As promised, here are perennial expert Lisa Winters's favorite groundcovers for shade, as revealed during our recent Perennial Affair.  (And here's the link to her favorites for sun.) :

Below are two terrific groundcovers growing happily together in my garden - the bluish-green Ajuga reptens (Bugleweed), looking awesome not even in flower!  Lisa says (and I agree) that it grows thick enough to choke out weeds.  It's very short, at just 2-4" tall, and will burn up in direct afternoon sun.  Ajuga's a great choice for under trees because its roots are too short to interfere with the tree roots.  Lisa recommends the variety 'Black Scallop' if you want something that spreads quickly.

And the grass-like companion plant is Carex morrowii 'Ice Dance'.  Lisa loves this variegated sedge that's evergreen, deer-resistant and grows to only 10-14" tall.  Me, too!  I've been growing these for 20 years now, with great success in my dry woodland garden.

Ajuga reptens (Bugleweed) with Carex morrowii 'Ice Dance

Below left is Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) blooming in my neighbor's garden.  It's deer-resistant, good at out-competing weeds, long-lived, and mostly evergreen, depending on how severe our winter is.  It's also terrific grown among bulbs, which finish up before the Plumbago emerges.

And on the right is Carex pensylvanica or Pennsylvania Sedge growing in its first year at the Scott Arboretum near Philadelphia.  Though technically a sedge and not a grass, it's consider a "native grass" because it looks like a grass and is short enough to substitute for turfgrass in a shady spot where most turfgrasses do poorly.  Growing to only 6 to 8", it can be left unmowed.  It's semi-evergreen and deer-resistant.  After it's filled in, it does a fine job at suppressing weeds.

Plumbago (left) and Pennsylvania Sedge (right)

Below are just two of the dozens of gorgeous Heucheras (commonly known as Coral Bells) on the market today.   Here's my recent post about these popular perennials, but in addition to the info there, I learned from Lisa that they tolerate walnut trees - a rare quality! - and that hummingbirds love them.

Heucheras (Coral bells)

Below left is Tiarella cordifolia, a/k/a Foamflower.  A native to this region, it likes moist soil and is (alas) eaten by deer.  Not evergreen.

And on the right is Epimedium or Barrenwort, which IS deer-resistant and likes dry shade.  Growing to 12-15" tall, it tolerates root competition - another reason to grow it under trees.  It blooms once in the spring and looks fabulous in masses.  It grows very slowly but is long-lived.

Tiarella (left) and Epimedium (right)

Not shown of Lisa's favorites are:

  • Anthyrium x 'Branford Rambler', a Running Lady Fern, also known as Running Painted Fern.  It's deer-resistant and produces berries that attract birds.  It fills in quickly and tolerates dry shade.
  • Hypericum calycinum or St. John's Wort grows to 12-18", and tolerates dry, dense shade and poor soil.
  • Ophiopogon japonica or Mondo grass also likes sun, and is described here in the Groundcovers for Sun article.

Below are two woody (as opposed to herbaceous perennial) evergreens that Lisa loves, starting with Siberian Carpet on the left (Microbiota decussate).  It grows to just 18 inches tall but spreads to 6-8 feet across.  In the fall and winter it turns a lovely bronze color.

And on the right is Sweetbox (Sarcococca confusa), which is aptly named for its fabulous fragrance.  It grows to 1-2 feet tall but spreads to 3 feet wide.  Those fragrant blooms come when we need them the most - in the winter!  The birds love its berries.
Siberian Carpet (left) and Sweetbox (right)

Another woody groundcover, Juniperus procumbens 'Greenmound,' was shown and described with the Groundcovers for Sun.

Tiarella photo creditEpimedium photo creditSweetbox photo credit.

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