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Ground Covers for Shady Areas

By Steve Cramer, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Horticulture

Most yards include shady areas where grass doesn't prosper, or bare earth beneath trees and shrubs -- spots that cry out for some color or vegetation.

Sometimes, however, a planting of annuals or labor-intensive perennials would be impractical in such places. A low-maintenance groundcover, however, would fit the bill. Shade-loving ground covers that thrive in Rocky Mountain gardens include:

  • Periwinkle: This plant comes in green or variegated leaf forms. Its flowers can be pink and white, as well as the bright violet blue that gives this plant its name. Periwinkle features oval, leathery leaves, an inch or so long. The leaves stay attractive throughout the winter.
  • Skullcap, or deadnettle, is not quite as evergreen or durable as periwinkle. But a handful of varieties with outstanding variegated foliage are commonly sold throughout the summer. These plants glitter for weeks with fascinating pink or white blossoms.
  • Barren strawberry features glossy green foliage, similar to a glorified, brassy green strawberry leaf. Its early-spring flowers bloom like sprays of buttercups. This plant forms a compact mat, and is fully evergreen, if it is not exposed to too much sun and wind.
  • Bugleweed makes a fast-spreading mat of oblong leaves. Depending on the variety of bugleweed, its pink, lavender or white flowers appear in spires that appear almost formal. Its foliage also is variable, ranging from showy tri-colored leaves to deep purple and simply green. It does best with a few hours of direct, early morning or late afternoon sun.
  • Sweet woodruff is not evergreen, but its deep green whorls of leaves are decorative for half the year. Its dazzling white foamy blooms last from April into June and seem to light up dark corners like a lamp.

Photo: Judy Sedbrook

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010