Ground cover for the shade - attractive survivors

Ground cover for the shade - attractive survivors

Ground cover for the shade are original inhabitants of forests and forest edges who have adapted to poor light conditions. Within the variety selection you will find ground cover for dry shade and moisture-loving area cover. They cope well with the pressure of the roots of trees and are easy to care for. Thanks to a balanced combination of different ground cover, shady garden areas bloom throughout the vegetation period and decorate the garden with fresh green tones even in winter. All plants presented are hardy, although some species feel more comfortable with winter protection.

also read

  • Geraniums as ground cover - varieties for shade and sun
  • When to plant ground cover - watch out for the right time
  • When ground covers take over - removing ivy and co.

What to look out for when choosing a location

In bloom, ground cover in the shade is a real eye-catcher. However, not all shade is the same, so you should pay attention to the subtleties when choosing your plants. All flowering plants show increased flowering and vigorous growth in better light conditions. There are also species that not only thrive in light shade but also in full shade.

Light shade

ground cover shade

The bed lies in light shade when sunspots and shadows alternate continuously in the smallest of spaces. Typical examples of such areas are translucent and gappy treetops of birch and willow trees, the branches of which are soft and sparsely leafed. Beds that are not illuminated by the sun for more than four hours in the morning or evening also ensure light-shaded conditions.

Plants that thrive in partially shaded conditions feel at home here. In contrast to partially shaded corners, these areas are never in full shade. If you put pure shade plants in such locations, these species will thank you in their own way. They grow better and bloom more profusely.

Full shade

At these locations there are poor light conditions at all times of the day. You don't get any direct daylight. Such areas under large evergreen shrubs such as rhododendrons or conifers are typical. Mosses and ferns feel particularly at home in such locations.

Typical areas with full shade conditions:

  • high walls
  • North side of buildings
  • Eaves
  • Grave with trees
Ground cover: locations with light shade and full shade in comparison

Preparations and planting

Ground cover in the shade that blooms to attract attention is not only delightful to the eye. At the same time, they increase the biodiversity in the garden and attract numerous pollinators. Early flowering species are particularly friendly to bees as they provide a valuable source of food in spring. In order for you and your relatives to flower in your garden to shine, it is important to use the right procedure for planting.

Before planting

Thoroughly dig up the area where you want the shade plants to grow. This loosens the substrate and ensures air exchange. Remove turf soil and root weeds so that they do not impair the growth of carpet-forming species. Make sure that no ground remnants of ground grass or couch grass remain in the soil. Pay attention to the demands of the ground cover:

  • for plants in drier locations : enrich heavy soils with sand
  • for nutrient-consuming plants : incorporate compost
  • for sensitive plants : improve soil structure

Plant out the ground cover

ground cover shade

Area covers are ideally planted out in late summer, when the weed growth subsides. At the same time, the plants can grow in better because they don't have to worry about stress from hot and dry summer days. The herbaceous plants have enough time to develop roots before winter sets in. How densely the species are set depends on the individual growth forms and growth rates. It also matters how quickly the area should be covered:

covering carpetplants required per square meter
ivya yearup to 4
Common hazel roottwo yearsup to 24
Balkan cranesbilltwo yearsup to 4
Carpet goldberrytwo yearsup to 16
Fat manthree years12 to 15

Weakly growing species such as fat males and hazel roots quickly compete if they are planted too densely. They shoot up, which often makes the carpet of plants look unkempt. Put such species at a greater distance from each other and be more patient. If the ground is to be covered quickly, strong-growing species such as ivy are recommended. Shorten the shoots by half immediately after planting so that the plant branches out quickly.

After planting

ground cover shade

You have to make sure that no weeds spread over the area for the next two to three years, especially with weakly growing species. Work horn shavings (€ 6.39 at Amazon *) into the substrate and then distribute bark mulch under the perennials. This layer prevents uncontrolled water loss from the soil through evaporation and suppresses the growth of unwanted weeds. Water the plants thoroughly so that pores in the soil close and the roots come into contact with the soil.

Avoid stress and disturbance

So that the perennials can grow in well, you should avoid step loads in the first year after planting. Numerous ground cover are considered to be step-resistant or accessible. However, such species should not be stressed like a conventional lawn. There is a risk that the carpet of plants will become gaps and that regular walking paths will arise. In wet soil, the load should be severely limited so that the vigor is not restricted.

These are walkable shade plants:

  • Purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) is ideal for poor soils
  • Star moss (Sagina subulata) is an ideal lawn substitute for dry locations that blooms white
  • Forest strawberry (Fragaria vesca) prefers light shade

Garden design ideas

You can plant ground cover alone or mix it with species that have similar habitat requirements. When arranging plants in the shade, make sure that the species show a similar vigor. Do not combine weak-growing plants with strong-growing competitors.

  • Scatter onion flowers in the area
  • Speckle shadow areas with bright-looking or variegated leaves
  • use light flower colors
  • Roses, bamboo and tall shrubs loosen up large-scale planting

Grave planting

Ground covers are ideal for graves because they hardly need to be looked after and they permanently beautify the memorial. Choose low-growing ground cover so that the planting doesn't seem intrusive or get out of hand. With these species, the cost of editing is also kept within limits.

Care tips

With ground cover you not only make your garden attractive but also easy to care for. Evergreen perennials are particularly recommended, because they develop a closed plant cover all year round and provide green color accents. Choose ground covers for the shade that are hardy. Shady locations ensure that the plants keep their foliage even in the harsh winter months.

Water requirement

Since most shade plants develop large leaf areas in order to make optimal use of the low light, they lose a lot of water through evaporation. A high level of humidity supports the growth of many ground cover. The optimal water supply is important so that the water balance does not collapse. If the perennials grow under trees, water entry is limited even on rainy days. The dense crowns of the deciduous trees shield the area around the trunk base. There are some specialists that are adapted to shady and at the same time dry locations and require less water.

How to pour properly:

  • Regularly provide moisture-loving plants with water
  • water in the evening after dry and hot days
  • Check soil moisture even on rainy days
  • Water drought tolerant plants moderately

The right water supply is necessary so that the plants grow in well and compact themselves quickly. Water ground cover every few days for the first year to encourage root growth. Use a hose or watering can for watering. You should avoid sprinklers, as the irrigation increases the humidity too much and could cause a fungal attack.

When the shade is too dry

Most forest plants are favored by the increased humidity. The water balance in the herb layer is largely constant. But such areas are difficult to imitate in the garden, so that a dry and dark location often emerges under eaves and dense trees.

There are also ground cover for the shade who like it dry. Varieties such as the elf flower 'Frohnleiten', Auslese from the Balkan cranesbill or the almond-leaved milkweed are considered to be hungry artists and hardly need to be watered. However, good soil preparation before planting is also necessary for these specialists.

Nutrient supply

Blossoming ground cover in the shade is one of the foliage swallowers that are covered by falling leaves in autumn and push their shoots through the rotting layer in spring. This creates a humus layer and the plants are optimally supplied with nutrients in their natural habitats.

To promote healthy growth, you should orientate the site conditions to the natural conditions. If your shade plants do not grow under deciduous trees and no humus layer is created by falling leaves, you should provide them with a basic fertilization of compost in spring.

Extensive ground cover are not only attractive, they also save the hobby gardener a lot of work.

Cutting and design measures

ground cover shade

Ground cover in the shade, which are evergreen, just like wintergreen or deciduous species, do not need to be pruned. You can clean out perennials such as elf flower, cranesbill or Waldsteinia in spring if you are bothered by the wild character. However, this measure is not necessary because it interrupts the natural nutrient cycle. If weeds spread between the plants, they should be removed by hand weeding.

  • Chopping is taboo with ground cover
  • sharp metal blades damage the shallow roots
  • Measure leaves gaps
  • The growing together of the plants is delayed

Winter protection necessary?

Usually, ground cover does not need winter protection. While deciduous species retreat into the ground and survive there, winter and evergreen plants remain above ground. The humus soil stores moisture and ensures that evergreen species such as the little periwinkle are not damaged even on frost-free and sunny days in winter. If there is no humus layer, the soil can dry out even during the cold season. Winter sun and cold frosts are the enemy of evergreen ground cover. Make sure that the water supply is ensured.

Propagate ground cover

The good thing about ground cover is that it reproduces via runners. These can be developed on the substrate surface or in the soil. Once the plants have grown in well, you can cut off the runners above ground in autumn and place them in a glass of water. After a few weeks, roots will have formed and the cuttings can be planted out. Species with subterranean runners are reproduced and rejuvenated by division. The individual partial plants can be planted directly at the new location.


If you want to multiply chickweed, just collect some flowering shoots from nature. The seeds also ripen when the plant is no longer rooted in the earth. After a short time you can sprinkle the brown seeds on the ground and let them germinate if the moisture is good.

Interesting facts about shade ground cover

ground cover shade

In natural habitats, there is no soil that remains permanently bare. The vegetation is a natural development that occurs depending on the subsoil and environmental conditions. At the same time, the plants take on important tasks and ensure that the ecosystems function optimally.

Advantages of ground cover:

  • protect the soil from erosion
  • mitigate temperature fluctuations
  • reduce water loss from the soil through evaporation
  • Roots loosen the substrate
  • suppress unwanted weeds
  • produce humus and support soil life


Many shade plants come from the tropics, because the floors in the rainforests create naturally shaded areas. Plants that do not require high levels of light have established themselves in the undergrowth. Shade plants are typical of forests and are therefore common worldwide.


Place small evergreen clumpy growing shade perennials between the native shade ground cover. Christmas rose, funkie or record sheet are suitable to set color accents.

A life in the shadows

The lack of light conditions are clearly compensated by the increased humidity in the herb layer. Shade plants thrive despite the darkness, as the high humidity increases their productivity.

Such species, which also thrive in sunny conditions, are often pushed into full shade by competition. They cannot prove themselves against more vigorous species and have to cope with the conditions that prevail in the dense undergrowth.

But even if these plants grow better under increased amounts of light, real forest species are not suitable for sunny locations. Damage quickly occurs when exposed to direct sunlight:

  • Breakdown of chlorophyll
  • Drought stress
  • Leaf burns


Types of shade plants

There are so-called obligatory shade plants that only grow in shady conditions. They include ferns and mosses in the undergrowth of the forests. Optional shade plants are found to be more adaptable and thrive in full sunlight. This group includes all flowering plants such as wood sorrel or wood violet and those that grow in the early stages in shady and later in sunny conditions. Some optional shade plants develop growth forms in full sunlight that deviate from their actual shape.

frequently asked Questions

Which ground covers bloom in the shade?

Plants depend on light to carry out photosynthesis. This metabolic process supplies the perennial with vital energy. However, shade plants only need a tiny proportion of the usual amount of light and can still carry out their maximum photosynthesis.

Numerous shade plants grow in the herbaceous layer of the tropical rainforests. These include ferns and mosses but also flowering plants such as bromeliads. In our latitudes, forest plants are considered shade plants. Typical examples are wood sorrel and balsam, which require no more than one percent sunlight for healthy growth.

Why can shade plants survive without light?

Shade-tolerant plants usually have large and particularly thin leaf areas. Many large-leaved shade plants are moisture-loving as evaporation is very high. The leaf tissue is loosely structured and rich in chlorophyll, which means that the plants can use the low light radiation more effectively. Due to the higher chlorophyll content, shadow leaves appear darker green than sun leaves. With these special adaptations, shade plants can grow optimally even in low light:

  • low light saturation point : photosynthetic output cannot increase further even with more light
  • low light compensation point : illuminance at which fixed CO2 corresponds to exhaled CO2
  • reduced ratio of chlorophyll a to chlorophyll b : better use of infrared radiation

Which ground cover are better for the shade - evergreen or wintergreen?

Both growth forms are in demand because they cover the ground with more or less fresh green leaves all year round. A positive side effect is the natural suppression of weeds. Evergreen species such as little evergreen or fat man only renew individual overaged leaves when necessary. They adorn the shady area all year round with a uniform green carpet of leaves and are always fully leafy.

In contrast, evergreen ground cover completely renew their foliage in spring, so that the bed appears briefly gaps or balding. Some species such as foam blossom and Balkan cranesbill lose their leaves in particularly cold winter months or in unprotected areas. However, evergreen ground cover flowers are usually more attractive than evergreen species.

Are there edible ground covers for the shade?

There are many native plants that thrive in shady conditions and provide edible leaves, flowers, or fruit. A well-known example is the blueberry, which is preferred to be planted under trees. If you like it a little bit bitter, you can put the lingonberry in the garden. It has similar demands as the blueberry.

The forest strawberry, whose small fruits are tastier than those of the cultivated strawberry, offers a special aromatic pleasure. Chickweed is often dismissed as a weed, but works wonders as a ground cover. If the plant spreads too much, you can leave it in bunches and eat it raw or steamed.

Which types of shade-tolerant ground cover are particularly suitable for beginners?

Most of the plants that grow in such locations turn out to be easy to care for. But sometimes it depends on the details and so not every attempt at greening shady areas is successful. Some shade plants are unproblematic and not very sensitive, so that they are also suitable for beginners. These include dead nettles with their purple flowers, ivy, species of the genus Allium, cushion bluebells and the Japanese forest poppy.