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Monday, September 25, 2023
Sept. 25, 2023

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Gardening with Allen: Plant ground covers in shady areas under trees


As my trees have grown larger, the grass growing under them is becoming thinner and thinner. Are there ground cover plants which I could plant in these shady areas?

There are several ground cover plants which will grow in areas too shady for good grass growth. Ground covers can become invasive and grow into areas where you do not want them. So avoid ivy, Bishop’s Weed and other aggressive ground covers. Plan to spend time with a line trimmer confining them to the areas where you want them to grow.

Ground covers are more expensive to establish than a lawn but save the time and expense of lawn mowing. I suggest using a weed preventer such as Preen to reduce weed problems between plants as they are getting established.

Sweet Woodruff (Gallium odoratum) grows about 3 to 4 inches high and produces tiny white flowers in the spring. It is also drought tolerant and is very resistant to weed invasion once established.

Carpet Bugle (Ajuga reptans) comes in a range of leaf shades including bronze and tricolor. It grows 3 to 5 inches tall and has blue spike flowers in the spring. It is very easy to establish by digging up starts with roots from an established area.

Stonecrop (Sedum) is quite shade and drought tolerant. Several leaf types and colors are available. Flowers range in color from yellow to pink and white. The most shade tolerant is Sedum acre, often sold as Golden Sedum. Sedum is quite attractive growing in rocky areas and small pockets in rock walls.

Native Creeping Potentilla (Potentilla verna) grows only an inch or two high and tolerates moderate shade well. It has yellow flowers in the spring with intermittent bloom during the summer.

Lamium maculatum has variegated green and silver leaves and white, pink, lavender or crimson flowers. Lamium flowers from early spring until fall. It needs plenty of water and does not grow well in dry areas. It is easy to keep to a confined area.

Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia) is another shade tolerant ground cover which needs plenty of moisture. It grows well in wet areas such as next to a pond. Creeping Jenny grows only 2 inches tall with yellow flowers in late spring. A yellow leaf selection is also popular.

Our native Kinnikinnick is somewhat shade tolerant and drought tolerant. It grows about 4 inches high and stays evergreen most winters.

Vinca minor is a quickly established ground cover which grows in sun or shade. It needs some confinement to keep it from growing into unwanted areas. It produces attractive blue flowers in the spring.