Groundcover for a Shady Backyard

What to Choose?

When it comes to ground covers, the choices can be somewhat limited. When you think of groundcover, the image that often comes to mind is English ivy, with its low to the ground, evergreen leaves. But ivy can be awfully hard to keep in check. And in our region of the country, it has aggressively spread into the surrounding woodlands.

So what are the other options? There are a few, all with their own pluses and minuses. The lists below will give you an overview of the available options. Click on the name of the plants to see a slide shoe where available.

This list sticks to what is affordable and easily available in the nursery trade. Please note: some of these plants are more susceptible to deer damage that others. An asterisk indicates which are the most susceptible.

‘Instant’ Groundcovers

‘Instant’ groundcovers are plants that are available as small plants in trays of 18 or more. They work best for planting large areas. Usually, they are planted 6-12″ o.c. and will fill in fairly quickly. All of the ‘instant’ groundcovers listed below are evergreen.

Pictured below: a lush planting of pachysandra.

 Sun to Part Shade
Clumping Liriope* (Liriope muscarii)
Spreading Liriope* (Liriope spicata) Can be invasive.
Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)
Dwarf Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Compactus’)
Ajuga (Ajuga reptans)
 Part Sun to Shade
Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis)
Periwinkle (Vinca minor) Can be invasive.
Vinca (Vinca major) Can be invasive.
English Ivy (Hedera helix) Can be very invasive.

Perennial Groundcovers

Perennial groundcovers include many varieties of perennial plants. Many have flowers and most die back in the fall. They can be planted 12-18″ to fill in quickly, but they can also be planted 18-24″ on center if cost is an issue.

Pictured below: the colorful leaves of coralbells.

 Sun to Part Shade
Daylily* (Hemerocallis spp.)
Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)
Creeping Thyme (Thymus spp.)
Ice Plant (Delosperma spp.)
 Part Sun to Shade
Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)
Barrenwort (Epimedium spp.)
Coral bells (Heuchera spp.)
Hosta* (Hosta spp.)
Sedge (Carex spp.)
Lenten Rose, Hellebore (Helleborus spp.)
Ferns (several genera)
Strawberry Geranium (Saxifragia stolonifera)

Bushy Groundcovers

Bushy groundcovers are dwarf varieties of shrubs that creep or spread, but they can also be non-spreading plants that are spaced closely together. Some are flowering, and they can be either deciduous or evergreen.

Pictured below: a mass planting of dwarf abelia.

Sun to Part Shade
Soft Touch Holly
Dward Abelia
Carpet Rose
Dwarf Japanese Plum Yew
Deutzia ‘Nikko’
Dwarf Indian Hawthorn
Dwarf Nandina
St. John’s Wort
 Part Sun to Shade
Dwarf Gardenia (Gardenia spp.)
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Brian came out last week to try to assess a problem we are having in our yard.  He arrived on time, was extremely courteous and took a considerable amount of time analyzing our situation.  While he was unable to reach a solution, he did take the time to research and recommend another business that might be able to help us.  That kind of customer service will make us more likely to call on Hertzler & George if other issues arise.  Thanks, Brian!


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We hired H&G to help us re-do our landscaping after a different local landscaping company did a sub par job with plant selections and installations. That company also was very hard to deal with. H&G stepped right up with Jennifer creating a new planting scheme comprising of native plants with some we had never seen before and which we love! She is extremely knowledgeable and pleasant to work with – a true landscaping charm! Jon did the installations and also did a fantastic job. He was very meticulous on planting and finishing the job neatly with mulch. Unlike that other company’s installer, Jon left us extremely happy with the job done. Customer service on the phone – pleasant, patient and helpful. The only, and ever so minor aspect of their work, is they don’t offer a guarantee on the plants or install. I suppose that’s becoming industry standard. However, now looking over all the plantings with a bit of time passing, I am confident that there won’t need to be any replacements. Watering is of course the key element. Thank you H&G, the country cottage landscaping we’ve wanted is now ours – FIVE STARS!

Chris Dombrowski
Ford's Colony | Homeowner

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Had these guys build a surface-grade patio in May 2023. They looked at the project, sent me a proposed scope of work and contract via email, took a deposit of 1/2 the total via bank transfer. They set a date weeks later to start the job. They showed up on time, worked professionally and cleaned up at the end of the day. Whole job took 3 days, and they even replaced all the patio furniture on the last day. The final product was precisely what I asked for, done in a high-quality, workmanlike way.

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Liz Moore Real Estate