Best ground cover plants for shade – 5 plants that thrive in darker spots

Brighten up the shadier areas of your yard with a colorful carpet of interesting florals and foliage

Ground cover plants for shade
(Image credit: Daniel Borzynski via Alamy)

It can be hard to know what to do in the darker spots of your yard and knowing which plants will grow happily out of the sun.

A big part of creating a shade garden is picking out ground cover plants to brighten up the ground beneath trees and in corners sheltered from sun exposure. Shade plants thrive out of the sun and are perfect for gardening in trickier places. Choosing the right ground cover plants for shade will create colorful carpets across your yard, no matter how little light it gets.

We've spoken to garden experts to compile a list of the best ground cover plants for shade so that you can create a thriving garden no matter how much light your yard gets.

5 ground cover plants for shade

Just because you have a shadier backyard doesn't mean you can't have a beautiful carpet of planting. These ground cover plants for shade will brighten up even the darkest corners of your garden.

1. Sweet Woodruff

Sweet woodruff

(Image credit: fotomarekka via Getty Images)

To create a charming display beneath your trees, choose sweet woodruff, or Galium odoratum. This hardy perennial produces small white flowers dotted among a mat of vibrant green.

'Sweet woodruff thrives in shaded areas, offering a sweet fragrance and delicate white flowers,' says Darren Muzzy, tree expert at Michigan Tree Experts. 'It’s low-maintenance and can quickly cover the ground, suppressing weeds effectively,' he adds.

Sweet woodruff is a perfect addition for a fragrant garden, with its sweet smell that also makes it a mosquito repellent plant.

Sweet woodruff thrives in US hardiness zone 4 to zone 8 and can be purchased from a range of suppliers, like this sweet woodruff plant from Walmart.

Darren Muzzy
Darren Muzzy

Darren Muzzy currently serves as the Director of Sales & Operations at Michigan Tree Experts. Born in California and now rooted in Michigan, Darren is a renowned tree care and gardening expert.

2. Goldenstars

Goldenstar plant

(Image credit: Anastasija Radenkovic via Getty Images)

If you're looking for a ground cover plant to add color to a dark spot in your yard, choosing goldenstar (Chrysogonum virginianum) will instantly brighten up your space.

'Also called Green-and-Gold, this native species can spread via runners or self-seeding, and blooms best in a mix of sun and shade,' says Miri Talabac, horticulturist at the University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center.

You can create a spectacular display with these bright yellow blooms that contrast against its green, leafy foliage. Goldenstar plants grow best in US hardiness zone 5 to zone 9 and will bloom across your yard from late spring to fall.

Miri Talabac
Miri Talabac

Miri Talabac is a Certified Professional Horticulturist who has worked as a horticulture consultant for the University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center since 2019. She has 22 years of experience working at a retail garden center prior to joining Extension. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland with a focus in entomology.

3. Geraniums

Geraniums

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Among the best fast-growing ground cover plants, geraniums an be grown to quickly add a colorful carpet to your yard.

'Geranium, specifically the hardy varieties, can tolerate shade and produce lovely blooms in various colors,' says Darren. 'They spread steadily and help fill in gaps where other plants might struggle,' he notes.

Geraniums come in a wide range of colors, with many hardy geranium varieties offering the possibility of different combinations and displays. They bloom from spring to fall and grow best in US hardiness zone 3 to zone 9.

Find hardy geraniums online, like this Tiny Monster Geranium from Nature Hills.

4. Moss

Moss ground cover

(Image credit: Ali Majdfar via Getty Images)

Growing moss intentionally has recently risen in popularity, as this shade-loving green cover can be used in a range of ways.

'Moss is a classic ground cover for shady spots. It requires moisture and thrives in humid environments, creating a lush green carpet perfect for a serene garden feel,' says Darren.

You can grow moss across the US as an evergreen ground cover plant that will provide a gorgeous green carpet all year round, so long as moisture levels are kept up.

Due to the moisture retainment of moss, experts also note that it can provide a good environment for other plants to grow.

'Seeds might germinate in the moss as well, both desirable plants and undesirable, like various weeds, so carefully plucking unwanted plants out of a moss bed will help to keep it lush,' Miri suggests.

5. Heucheras

Heucheras

(Image credit: Darrell Gulin via Getty Images)

If you're a fan of interesting leaf shape, consider growing heucheras for eye-catching ground cover in your yard.

'Heuchera, also known as coral bells, features vibrant foliage in diverse colors,' says Darren. 'It performs well in shade and adds both texture and color interest to the garden floor,' he adds.

There are many heuchera varieties to choose from, ranging from green hues to dark purple and red.

'Water heuchera thoroughly after planting and monitor its moisture amounts, especially during the first growing season,' says Chuck Pavlich, director of new product development with Terra Nova Nurseries.

'Do not neglect necessary fertilizer, as there is intense competition for nutrients under trees and shrubs,' he adds.

Find the right heucheras for your space online, like these Fire Alarm Coral Bells from Nature Hills.

Chuck Pavlich
Chuck Pavlich

Educated at Washington State University, Chuck has worked in the retail nursery business for 30 years. Chuck brings his passion for plants and horticulture expertise to Terra Nova Nurseries as the Director of New Product Development.

FAQs

How often should I water ground cover shade plants?

Many plants that thrive in shady spots are drought-tolerant and don't need watering as frequently as other plants. However, it's always a good idea to ensure your shade ground cover plants are receiving sufficient moisture. They may also benefit from rainwater released from canopies of trees above but can also resultingly take longer to dry. Take care not to overwater ground cover shade plants, as they are likely to develop fungal diseases if not left to dry out properly. The best thing to do is research the requirements of your specific plants to ensure you are providing optimal care.


There are ground cover plants for every spot in your yard, even those trickier places in shade. These ground cover plants for shade will brighten up darker areas with colorful and shapely foliage and florals.

If you are keen to create a beautiful yard with planting that keeps your outdoor space functional, explore our expert list of the best walkable ground cover plants.

Tenielle Jordison
News Writer (Gardens)

Tenielle is a News Writer in the Gardens team at Homes & Gardens with five years of journalistic experience. She studied BA Journalism, Media and English Literature and MA Magazine Journalism at Cardiff University. Before coming to Homes & Gardens, Tenielle was in the editorial department at the Royal Horticultural Society and worked on The Garden magazine. She is passionate about sustainable living and likes to encourage gardeners to make greener choices to help tackle the effects of climate change with a trowel in hand. Tenielle is also a houseplant lover who is slowly running out of room for her ever-growing collection.