring or early summer, it blooms a cartoon-like white flower featuring four pointed petals with a salt and pepper center, but don’t expect flowers until at least the third year. In late summer, the blossoms form tiny fruits that serve as food for birds. 

Bunchberry spreads by underground rhizomes so it expands fairly easily, but should not be planted in a high foot traffic area. 

Creeping thyme

Close-up of a flowering ground cover plant, Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum), in a garden. Creeping thyme is a delightful, low-growing herb. The tiny, oval-shaped leaves are densely packed along trailing stems, creating a carpet of vibrant green. The plant produces tiny, tubular flowers in a lavender hue.
This aromatic plant with edible properties attracts pollinators and suppresses weeds.
botanical-name botanical name Thymus serpyllum
plant-type plant type Herbaceous perennial 
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade 
height height 2-6” tall, 6-18” wide
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 2-9

A ground cover that doubles as an edible herb and smells amazing? Yes, please! Creeping thyme is a gorgeous dark green and, when it blooms in the summer, is covered with small white, pink, or purple flowers. 

It’s hardy in zones 4-10, making it a great choice for many growers. Pollinators love it, so be careful where you step in the garden. Creeping thyme grows very densely, and therefore, it’s great for weed suppression. It will also creep through rocks, retaining walls, fences, or pathways, making the name ‘creeping thyme’ very accurate. 

Wild Ginger

Close-up of a Wild Ginger plant in a garden with mulched soil. Its heart-shaped leaves, rich green and glossy, emerge directly from the ground on short stems, creating a dense carpet of foliage. The leaves are characterized by prominent veining and a smooth texture.
This groundcover is a hardy, spreading plant that attracts Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies.
botanical-name botanical name Asarum canadense
plant-type plant type Woodland perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial sun to full shade
height height 6-10” tall, 1-2’ wide
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-8

An underrated, reliable, and attractive ground cover, wild ginger serves as a food source for the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly. Hardier and larger than its cousin, European ginger, it survives winters down to zone 3. Its glossy leaves are large, dark green, and heart-shaped. You may never see the pendulous flowers that hang beneath the foliage. These are pollinated by crawling insects. 

Because it’s a woodland plant, it requires moist, well-draining soil that’s rich in organic matter. It thrives in full shade. Although it has a gingery flavor and aroma, wild ginger is not for consumption and is of a plant family entirely different from the culinary version (Zingiber officinale).

Give wild ginger 1-2 feet of space when planting. The plant spreads via rhizome, creating a dense carpet of foliage. Use it to fill in space nearby and between early spring bloomers. Divide plants in the spring for the best success in transplanting and getting them established. You should be able to do so via the rhizomes, which grow just below the soil surface. 

Spotted Dead Nettle

Close-up of Spotted Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum) flowering plants in a garden. This low-growing perennial forms spreading mats of heart-shaped leaves with variegated patterns, featuring silver-white markings along the edges. Clusters of tubular flowers emerge in the shade of pink, rising above the foliage on short stems.
This nettle flourishes in shade with minimal care.
botanical-name botanical name Lamium maculatum
plant-type plant type Herbaceous perennial 
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade 
height height 6-9” tall, 2-3’ wide
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-8

Although this member of the mint family looks similar to stinging nettle, it won’t hurt you, hence the ‘dead’ part in its name. But the hair on its oppositely arranged leaves may make you do a double take. It blooms in spring and summer with small white, pink, or purple flowers, and with the flowers come the bumblebees. While the blooms are attractive, it’s typically grown for its lush foliage. 

When planted in full shade, spotted nettle, as it’s sometimes called, won’t require much for watering. Although some growers are scared off by its ability to spread, spotted nettle is an amazing option for large, shady areas that need coverage, such as newly constructed beds. 

Pro tip: Grow this alongside Sweet Woodruff, another groundcover on this list, for a unique underplanting. 

Creeping Phlox

Close-up of a flowering ground cover plant, Creeping Phlox (Phlox stolonifera), in a garden. The plant features clusters of small, five-petaled flowers that form dense mats along creeping stems. These flowers come in a lavender shade. The evergreen foliage is lance-shaped, forming a dense carpet.
Low-growing creeping phlox, also known as moss phlox, forms a stunning ground cover.
botanical-name botanical name Phlox stolonifera
plant-type plant type Herbaceous perennial 
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 6-12” tall, 10-20” wide 
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-9

You may be familiar with upright flowering phlox, but have you heard of low-growing creeping phlox? Its lovely pale-hued flowers make it quite the sight when growing in mass along border walls, retaining walls, and rolling sloped land. 

Creeping phlox is also called moss phlox and gets its botanical name for its growth by way of stolon, or horizontal runners. These allow it to spread, giving it a creeping nature. The dark green oval leaves look awesome even after the flowers have passed. Pruning is optional, but it will keep the area looking cleaner if spent flowers are removed. 

Reduce weed pressure when establishing creeping phlox as a ground cover and ensure the soil remains moist. Feed with a well-balanced and organic fertilizer in the spring. 

Creeping Jenny

Close-up of a flowering plant, Creeping Jenny, twining over a stone border in a sunny garden. The plant forms dense mats of rounded, bright green leaves that are tinged with yellow or gold. The foliage is characterized by its opposite arrangement along the creeping stems and its slightly cupped shape. The foliage is adorned with small, cup-shaped yellow flowers.
Known as moneywort, this plant boasts charming foliage but spreads rapidly in well-draining soil.
botanical-name botanical name Lysimachia nummularia
plant-type plant type Perennial, evergreen
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 2-5” tall, 12-18” wide
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

Grown mostly for its lovely foliage, Creeping Jenny is a low-growing cover whose leaves resemble little coins, earning it the nickname moneywort. The small yellow, lantern-shaped flowers don’t last long but are quite cute.  

Due to its incredible growth rate and ability to spread, planting Creeping Jenny near annual gardens isn’t advised. However, it covers unsightly ground areas such as a back deck or around a garage or garden shed very well. Watch out for slugs, caterpillars, and aphids.

Jenny’s not particular about the soil pH level but does need it to be well-draining. While you can grow Creeping Jenny in full sun, the leaves tend to be more yellow and sometimes become blanched. When grown with limited sun, they remain a waxy, medium green. 


Close-up of a flowering Viola × wittrockiana plant with water drops. These cool-season annuals or biennials boast rounded, velvety-textured petals of a delicate blue color with blue markings closer to the center of the flower. The flowers have a distinctive "face," marked with dark lines radiating from the center, adding to their visual allure. Pansies have a compact growth habit with dark green, slightly serrated leaves.
Cold-tolerant violas thrive in the shade, offering low ground cover with colorful blooms.
botanical-name botanical name Viola × wittrockiana
plant-type plant type Perennial, often grown as annuals 
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial shade
height height up to 8” tall when in bloom, 4-12” wide 
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-10

This one might surprise you, but pansies do well in shady areas and are super cold-tolerant, making them a superb groundcover option. Their foliage also remains low to the ground and looks nice after they bloom in the spring and early summer. These members of the viola family readily reseed, making them easy to maintain. 

Pansies were bred from violas, and there are lots of different flower types and color options to choose from. Perhaps one of the most popular is ‘Johnny jump-ups’, which look like a friendly purple, yellow, and white “face”.

Try winter sowing them for the earliest spring blooms. Pinch back dried-up flowers to encourage new growth. As a bonus, the flowers are edible. 


Close-up of a blooming ground cover plant Arctostaphylos uva-ursi in a garden with water drops. This hardy plant features small, leathery, elliptical leaves that are glossy green in color. The plant produces delicate pink-white bell-shaped flowers.
Also known as kinnikinnick, this plant forms a hardy ground cover with glossy foliage and pink lantern-like flowers.
botanical-name botanical name Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
plant-type plant type Perennial shrub
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 6-12” tall, 3-6’ wide
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 2-7

This unique sub-shrub forms a dense ground cover or trailing cover for a wall. Its foliage is rounded, dark green, and glossy, which transitions to a bronzed purple in the off-season. The plant consists of branching twigs and long, flexible stems and features alternating leaves. Small pink flowers bloom from May to June, akin to small lanterns, just ¼  – ½ inch. 

This gorgeous and hardy groundcover thrives in sandy soils, rock walls, and dry and rocky spots. It spreads fairly slowly by shallow rhizomes and doesn’t do well when moved once established. Pick a spot you’re sure of, where it can spread over the next few years. Use a balanced fertilizer each spring to encourage new growth. Control weeds for best results. 

Bearberries will play an important role in any backyard ecosystem. While the plant itself is fairly deer-resistant, the small red berries are an important food source for native birds and small critters, too. Several butterflies make Bearberry shrubs their home. Perfect for cold region growers, Bearberry is a very cold-tolerant option. 

Wild Strawberry

Wild strawberries, adorned with delicate white flowers boasting sunny yellow centers, emerge gracefully from a slender stem. The lush green leaves cradle this exquisite arrangement, forming a picturesque scene that encapsulates the beauty of nature's intricate design.
Wild Strawberry is an attractive and edible ground cover option.
botanical-name botanical name Fragaria virginiana
plant-type plant type Perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to full shade 
height height 4-7” tall, 1′-2′ wide
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-9

Perhaps you’d like a pretty ground cover that’s edible, too? Wild Strawberry spreads easily in shady beds, covering the ground with bright-green rosettes. In late spring to early summer, it produces adorable white flowers followed by sweet, scarlet berries.

Wild Strawberry can go dormant in the midsummer heat, so avoid it in arid, desert climates and keep it in full shade in areas with hot summers to prevent leaf scorch.

While disease-resistant, powdery mildew can become an occasional problem. Wild Strawberry forms colonies via runners, and is easy to transplant wherever your garden needs some color.

White Clover

Close-up of a flowering ground cover plant, Trifolium repens, in a garden. Trifolium repens, commonly known as white clover, is a low-growing perennial plant with distinctive trifoliate leaves. The leaves consist of three oval leaflets, each with a characteristic white V-shaped mark. The leaflets are smooth and have serrated edges. White clover produces globular flower heads, or inflorescences, consisting of numerous small, tubular, white to pale pink flowers.
This is an adaptable and eco-friendly plant that thrives in shade and attracts pollinators.
botanical-name botanical name Trifolium repens L.
plant-type plant type Perennial or winter annual 
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial shade
height height 6-12” tall
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-10

This spreading clover is easy to establish, thrives in shade, and can tolerate heavy foot traffic, making it a great option for a shady rock garden or along a north-facing patio. It also attracts beneficial insects, making it an environmentally friendly lawn alternative that prevents erosion. And yes, it’s the same white clover that pops up occasionally on your lawn! 

White clover serves well as a living mulch that suppresses weeds in perennial fruit trees and vegetable gardens. Michigan blueberry growers find growing white clover between rows of plants increases pollination. It can be mowed, making it easy to maintain, and produces more nitrogen than most other legumes. Seeding can be easily adjusted to whatever scale garden you have. 

This ground cover can tolerate wet conditions, dry spells, and fairly acidic soils. We planted this along a sloped retaining rock wall area in the back of our house. It will handle dog foot traffic well, too. 

Woodland Stonecrop

Close-up of Woodland Stonecrop ground cover plant growing in a large wooden planter in the garden. This low-growing succulent features fleshy, rounded leaves arranged in whorls of three along trailing stems, creating a lush, moss-like effect. The leaves are typically blue-green in color and take on reddish hues in response to environmental conditions. The plant produces star-shaped white flowers with five petals appear in clusters.
This moisture-tolerant sedum blooms with small white flowers.
botanical-name botanical name Sedum ternatum
plant-type plant type Perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 3-6” tall, 6-8” wide
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

Also referred to as wild stonecrop, this sedum blooms from March to June, depending on your region. Its flower is a small white one with pointy petals. What makes wild stonecrop different from other sedums is that it can tolerate moisture and shade better than others. 

The North American native forms a dense, trailing mat with its succulent foliage. It will happily creep along rocks and in between cracks and crevices. 

Propagate by starting from seed, dividing, or taking cuttings from healthy plants. Cuttings can be taken at any point in the season and offer an easy way to create new sedum plants. 

Sweet Woodruff

Close-up of a flowering plant Galium odoratum. This perennial ground cover plant forms a dense carpet of whorled, lance-shaped leaves arranged in groups of six to eight along delicate stems. The leaves are bright green and have a distinct pleated or corrugated texture. The plant produces tiny, star-shaped white flowers that bloom in clusters.
This is a low-maintenance ground cover with star-shaped flowers that thrives in dry or moist shade.
botanical-name botanical name Galium odoratum
plant-type plant type Perennial herb
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade 
height height 6-12”, 10-20” wide 
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-9

This herbaceous perennial blooms cute little white, 4-petaled star-shaped flowers with medium-dark green leaves. It’s an extremely easy groundcover to grow, and it’s deer and rabbit-resistant to boot. 

Common names for sweet woodruff include wild baby’s breath and sweet-scented bedstraw. If you like the smell of freshly cut grass but don’t want to deal with the maintenance, sweet woodruff is for you. It gets easily damaged when the sun is too hot, so plant it where the sun don’t shine. While moist soil is preferred, it performs well in dry shade as well. 

This perennial can spread aggressively, so be sure to keep it under control if there are areas nearby you don’t want it to take over. Give each plant at least one foot of space, and divide large plants by digging up clumps and moving them to a new area or sharing them with a friend, similar to hostas.  

Partridge Berry

Pretty Partridge Berry has sweet pinkish-white flowers followed by bright red berries.
botanical-name botanical name Mitchella repens
plant-type plant type Perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 1-2” tall, 6-12” wide
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

This ground-hugging ornamental has eye-catching red berries beloved by birds and small mammals. It’s a great choice if you’d like a wildlife-friendly ground cover for your shade garden.

Partridge Berry is native to Eastern North America. It likes acidic soil and is a great underplanting for acid-loving plants like blueberries and rhododendrons.

Cute and dainty, this hard-working ground cover blooms with fragrant, trumpet-shaped blush to white blossoms from spring through fall. It is generally unbothered by pests and diseases.

Brass Buttons

Top view, close-up of Brass Buttons in a rock garden. Brass Buttons (Leptinella squalida) is a charming and diminutive perennial ground cover appreciated for its unique appearance. Forming tight, moss-like cushions, this plant features intricately dissected, fern-like foliage that is bright green and has a lacy or feathery texture.
This low-maintenance perennial spreads quickly and thrives in shade.
botanical-name botanical name Leptinella squalida
plant-type plant type Perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height ½-2” tall, 10-20” wide  
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-10 

This funky, fern-like perennial is perfect for gardeners with lots of new space to fill with varying soil situations. When grown in the shade, fewer of its yellow flowers will bloom, but the purplish green foliage is perfectly lovely without them. ‘Platt’s Black’ is a cool option with unique dark purple leaves with green tips. 

Brass buttons spread quickly and can be used as a lawn alternative as they can handle some foot traffic and require little maintenance. There aren’t many pests or disease problems, but watch out for aphids in the spring. 

Keep the soil fairly moist, but don’t overwater to avoid root rot. Brass buttons like fairly acidic soil. Too much sun scorches the leaves, making it a great option for shady areas. Try lining pathways with it or allowing it to spread between stepping stones and rock walls. 

Green and Gold

Green and Gold is a vigorously-growing, cheerful ground cover option.
botanical-name botanical name Chrysogonum virginianum
plant-type plant type Herbaceous perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade 
height height 6-12″ tall, 8-18″ wide
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-9

This pretty ground cover, also called “the golden star plant” is native to the eastern United States. It’s a great alternative to invasive Pachysandra.  

Green and Gold is low maintenance. It forms a low-growing mat of deep green leaves. In early spring, it blooms with bright yellow, daisy-like flowers. A vigorous grower, it will spread rapidly to fill in your shady garden areas.

This ground cover prefers consistently moist (but not soggy) soil. Green and Gold is easy to transplant and also looks great in pots and containers. It’s rarely bothered by pests or disease, but watch for occasional slug and snail damage.

Heartleaf Brunnera 

Close-up of a flowering Brunnera macrophylla plant in a sunny garden. The Heartleaf Brunnera also known as Siberian Bugloss, is an enchanting perennial valued for its heart-shaped leaves and delicate, early-spring blooms. The large, basal leaves have a distinctive silver-green hue with prominent veining. The foliage forms a dense, ground-hugging clump. Airy sprays of tiny, bright blue flowers rise above the foliage
Heartleaf Brunnera, or false forget-me-not, features heart-shaped leaves and blue flowers.
botanical-name botanical name Brunnera macrophylla
plant-type plant type Perennial
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade 
height height 1-3’ tall, 12-30” wide 
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-8

Sometimes referred to as false forget-me-nots due to their flower resemblance, Heartleaf Brunnera features tiny blueish-purple flowers in the spring alongside broad, heart-shaped, almost iridescent leaves. The hairs on the leaves of this woodland plant make them unattractive to deer and rabbits. 

This beauty thrives in the shade, spreads slowly underground, and is easy to care for, making heartleaf brunnera a fan favorite. Some cultivars’ colors will be slightly subdued when grown in the shade but beautiful nonetheless. This flower won’t perform best in prolonged hot, humid conditions, although some silver-leafed varieties like “Sterling Silver’ tolerate it just fine when afternoon shade is provided. 

Deadhead this beauty throughout the season to keep growth healthy, removing any yellowing leaves or passed-by flowers. Brunnera may self-seed, but unwanted seedlings are easy to pull up. 

Final Thoughts 

I hope you discovered a shade-loving plant that suits your needs. Or perhaps you rediscovered a plant you haven’t grown in a while. Happy ground covering! 

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