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Low Maintenance Landscaping Ideas: Best Plants and Shrubs for Shady Areas

By Edited May 20, 2015 1 0

If your yard is like most, there are  portions of it that do not receive a lot of sunlight. It can be challenging in these shady areas to get anything to grow sometimes. For instance, bermuda grass will definitely not thrive without full sunlight throughout most of the day.

If you are looking for something to cover this area or have tried certain types of grass or shrubbery but haven’t had any success, you are choosing the wrong types of ground cover. There are plants and shrubs that will grow in low sun light and they will transform your landscape from barren spots to something special.

As an added bonus, these hardy ground covers require little to no maintenance and tolerate most any conditions from low light to damp areas.

How to Plant Ground Cover

How to plant ground cover
Credit: mjpyro

Most types of ground cover will spread out, which is what makes them great for covering barren patches in the shade in the first place. You need to space the plants accordingly so you do not end up with bunches in one area. Here are some steps to follow before you get started.

Clear Out the Area

Using a shovel or a hoe, remove all debris and stumps from other plants out of the area. Rake away any debris and leaves. If you are planting ground covers in a large area, you may want to rent a tiller to churn up the soil. However, this can easily be done with a shovel if needed.

Fertilize the Soil

After you have cleared out the area, add several inches of compost material. This can be purchased in large bags at any home improvement store if you do not have your own compost pile.

Next, it is a good idea to fertilize the soil with low nitrogen and spread it evenly. Be sure to rake out any of the soil you have tilled and fertilized and combine with the compost material before planting any ground cover.

Spread the Plants When Planting

Depending on the plant size, you can dig small holes using a garden trowel for each plant, or a dig a large hold with a shovel for a  ground cover such as hostas.

When planting a ground cover like vinca, space each plant about 12 inches apart. Trust me, it will fill in.

Be sure to follow the directions on each plant. They will specify how deep to plant the root and how much space should be placed between each plant.

Once you have everything planted in your shady areas, add a four inche layer of mulch which will serves two purposes. It helps the area retain moisture allowing you to water it less frequently. It will also hide any irrigation or soaker hose you may have running through the area.


In the beginning, water two to three times a week when they are first starting out. A drip irrigation drip system is best, however, you can also use a soaker hose which gives moisture to the ground area where it can be absorbed by the roots.

After the initial planting, be on the lookout for any weeds during the first few weeks and pull them out immediately. It is much easier to get them out in the beginning than when the ground cover starts to spread out.

During the year, ground cover requires very little maintenance, but some varieties such as the spreading vines will need to be kept in check so they do not take over your garden.


Azaleas in Shady Areas
Credit: Mike Peel ( via Wikimedia Commons

If you have an area near your home that does not receive a lot of sunlight, perhaps around a front porch or outdoor deck, one of the more reliable perennial bushes for ground cover are azaleas. They thrive in low light conditions and come in many varieties.

Being a perennial, most only bloom once a year during the spring time but there are varieties that will bloom several times from Spring to Fall. Their colorful blooms will last for several weeks, then quickly fall off leaving only a shrub.

If azaleas have a downside, it is the fact that the beautiful blooms only last weeks, however, that just makes you appreciate them all the more. If you have planned your cover right, you will have several colorful azalea bushes during blooming season.

There are encore varieties that will bloom several times during the spring and summer and all types of azaleas go well when blended together with other ground covers like hostas.[1]

In terms of landscape beauty and curb appeal, there is nothing like a front porch of a home with beautiful azaleas blooming in the spring time. However, if you have small pets or children, you should be aware that azaleas are poisonous if consumed.


Low Maintenance Landscaping Ideas: Best Plants and Shrubs for Shady Areas
Credit: mjpyro

These hardy plants come in so many varieties you will never run out of options to choose from for different areas of your yard. Some are leafy green while others are of the variegated kind such as “Blue Angel” “June” and “Guacamole”.

They thrive in shady areas and are just about the easiest type of plant to grow. They grow from anywhere around three inches to three feet tall and are a great base cover around any bushes or shrubbery.[2]

They are also great to outline an area of your garden. Their leaves spread out and help to define or section off an area.


Vinca as a Ground Cover
Credit: Opensource

If you like a low lying vine with occasional purple and bluish blooms, Vinca is probably one of the best ground covers for a shady area. It will grow anywhere and honestly, it is very difficult to kill if you let it invade your entire garden.

Vinca thrives in sunlight or shade and come in various types, including variegated. Just be sure to keep it pruned so you can keep it under control. If you need to run it up a trellis or arbor, vinca is a great choice for both ground cover and a climbing plant.

Myrtle 48 Plants - Periwinkle/Vinca - Hardy Groundcover - 2 1/4" Pot
Amazon Price: $34.99 Buy Now
(price as of May 20, 2015)


Plant Columbine for Ground Cover
Credit: Opensource

If you are looking for a ground cover for a transition area from shade to sunlight, columbine flowers are a great choice. This wiry plant thrives in light shade and full sun and will dance in the wind. The beautiful petals reseed themselves and require virtually no maintenance.

They are great for attracting birds and butterflies so you might want to use them in transition near a bird bath or bird feeder.

Red Columbine Flower Seeds
Amazon Price: $2.99 Buy Now
(price as of May 20, 2015)

Final Thoughts

How to have a beautiful lawn
Credit: Opensource

All of these options can be used in areas where your yard received very little sunlight. They can also be used in combination with other outdoor water features to provide highlights or create boundaries for a dry creek bed or stone walkway.

Best of all, they require virtually no maintenance so you can enjoy them year after year without creating more work for yourself.

Top 10 Ground Covers



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  1. "Azaleas." Wikipedia. 19/01/2015 <Web >
  2. "Hosta." Wikipedia. 19/01/2015 <Web >

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