Most household yards have shady corners where grass doesn’t prosper, or bare earth under shrubs or trees that seems to cry out for some vegetation. Often shade-loving annuals or labor-intensive perennials don’t fit the bill but a low-maintenance groundcover will. There are many outstanding, shade-loving groundcovers that thrive in our Rocky Mountain gardens.
Vinca minor or periwinkle comes in green or variegated leaf forms. The flowers can be pink or white as well as the bright violet-blue that gave this plant its name. Periwinkle has oval, leathery leaves an inch or so long that are attractive all winter. Vinca minor spreads by sending out long trailing shoots that root at leaf nodes making new plants as it extends.
Lamium maculatum or dead nettle, is not evergreen, but makes up for it with outstanding variegated foliage during the spring, summer and autumn. Flowers are usually pink or white. Lamium is commonly available in garden centers.
A fast spreading option is Ajuga reptans or bugleweed. It forms a mat of oblong leaves with rather formal spires of pink, lavender or white flowers depending on the variety. The foliage is also variable, from showy, tricolor leaves to deep purple to simply green. It does best with a few hours of direct, early morning or late afternoon sun.
Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is not evergreen, but the deep green whorls of leaves are decorative for three seasons of the year. The dazzling appearance of starry white blooms last from April well into June, lighting up dark corners.
Woody plants also make good ground covers in shady areas. Arctostaphylos x coloradoensis or bearberry is a native broad leafed evergreen shrub that grows well in shaded areas. In addition to its attractive foliage, tiny white flowers and small red berries add to its appeal. Two varieties of Arctostaphylos have been introduced by the Plant Select® program.
Berberis repens (formerly Mahonia repens) or Creeping Oregon grape is another woody groundcover for shade. The dark green spiny-toothed, evergreen foliage resembles holly and turns reddish in winter. The sulphur yellow flowers of spring and blue fruit in summer enhance the year-round interest.
For more information, see the following Colorado State University Extension fact sheet(s).