Ground Cover(s) for Heat and Shade

ApprenticeGardener(7b or 8)August 1, 2012

We have an area about 25' X 30' that is next to the east side

of the house. It is shaded on two sides by second story decks and on the remaining two sides by tall trees with an English Ivy border.The area gets 3 to 4 hours direct sun a day.

Red Fesque was previously used as a "ground cover", but even it has given up trying to survive. I posted a request to ideas on replacement grass seed on the "Lawn Care" part of this forum. All responses basically said "Abandon Hope" as far as grass was concerned and explore a true ground cover.

We are now thinking of moving our existing above-ground fire-pit to the area, installing gravel and seating around the pit, and adding stepping stones to better define the (now) dirt paths that go through the area.

This will leave about 100 sq.ft. for ground cover, most or all of which will be low or no traffic area. Any suggestion for ground covers that could be used in these areas?

Thanks, in advance, for your ideas. Best Wishes--CARL & MARGO

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mistascott(7A VA)

The advice you received was correct, despite the claims made by grass seed companies and their "shade mix" products: Grasses are definitely not going to do well with that little sun exposure. Mazus, Ajuga, and Green-and-Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) come to mind as alternatives, but there are more options. Moisture will be the biggest concern as many shade groundcovers really cannot thrive if they are dry. There are some though, like barrenwort, that will do fine dry. Also, you need to specify how high you want the groundcover to be -- plants up to 1 ft. high are often considered groundcovers, but some people really prefer something that is only a few inches high. Personally, I really like U.S. native viola walteri var. 'Silver Gem' as a shade groundcover.

Uploaded with

Click the link below, fill in your information about exposure, etc. and you will get some more choices. The conditions you list seem to leave you with many good possibilities. Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Groundcover Selector

    Bookmark   August 2, 2012 at 11:18AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Lots of good groundcovers for dry shade :-) Other choices include Lamium maculatum, Euphorbia robbiea, Aegopodium podagraria, pachysandra, liriope and sweet woodruff (watch out for this - very aggressive). For taller choices, the epis, Geranium macrorrhizum or Sarcococca humilis.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2012 at 4:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ApprenticeGardener(7b or 8)

Appreciate the suggestions thus far. We'd like to keep the ground cover low, 3" to 4" at the most. We are also concerned because there are copperheads in the general area that sometimes appear and don't want to give them any hiding places near the house.

What are your opinions on a dwarf mondo grass?

    Bookmark   August 4, 2012 at 12:05AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mistascott(7A VA)

Mondo grass is a fine choice in my opinion. Dwarf cultivars are very slow to spread so you would need to buy enough plants to pretty much fill the entire area (or you can divide plants to help cover more area at planting time), but be prepared to wait several years for it to fill in. It looks nice en masse, but the flowers are inconspicuous so there really isn't anything colorful to anticipate. But if you are looking for a grass-like look in shade, it is hard to beat mondo.

It is a fairly low maintenance plant. I am assuming the area gets morning sun since it faces east. If that is the case, mondo will do fine. It doesn't like hot midday/afternoon sun or very dry conditions.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2012 at 10:49AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ApprenticeGardener(7b or 8)

We are giving serious consideration to vinca minor 'Illumination'. Described as growing low enough (about 4"), easy to plant and maintain, relatively inexpensive, and shade tolerant (we're willing to sacrifice profuse flowering).

Am I correct in this assessment?

    Bookmark   August 4, 2012 at 7:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mistascott(7A VA)

Yes, that is a very nice looking plant. The color really lights up the shade. It will love the shade and spread nicely, so you don't have to fill the area completely -- it will grow in fairly quickly. It will look less "formal" than mondo grass will, but definitely save you some money.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2012 at 10:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Yes, much faster coverage than the mondo grass!! IME tho, any vinca will grow deeply enough to provide coverage for snakes. Just saying........:-)

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 3:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ApprenticeGardener(7b or 8)

"gardengal48"--You're right, but we've only seen one on our property in the 12 years we've lived here, and that in the front. Our home and one neighbor sit on a rise at the end of a cul-de-sac, with the remaining surrounding homes on a lower elevation. They are the ones who have reported the most snake sightings and problems, including one outside dog that died from multiple bites. Many of those properties back up to a natural area surrounded by development which has a natural stream, hardwoods and dense understory--ideal habitat for critters.

What we will probably do to lessen any risk is to edge the areas where the groundcover will go and raise these areas slightly above the surrounding ground surfaces; build a hard surface (probably brick) onto which the firepit and seating will go; and mulch the rest of the area with rubber mulch.

"mistascott"--since there should be four separate planting areas, we'll probably use both vinca and viola for variety (unintended alliteration there).

Best Wishes--Carl & Margo

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 4:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mistascott(7A VA)

Also, be sure to take a look at Chrysogonum virginianum (Green & Gold) pictured below, an evergreen native with a long bloom period to add even more color to the shade. That viola ('Silver Gem') stayed evergreen for me in our mild winter last year but is listed as semi-evergreen.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 8:10PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Replacing groundcover
What (preferably flowering) groundcover would stay...
Baltic Ivy on stone wall
We have a stone house and think it would look really...
Dichondra - next to lawn, grow from seed, watering needs
Hello, I want to change the subject of the posting...
Recommendation for a Simple Groundcover for Rain Garden
We have a "rain garden" out front of our...
Need to remove creeping juniper
Dear friends, HELP! My house is surrounded by creeping...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™