Every gardener aims top populate their home’s garden with a mix of plants, flowers, trees, and attractive furniture. While tall, mature trees are a goal for many homeowners, they present a unique problem – their delightful shade can hog all of the sun and water from other plants and grasses.
Some gardeners try to prevent this by planting annuals every year, but this root disturbance isn’t good for the soil or the tree. Others try to overcompensate with a plethora of elegant garden furniture, but not even the most attractive outdoor bench will draw attention away from the barren, hardscrabble soil beneath your trees.
Instead, you need to seek out perennials that love the shade, and thrive in even the darkest conditions beneath your trees. Check out these plants that provide excellent ground cover in the shade.
The Siberian Bugloss (brunnera macrophylla) is a cheery plant with tiny blue flowers in the spring, and attracted heart shaped leaves all year round. These are a perennial favourite that are known to bloom regularly in zone 3 climates, and can be used to fill large spaces in your shady garden, providing excellent ground cover for shaded areas.
Bleeding heart (dicentra) plants are a timeless favourite, adding a sweet, heart-shaped feature to your garden and delighting children and adults alike. They enjoy the shade, so much so that they can actually enter a period of dormancy in hotter weather. If this leaves too big a gap in your garden, you can always a place a bird bath in the space until the weather cools down.
Periwinkle (vinca minor) are beloved for their calm blue colour, but these plants are anything but calm! They are actually quite aggressive, prompting some frustrated gardeners to view them as pests. They are hale and hardy, and are known for their robust erosion control. If you have a particularly dark spot under a tree where the soil is washing away and nothing else will flourish, give the classic periwinkle a try and enjoy its ground cover in the shade.
Japanese Painted Ferns are a lovely silver and pink plant that gives any garden a hint of sophistication. While they do enjoy the shade, your Japanese ferns will do best in dappled light (at least part of the time). They need plenty of moisture to thrive, so consider planting them in an three-inch layer of mulch.
Foam Flowers (tiarella cordifolia) simply love the shade, and they will bloom abundantly for 6 weeks in the spring, producing pretty white flowers. For the rest of the year hey will spread out with runners, resulting in ground cover for shade in the form of clusters of plants with green leaves and red veins. If your tree cover forms a true umbrella over this plant, your foam flowers will need at least an inch of water each week.
Simple, understated, and timeless – the hosta might be common, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a welcome addition to any shady garden. It breeds effortlessly, so consider placing its teacup or mammoth varietals under your trees – they will grow and multiply over the years. This is a plant species that loves to drink, so make sure that you provide them with enough water to thrive.
Wild ginger (asarum canadense) is an effortless ‘wild’ plant that will thrive without much fuss. Wild ginger produces heart-shaped foliage that deer and other wildlife don’t enjoy, something that gardeners in the country and woods will appreciate. This is a very bossy plant, and will outcompete with its neighbours. That said, it is attractive to certain butterflies, so it will often be surrounded by the pretty flying creatures.
Lily of the valley (convallaria majalis) is known for its sweet and pleasant aroma in the spring, and they are produce a charming and pretty flower. Don’t let its pretty flowers fool you – this is a tough plant that can withstand a lot of shade and flourishes even in hard soil. That makes them perfect for the thin soil that surrounds the established older trees in your garden.
A springtime delight, daffodils grow easily and abundantly in the shade. If you have soil in your garden that is loose, consider planting some of these bulbs for a real treat in March and April. Do note that the Narcissus varieties of bulbs do need plenty of sunshine, but you can always plant some early blooming varieties under your deciduous trees, and they will bloom before the trees are fully leafy.
Anna is the marketing and office manager for Garden Benches – a premium supplier of high-quality wooden benches and other outdoor furniture.