In this article, I discuss several excellent, slightly taller shade groundcover plants that will also effectively cover ground in a shady area where you can accommodate a bit more height. In an earlier article, I addressed low-growing groundcovers for shady gardens.
Carex are grass-like woodland plants that are adapted to growing in shaded areas. They are perfect as a no-mow lawn alternative. They are taller than traditional turfgrass, with graceful narrow, arching foliage. Carex are clump forming but will increase over time to fill in as an effective taller groundcover.
Blue Zinger Sedge (Carex glauca ‘Blue Zinger’) : Forms dense, fine-textured clumps of steel-blue leaves. Makes an excellent groundcover when planted in drifts, creating a sea of blue. Height 8”-10”.
Morning Star Sedge (Carex grayii): This sedge produces an unusual seed head resembling a geometric Morning Star used by knights and soldiers of the Middle Ages. Coarser textured than other sedges, but the seed head alone provides plenty of interest. A native plant typically found along stream banks, it appreciated moisture but does not demand it. Height 18”-24”.
Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pennsylvanica): A slow spreading, clump-forming sedge with delicate arching leaves. Spreads in a restrained fashion to form an appealing groundcover. Native to open woods and thickets. Height 6”-12”.
Eastern Star Sedge (Carex radiata): A native perennial sedge that forms dense tufts of slender leaf blades in dappled to medium shade. Small star-like flower clusters rise in late spring. Slow to spread, primarily by seed. The seeds are a food source for both songbirds and upland gamebirds. Excellent choice for moist soils. Height 12”-24”.
I love this plant! It forms a clean mound of velvety green foliage that remains attractive throughout the entire growing season. This highly adaptable plant will thrive in a range of growing conditions. While it is happiest in partial shade and moist soil it is also capable of thriving even in dense, dry shade. I have a beautiful, lush colony of Bigroot Geranium in evergreen shade under a pine tree in my garden, a site where I had struggled to get other plants to even survive.
In late spring/early summer it produces magenta-pink flowers that are held just above the foliage. The flowers mature into distinctive pointed seedheads (thought to resemble a crane’s bill – thus the common name of “Cranebill” for perennial geraniums as a group). When the seedheads open they propel the seeds skyward, sometimes to great distances. Thus, the plant increases by seed, as well as by rhizomatous rootstock, to slowly form large colonies. While it is a good increaser it is never in any way too aggressive.
The foliage emits a minty fragrance when crushed (historically this plant was valued for its oil content), which makes it immune to damage by deer, rabbits and even insect pests so the leaves remains pristine all summer. Once touched by frost in autumn the foliage takes on hues of red and orange.
For durability and all-season good looks in even the most inhospitable of shaded areas, Bigroot Geranium is a great choice. Height 12”-15”.
Geranium macrorrhizum flower
Geranium macrorrhizum fall color
Geranium macrorrhizum mass planting
More Taller Shade Groundcovers
Lady’s Mantle is a vigorous clumping perennial that thrives in partial shade and prefers growing in moisture retentive soil. It has large, circular, scalloped leaves and sprays of chartreuse flowers in early summer. It is especially lovely as a border plant, where it will gracefully drape over steppingstones or garden edging. Height 15”-18”.
This Wisconsin native woodland plant forms dense colonies of large, velvety, heart shaped leaves. It spreads by both seeds and rootstock and will happily grow even in dense shade. Height 6”-10”.
Starry False Solomon’s Seal
A tough plant that thrives in dry shade, where few other plants can survive. The attractive foliage, flowers and green berries with maroon stripes that eventually turn bright red gives this plant three-season interest. It creeps slowly by underground rhizomes to create sizeable clumps. Height 12”-18”.
This native fern will quickly colonize an area with its large, bright green, gracefully arching, feathery fronds. Given ample moisture it will remain lush and green all season. Height 24”-48”.
A low growing, suckering native shrub with small yellow flowers and bronze-green foliage that turns reddish-bronze in autumn. Tolerant of dry shade. Great for massing under trees where other plants won’t grow. Insect and disease resistant. Height 36”-48” but can be pruning to the ground and will re-grow nicely.