need recs for shade-tolerant evergreen groundcover

philosopher(Zone 5a WI)May 26, 2011

hi--i have asked this question numerous times over the years, but everything i try doesn't seem to work. we have an easement strip between the sidewalk and the street. there is a huge basswood tree there. the grass wasn't doing well at all, plus it is a real hassle to mow (basswood roots all over the place). so i got rid of the grass, and now i need an evergreen groundcover that will work in that area. it seems to drain very well, but it has major shade once the basswood's leaves come out. i have already tried mother of thyme, but the basswood provides too much shade.

i am wondering whether there is a shade-tolerant groundcover that will work here. pachysandra? sweet woodruff?

one last caveat: we are in wisconsin, and the area will get lots of snow as the plows do their jobs. it does drain really well, though, which is surprising.

help! i can't go on with this awful looking strip for much longer. thank you! kathy

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Is this an area that is fully surrounded by paving? If so, you could perhaps choose something that would be too aggressive in regular situations.

- Audric

    Bookmark   May 26, 2011 at 8:12PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Right, like goutweed.

Other options to try, and I'm not sure if they'd be hardy for you, would be Asarums of various sorts, or ferns, maybe the tassel fern or something else that is quite flat, Oxalis, some primulas (not so much as a ground cover, but as a bunch of plants, and in fact altering your question to making a successful shade garden rather than finding a ground cover might net you more luck).

Finally, how about Siberian cypress, or Microbiota? A single plant would eventually cover the whole area.


    Bookmark   May 26, 2011 at 9:07PM
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philosopher(Zone 5a WI)

unfortunately, most of what you mention isn't evergeen in wisconsin. i can come up with lots of shade groundcovers, but they need to be evergreen if at all possible.

microbiota really intrigues me, but i have heard that it is less shade-tolerant than previously advertised. the are probably gets indirect light all day (lots of reflection from the road), plus some early morning and late afternoon sun. other than that, not much. will microbiota work?

thank you for your comments. kathy

    Bookmark   May 26, 2011 at 9:26PM
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You've got a number of choices - Vinca minor, epimediums, pachysandra, Ajuga reptans, Lamium maculatum, wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei), Paxistima canbyi. Even candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) will work in partial shade. I've never grown any of them in zone 5 so can't speak personally, but they are ALL considered evergreen :-)

You will just need to be cognizant of the tree roots and their ability to hog water and soil nutrients and compensate for this fact.

Like most conifers, Microbiota is not going to be very happy in much shade. Growth will be sparse and leggy and you will miss the purple-bronze winter coloring it is noted for. If you DID want a conifer, a spreading yew could work - extremely shade tolerant - but taller growing than most typical groundcovers.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2011 at 10:08PM
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philosopher(Zone 5a WI)

gardengal: i have grown all of what you have listed. most of them (epimedium, ajuga, lamium, iberis) are not evergreen here. i am considering pachysandra. i do not know enough about wintergreen. euonymus fortunei and vinca are a little too vigorous for me--vinca is considered invasive in wisconsin, so i don't feel good planting it.

i was thinking of microbiota, but from what i have read, it won't do well in anything more than light shade.

are there any dwarf taxus species that work in shade? that would almost seem ideal.

thanks all for your suggestions.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2011 at 10:46PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Sweet woodruff dies down over the winter here in 7a, so I'm sure it wouldn't be evergreen in your zone.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2011 at 11:10PM
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You might try Waldsteinia or Hepatica, but Vinca and Pachysandra are more likely to be evergreen in z5.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 1:32AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Are you sure it has to be evergreen? If winter brings lots of snow, I wonder if you are just thinking, well, grass is evergreen so the replacement should be too.

If the area is not walked on then you might achieve quite a lot of coverage with a variety of plants that work in succession, for instance starting with snow drops and then other bulbs among a perennial selection that comes up later. Again, think of a garden, not a ground cover.

Finally, have you considered thinning the tree or raising its canopy? It is when trees get to the point where they bully other plants out of growing in an area that people usually also consider whether the tree is the landscaping they want. Trees pursue monoculture, and if that is not what you want, can you also consider removing the tree? If it's a street tree, municipalities can be asked to do replacement.

Finally, one can speculate forever what is too much shade and what is not; there is no certainty in gardening. Just because it was too much shade for thyme does not mean it will be too much shade for other plants, but the only way you will really know if it meets your expectations is to try. I have a microbiota in a pot in a lot of shade that looks OK to me, but it is impossible to compare shades given that ground will also be different, not to mention climate.

Oh, and the spreading yew that could be trained as a groundcover is called Repandens.


    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 10:00AM
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philosopher(Zone 5a WI)

it doesn't absolutely have to be evergreen, but with our limited warm season here in WI, that means that there is nothing but dirt in our easement between november and april (e.g., half of the year).

i have a hunch that someone could become a multi-millionaire by developing a truly shade-tolerant creeping evergreen. or...should i try microbiota?

the tree provides much needed shade for our house, so i don't want to thin it out.

thanks all for your opinions. cheers--kathy

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 1:20PM
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There are many shade tolerant, creeping evergreen groundcovers :-) Your zone is a bit severe for many broadleaved evergreens, so no doubt why you think there is a shortage. FWIW, I'd venture most of those previously listed will maintain at least a portion of their foliage through winter......they ARE listed as evergreen for the zones in which they are considered hardy (which includes Z5). I could come up with another dozen or so more if you lived in a milder zone :-)

'Repandens' is only one type of spreading yew (Taxus baccata)...... 'Repandens Aurea' and 'Summergold' are golden yellow forms. Taxus cuspidata (hardier than T. baccata) has several cultivars of spreading yew: 'Emerald Spreader', 'Nana Aurescens' (aka 'Golden Spreader'), 'Winston Peters'. Taxus x media offers another few, equally hardy choices: 'Densiformis', 'Everlow', 'Green Wave'.

FWIW, I'd still consider using vinca. It is fully evergreen, exceedingly shade tolerant and NOT listed as an invasive species in WI (invasiveness is highly dependent on location - very few plant species are considered uniformly invasive across the US). The risk of invasiveness is really only present if the plant is grown in woodlands or adjacent to natural areas. Surrounded by lawns or in a contained planting it is pretty harmless. It is not spread by birds :-)

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 5:29PM
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mary4b(4b WI)

If you are still looking....I recommend that you use bigroot geranium. (geranium macrorrhizum) I am in Menasha Wisconsin and had to remove hostas from my front sidewalk garden under and near silver maple trees...which made my hostas diminish over the years. I took my bigroot geranium and planted it in that space and today it is a beautiful and lush.
This plant is not invasive, it survives easily in dry shade, normal shade and even full sun. It handles winter salt from our driveway with no problem at all....much of our driveway snow gets shoveled on top of our geranium garden areas.
This is a plant that can be mowed down once it's established, and in 2-3 weeks, you'll have nice fresh leaves. Some people do this after it blooms, I do not. It's blooming right now in my yard, the bloom color is fushia. Even though it's very pretty, I actually love the foliage and would be fine if it didn't bloom at all.
This plant has fixed this problem area for me and turned it into my entry into a place of beauty with many compliments.

Extremely easy to plant/transplant, the roots are pretty much above the soil, so you just grab some, and plant it below the soil wherever you want some more. I started an area in the spring, using little parts of the roots and by fall in my first season it was nearly covered...the next spring, it was pretty much full and I am just grabbing little pieces of it and planting it in other areas as I want it.
Did I mention that this is nearly's one's of the first things to start greening up, well before the lawn and the daffodils...maybe about the time of crocus. It has a lovely pine scent when you touch it and often turns a bit red in the fall.
It's my favorite, I can't believe more people don't have it...or that it's rarely seen in our local nurseries. Very hardy.
If it goes where you want it, just break off those roots and put them somewhere else!

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 4:56PM
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mary4b(4b WI)

Here's a great link about geranium macrorrhizum, with pics, the site features other tough groundcovers, so maybe there will be something else for you to consider, too!

Here is a link that might be useful: my favorite easist prettiest toughest groundcover/perennial

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 5:02PM
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we have plain old ivy growing profusely in our back woods - pretty much maintenance free, stays green all year, just have to keep it from climbing up the trees

    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 11:10AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Glad you resurrected this thread; I had been meaning to...I was going to suggest Pratia. According to the page linked below it might only be annual for you though.


Here is a link that might be useful: Pratia, at Paghat's Garden page

    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 1:58PM
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