Evergreen Ground Cover Plants For Shade

By: Flora

Last Updated: April 9, 2024

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Looking for plants that stay green year-round and thrive in shady spots? These evergreen ground cover plants for shade offer a low-maintenance solution for adding texture and color to your garden’s darker corners.

evergreen ground covers that thrive in the shade

Many gardens have some areas in them that get very little light and look best if covered with evergreen ground covers.

These difficult spots need plants that will handle the challenge of under-story conditions. Which could be wet, or most often (as in my garden) dry.

Not only are evergreen ground cover plants aesthetically pleasing throughout all four seasons, they suppress weeds and control erosion on slopes.

And the ones that will thrive in the shade are tough and easy to grow. Some are so easy that they are considered invasive, so be sure to check with the local nursery in your area before you purchase.

Luckily there are quite a few shade tolerant low growing plants that retain their foliage year round to choose from.

The ones below are some of my favorites, and a few that aren’t (under the “plant with caution” section).

Note that ‘shade’ does not necessarily mean total shade, but up to 2 hours of filtered sun daily. Plants labelled ‘part shade’ need 2 to 4 hours of morning sun.

1 | Golden Star

Yellow Goldenstar flower (Chrysogonum virginianum)
©Image Republic – stock.adobe.com

Scientific name: Chrysogonum virginianum 
Zone: 4 to 9
Exposure: shade, part shade
Height: 6″ to 12″
Width: 8″ to 18″
Bloom time: late spring to fall
Flower color: yellow

Chrysogonum is a very pretty woodland native that has hairy green leaves.

Its lovely star shaped yellow flowers bloom profusely in the spring and sporadically throughout the summer and fall. And its green berries are bird favorites.

If planted in slightly acidic, humous rich, moist soil it will quickly spread, by rhizomes, into a dense mat.

Makes a great ground cover in native and woodland gardens.

A low maintenance plant that requires no special care except division every other year.

Deer do not like it.

2 | European Wild Ginger, evergreen wild ginger and Chinese wild ginger

European wild ginger growing with Sedge in the shade garden

Scientific name: Asarum europaeum, Asarum tifolium, Asarum splendens
Zone: 4 to 8
Exposure: shade to part shade
Height: 3″ to 6″
Width: 12″ to 18″
Bloom time: spring
Flower color: insignificant yellow-green to brown

Wild ginger likes moist, humus rich slightly acidic soil with the rhizomes planted at the surface.

The flowers grow close to the ground and are covered by the leaves, so are invisible. (I have grown ginger as a shade ground cover for years and have never seen the flowers).

Plant them 12″ to 24″ apart and they will slowly spread by thick rhizomes to form a dense low clump.

Wild ginger is very low maintenance as well as being deer resistant.

It will even grow under black walnut trees.

However, it is in no way related to culinary ginger.


  1. A. europaeum – European native, that has lovely dark green glossy heart-shaped thick leaves. The root has a mild ginger aroma. It is easy to find at local nurseries.
  2. A. tifolium – Native to the southern USA. The evergreen silver/bluish leaves have darker lines and a pointy heart shape. It grows best in dry dappled shade. This evergreen wild ginger is not easy to locate for purchase.
  3. A. splendens – Chinese ginger is a rapid grower that is quite aggressive. It needs to be confined by hardscaping. The leaves are large dark green shiny heart shapes with silver markings.

3 | Barrenwort (or Bishop’s hat)

yellow barrenwort (Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum') with Pachysandra in the garden
©Nancy J. Ondra – stock.adobe.com

Scientific name: Epimedium
Zone: 4 – 8
Exposure: full shade
Height: 6″ – 12″
Width: 1′ – 3′
Bloom time: spring
Flower color: Orange, Pink, Red, White, Yellow

There are many cultivars of Epimedium and not all are evergreen. By and large those species that are native to the Mediterranean are evergreen, so read your nursery tags carefully before purchasing.

Epimedium is a delicate looking plant that is tough as nails.

It will grow in acidic humous rich dry soil in deep shade.

It is very floriferous in the spring with columbine-like dainty flowers.

The interesting blue/green or burgundy/purple leaves are tipped with bronze and gold in the spring and in the fall.

The rhizomatous roots spread slowly so the plant is not invasive. Space the plants 12 to15″ apart and place the rhizomes just under the surface of the soil.

Prune evergreen varieties back to 1″ from the ground in early spring before any growth buds appear.

This will rejuvenate the plant and cause denser, lusher growth and more vibrant blooms.

A thin application of organic fertilizer around the plant at this time will stimulate blooms as well.

It is deer resistant.

Some evergreen cultivars are:

  • Epimedium versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ — whitish blooms
  • E. ‘songbirds’ — bright yellow flowers
  • E. ‘Amber queen’– long blooming amber flowers and interesting colorful leaves.
  • E. ‘Domino’– a profusion of large white flowers with rose red centers. Gorgeous!
  • E. ‘Pretty in Pink’ — lovely tri colored flowers white with 2 shades of pink and bronze leaves in fall.

4 | Lungwort

lungwort (Pulmonaria) in front of Sedge in the garden

Scientific name: Pulmonaria officinalis
Zone: 3 to 8
Exposure: part shade to shade
Height: 6″ to 12″
Width: 12″ to 18″
Bloom time: spring
Flower color: pink maturing to rose/purple and then blue

Pulmonaria is an easy care perennial that likes humous rich, consistently moist, well drained soil.

The leaves are distinctive — rough, hairy, ovate, green with white spots. They resemble diseased lungs hence the nickname, lungwort.

The flowers change color from pink, to rose/purple, to clear blue and all three colors are usually blooming at the same time.

Pulmonaria is a good alternative to Hosta and when mass planted makes an attractive weed suppressing ground cover.

The plant spreads very slowly by underground rhizomes.

It will grow in dense shade and under black walnut trees. Deer are not attracted.

5 | Coral bells

Overhead picture of purple Heuchera plants

Scientific name: Heuchera
Zone: 3 to 9
Exposure: partial sun to shade
Height: 6″ to 16″
Width: 12″ to 36″
Bloom time: spring, summer
Flower color: coral, red, white or pink 

Heuchera are native plants that are grown in the woodland garden for their striking foliage colors.

They do produce tall flower spikes that can be cut to add to bouquets but the leaves are the main attraction. I cut the flower stalks off at the base immediately after they finish blooming.

Hybridized varieties come in a multitude of foliage colors from chartreuse to bronze, orange, purple, black, silver and many combinations.

Mass plant these low growing cultivars in organically rich, well drained soil and water in well. Once established they will be drought tolerant.

This short lived perennial (a few years) grows out from a central woody crown that is susceptible to frost heave in the winter. Prevent this by a layer of mulch.

In the spring, tidy the foliage by removing ragged and dead leaves.

Divide the crown every 2 – 3 years. To accomplish that, lift the entire plant and cut the crown into sections making sure each section has live leaves on it. Replant your divisions and water in well.

Deer and rabbits are repelled.

6 | Dwarf Mondo Grass

Dwarf Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)
©simona – stock.adobe.com

Scientific name: Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nanus’
Zone: 7 to 10
Exposure: part sun to shade
Height: 5″ to 6″
Width: 8″ to 12″
Bloom time: summer
Flower color: insignificant white

Dwarf Mondo grass is a native of the far east including Japan.

It should not be confused with liriope which is similar in appearance and is also called monkey grass.

However dwarf Mondo grass spreads much slower and forms shorter tuffs.

The dark green blades are only 6″ long and 1/4″ wide.

Although it resembles grass, it is a member of the asparagus family.

The racemes of white flowers that appear in the summer are hidden by the arching dark green foliage, as are the pearl-sized black berries that follow.

Plant in moist, well drained, slightly acidic, humous rich soil.

It is drought tolerant once established and will tolerate light foot traffic.

Excellent planted under trees in filtered light where grass will not grow.

It is resistant to rabbits, deer, salt, and black walnut.

Note that the dwarf variety of Mondo grass is more shade tolerant than the species or black Mondo grass.

7 | Evercolor ‘Everillo’ Japanese sedge

Sedge growing with Pulmonaria along a pathway

Scientific name:  Carex oshimensisEverillo’ 
Zone: 5 to 9
Exposure: part shade to shade
Height: 12″ to 18″
Width: 12″ to 18″
Bloom time: spring
Flower color: insignificant brown, prized for its leaf color

Everillo makes a stunning statement in the shade garden when planted en masse.

The lime-green narrow foliage that goes gold as the plant ages just glows and brightens the area as well as providing texture and movement.

Grows best in medium to wet soil but this cultivar will tolerate some dry spells.

Gently rake the plant to remove dead foliage.

Prune very lightly in spring unless it has died back in the winter. Then cut off the old foliage.

Deer are not tempted.

8 | Cast iron plant

Cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior)
©simona – stock.adobe.com

Scientific name: Aspidistra elatior
Zone: 6 to 11
Exposure: shade
Height: 2′
Width: 2′ to 3′
Bloom time: N/A
Flower color: inconspicuous, prized for foliage

Aspidistra is one tough plant.

It tolerates dry, deep shade and will thrive under deck stairs and by foundations, as well as under trees.

Plant in well drained soil and plan to water regularly the first year.

It spreads slowly by stolons.

It is drought and rabbit tolerant, and is often grown as a house plant.

9 | Japanese holly fern

Japanese holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)
©meteoritka – stock.adobe.com

Scientific name: Cyrtomium falcatum
Zone: 6 to 10
Exposure: part shade to shade
Height: 18″ to 24″
Width: 24″ to 36″
Bloom time: N/A
Flower color: N/A

Holly fern is only evergreen in warmer climates but it makes a great ground cover in the shade of trees.

The stiff, dark green shiny fronds have serrated, holly-like leaflets.

Plant in humous rich, moist, well drained, acidic soil.

Apply a 2″ layer of mulch spring and fall and trim the fronds when then become untidy.

Once established holly fern is drought resistant. Deer and rabbits do not like them.

It may also be grown as a house plant.

10 | Autumn fern

Autumn fern

Scientific name: Dryopteris erythrosora
Zone: 5 to 8
Exposure: part shade to shade
Height: 12″ to 24″
Width: 12″ to 24″
Bloom time: N/A
Flower color: N/A

As its name suggests, Autumn fern is a colorful plant with beautiful pink/red emerging spring fronds that become bronze and then glossy green with coppery tips.

It is tougher than holly fern in that it stays evergreen in colder temperatures.

The plant is vase shaped and has a central crown that sends out short very slow growing rhizomes.

Plant dryopteris in loose, consistently moist, slightly acidic, humous rich soil and mulch to prevent the soil from drying out.

This easy to grow fern looks beautiful when mass planted under trees where it will adapt to most growing conditions in deep shade. Rabbit tolerant.

11 | Deer fern

Deer ferns growing with Azaleas

Scientific name: Blechnum spicant
Zone: 4 to 8
Exposure: Full shade
Height: 9″ to 18″
Width: 12″ to 24″
Bloom time: N/A
Flower color: N/A

Blechnum is an European native that has spread into the woodland areas along the North American west coast.

Of special interest are the 2 sets of fronds it produces — a sterile rosette of stiff, evergreen lance-shaped fronds that are 8″ – 24″ long make a vase shaped clump, and fertile narrower 16″ – 24″ fronds that emerge from the center of the rosette in summer. The fertile fronds go brown and die by summer’s end.

Plant in acidic, humous rich, moist well drained soil. Water consistently to keep it healthy.

It is rabbit and deer resistant as well as being deep shade tolerant.

12 | Christmas fern

Evergreen Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) and fallen leaves of red maple
©Gerry – stock.adobe.com

Scientific name: Polystichum acrostichoides
Zone: 3 to 8
Exposure: part shade to full shade
Height: 12″ to 24″
Width: 12″ to 24″
Bloom time: N/A
Flower color: N/A

Christmas fern, an eastern North American native, has lovely evergreen fronds that add brightness to a shady landscape.

Young fiddleheads are silver and scaled. The green fronds are leathery and lance shaped.

It is a tough perennial that will flourish in moist or dry soil as long as it is well drained.

Although it spreads by rhizomes, it forms a clump and is not invasive.

The only maintenance it requires is removal of ragged fronds in spring before the fiddleheads emerge.

Not only is it drought tolerant, but it resists rabbits and deer and will grow in shallow gravelly soil.

13 | Pigsqueak

pink Bergenia blooms in a spring garden

Scientific name: Bergenia
Zone: 3 to 8
Exposure: part sun to shade
Height: 6″ to 12″
Width: 12″ to 18″
Bloom time: spring
Flower color: Pink, Red, White

Bergenia has large, glossy, rubbery evergreen leaves that can be blue/green or purple/burgundy.

They become more intensely burgundy during the winter months. The leaves squeak when rubbed together, hence the nickname.

In spring, panicles of pretty flowers rise above the foliage on thick stems.

This easy care plant only needs pruning if the leaves are damaged, and to dead head after the flowers are spent to tidy its appearance.

This perennial is a deer resistant groundcover that likes average, humous rich, well drained soil.

It withstands summer drought quite well.

It spreads very slowly by rhizomes but is not invasive.

B. Rosi Klose’ is a superb variety for growing in the dry shade. The leaves are unusually large and the flowers are a bright rosy pink.

14 | Lenten rose

Hellebores with pink flowers in the garden

Scientific name: Helleborus
Zone: 5 to 8
Exposure: part shade to shade
Height: 12″ to 15″
Width: 12″ to 48″
Bloom time: winter, early spring
Flower color:  apricot, yellow, green, metallic blue, slate, dusky pink, maroon and white

Helleborus is one of my favorite perennials.

Its glossy broadleaved evergreen foliage looks good all year. But the excitement I feel when those blossoms appear during the dreary days of winter is hard to describe.

The long lasting flowers come in singles and doubles and a myriad of colors and color combinations.

They look especially great mass planted in the understory of trees and shrubs.

Plant in moist, humus rich, well drained alkaline soil and trim off the dead leaves periodically.

Cut off the dead flowers to promote new growth. Otherwise it is care free.

Division is only necessary if you want to propagate.

Deer and rabbits do not like hellebores. All parts of this plant are poisonous to humans.

15 | Lithodora

Blue Heaven Lithodora flowers
©lukeluke68 – stock.adobe.com

Scientific name: Lithodora Diffusa
Zone: 6 to 9
Exposure: part shade
Height: <12″
Width: 3′ – 4′
Bloom time: summer
Flower color: blue

Lithodora diffusa is an underused spreading evergreen ground cover that is covered in deep blue 1″ flowers all summer.

It spreads slowly to control erosion on slopes and berms, can be used as an accent in rock gardens, or wherever a ground cover is needed in a partial shade site.

Plant in well drained, slightly acidic soil and water deeply until well established.

Site 2′ to 3′ apart and mulch to control weeds until the plants fill in.

16 | Pachysandra or spurge

Close up of Pachysandra leaves

Scientific name: Pachysandra terminalis, and Pachysandra procumbens
Zone: 4 to 8
Exposure: partial shade to shade
Height: 6″ to 12″
Width: 12″
Bloom time: spring
Flower color: white

Pachysandra is an ideal easy care plant to site under trees where little else will grow.

It has small white fragrant spring flowers. But it is mostly grown for its lovely green foliage.

It likes slightly acidic, well drained soil and will spread by rhizomes among tree roots in deep shade. If planted 8″ to 12″ apart it will form a dense mat in about 3 years.

It does not tolerate foot traffic but is drought tolerant once established.

There are 2 types to consider:

  1. Japanese spurge or pachysandra terminalis is an aggressive native of Japan. This spurge needs to be confined by hard edging. It will choke out other shade plants like trilliums and jack in the pulpit so is best planted as a single specimen where it forms a lovely shiny evergreen carpet under a large tree. It is considered invasive in some states. The variegated variety is somewhat less invasive.
  2. Allegheny spurge or pachysandra procumbens is a non invasive native plant that can be sited with other woodland plants like ferns. It grows slowly to densely fill in a shaded space but is deciduous in colder zones (4 to 6) and evergreen in the southern zones 7 to 9. It is easily contained by a light edging with a spade or edger once a year.

Both types are deer and rabbit resistant.

17 | Himalayan Sweet box

Himalayan sweet box
©Robert – stock.adobe.com

Scientific name: Sarcococca hookeriana humilis
Zone: 6 to 8
Exposure: shade to part shade
Height: 12″ to 24″
Width: 2′ – 4′
Bloom time: late winter, early spring
Flower color: creamy white with pink anthers

Himalayan sweet box is a dwarf evergreen shrub with 2.5″ leathery elongated leaves that have lighter undersides and sharp pointed ends.

The white flowers are somewhat nondescript –they hide under the leaves–but they fill the winter air with a sweet fragrance. What’s not to love!

Showy black fruit follows the blooms in the summer and fall.

It is lovely mass planted under trees and also makes a nice low hedge.

Prune to shape in the spring after the flowers die and to contain the light suckering by which it spreads.

Plant in acidic, humous rich, well drained soil. This Chinese native is fairly drought tolerant once it is established.


  • ‘Sweet & Lo’ Sarcococca hookeriana is a new 2024 cultivar from Proven Winners that grows in zones 5 – 9. Its blooms smell like jasmine. This one is definitely on my wish list.
  • Sarcococca ruscifolia sold by Monrovia grows in Zones 7 – 9 and has red fruit.

18 | American Wintergreen

red berries on an american wintergreen plant
©Carmen Hauser – stock.adobe.com

Scientific name: Gaultheria procumbans
Zone: 3 to 8
Exposure: part shade to shade
Height: 3″ to 6″
Width: 6″ to 12″
Bloom time: summer
Flower color: white

Wintergreen is an eastern North American native creeper with glossy, dark green ovate leaves that turn purple in the winter.

The fragrant white, bell-shaped, summer blooming flowers give way to bright red berries that are a winter food source for birds.

Both the leaves and berries are edible. They smell and taste like wintergreen. Their oil is used to flavor gum and toothpaste.

This member of the blueberry family, likes similar growing conditions — moist, well drained, acidic soil.

Plant 10 to 12 inches apart for a lovely dense carpet in a woodland understory site.

This easy care perennial is deer resistant.

Plants to use with caution

The following plants on this list are traditional evergreen ground covers that thrive in the shade.

However they are also quite invasive in many areas so check with your local nursery to see if that’s the case in your location.

And consider planting them where they can be easily contained or mowed if necessary.

19 | English ivy

English ivy

Scientific name: Hedera helix
Zone: 4 to 13
Exposure: part shade to shade
Height: 90′
Width: 1′
Bloom time: fall
Flower color: yellow, green, white

I only add this aggressive non native weed because it is so popular.

It grows quickly, has attractive waxy green or variegated foliage, and will fill a shaded area faster than other ground covers — hence its popularity.

However it is very difficult to control and hard to eradicate once it gets going.

Control it by using a herbicide in the spring before the new shoots have a waxy covering or dig up the roots and discard with the trash.

Do not compost ivy.

Watch for new shoots emerging and eradicate immediately.

20 | Lilyturf (or Monkey grass)

Lilyturf (Liriope muscari)
©JD Images – stock.adobe.com

Scientific name: Liriope muscari
Zone: 4 to 10
Exposure: part shade, shade, sun
Height: 10″ to 16″
Width: 12″ to 24″
Bloom time: late summer, early fall
Flower color: violet-purple

Liriope makes a gorgeous ground cover.

It has coarse arching green grass-like foliage and lovely violet-blue spikes that bloom for a long time in late summer/fall.

The clumps are like undulating puffs when mass planted as ground cover in slightly acidic, well drained soil.

Birds enjoy the black berries that follow the blooms into winter.

Lily turf does well in front of trees or shrubs.

This easy care perennial has been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit. Prune back in Spring, to tidy the plant before new growth starts.

This Oriental native is on the invasive list for some USA states.

It is drought, deer and rabbit tolerant.

21 | Bugleweed (or Carpetweed)

Ajuga reptans with purple flowers

Scientific name: Ajuga reptans
Zone: 3 to 10
Exposure: sun to shade
Height: 1″ to 6″
Width: 6″ to 18″
Bloom time: spring, summer
Flower color: Blue, Pink, Purple, White

Ajuga has crinkled, glossy burgundy leaves and spikes of colorful flowers that look beautiful in the late spring and early summer.

It spreads aggressively by stolons that root at each node, forming large colonies of dense plants.

It can be invasive and hard to contain, creeping into turf, etc. so plant in an area that is hardscaped.

Ajuga likes rich, well drained slightly acidic soil.

It is drought and deer tolerant but does not withstand foot traffic.

It does not need dead heading or pruning for height.

22 | Spotted dead nettle

Lamium growing around daylilies in the garden

Scientific name: Lamium maculatum
Zone: 3 to 8
Exposure: part sun to shade
Height: 4″ to 8″
Width: 2′ to 3′
Bloom time: spring, summer, fall
Flower color: magenta, pink, white

Lamium is a fast growing pretty ground cover that can be invasive.

This plant is popular because of the silver or white variegated heart shaped leaves and the long bloom time.

It will grow in any soil and spreads by above ground runners that root at the nodes.

It is semi evergreen in very cold climates but is evergreen in my zone 5 garden.

I prune it back severely in the early spring before it blooms.

It pops up all over the garden so it must self seed. Pull it out before it gets established!

Deer and rabbit resistant.

23 | Periwinkle ‘Bowles’s Variety’ (or creeping myrtle)

Periwinkle (Vinca minor)
©Ivanna – stock.adobe.com

Scientific name: Vinca minor ‘Bowles’s variety’
Zone: 4 to 10
Exposure: sun to shade
Height: 4″ to 6″
Width: 12″ to 24″
Bloom time: mid-spring to early summer and periodically thereafter
Flower color: violet-blue

Although ‘Bowles’s variety’ is less invasive than the species periwinkle, it is still an aggressive grower.

The plant itself is beautiful, with glossy dark green foliage and beautiful blue/violet flowers that brighten up a shady spot.

However, it is difficult to get rid of once it is established.

It has runners on the top of the soil that root at the nodes.

They will twine themselves around other plants making the Vinca next to impossible to pull out.

This plant will grow in any well drained soil and is drought tolerant.

For a quick ground cover of a small space in front of shrubs, plant this European and Asian native 8″ apart.

Deer and rabbits leave it alone.

24 | Wintercreeper

Euonymus growing around a bed of Hostas
Orest Lyzhechka

Scientific name: Euonymus fortunei
Zone: 4 to 9
Exposure: sun to shade
Height: 6′ to 32′
Width: 2′ to 10′
Bloom time: summer
Flower color: green, white insignificant

Wintercreeper can be grown as a shrub or vine and has small evergreen green, yellow or variegated leaves.

It likes any well drained soil, is very easy to grow, and is drought and black walnut tolerant

However, I hesitate to add Euonymus fortunei to this list because it is so invasive in many states.

Left to its own devices, it is a vine that grows very quickly and can choke out other plants as it twines around and up them.

The white berries that follow the insignificant small blooms are eaten by birds which spread the seeds into woodland areas. The resultant plants climb trees and spread as groundcover killing native vegetation. Once this happens, it is very difficult to eradicate.

So be prepared to keep it in check if you plant it in your garden.

As you have seen there is quite a variety of shade loving evergreens. I hope this list helps you in your selection. I certainly have added some to my wish list.

Other evergreen plants you might like

Or browse all of our evergreen plant suggestions.

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