Need a Groundcover but Can’t Grow Grass?

Ed, from Alpharetta, writes:

I, along with many others, would surely appreciate your thoughts and insight regarding ground-cover options for highly shaded areas with poor drainage. Because of the tree buffer on Haynes Bridge Road, the “courtyard” behind my townhouse is always wet and moldy or dried up. In either situation, grass will not grow. I’m thinking of putting down stone.

Well, Ed, before you put down stone, which is certainly a nice option, please know that there are many plants that thrive in moist shade.

All landscape plants need the following:  soil, air, water, light.  You will have to assess your site for these criteria. But, given what you’ve shared with me above, here are some ferns, grasses and creeping plants for you to consider that could function as ground-covers in your situation:

While not ground covers, here are some flowering plants that might thrive in your conditions:

There are a few bulbs that can handle moist, shaded conditions and they could highlight your yard.  I would still try to put these on high ground, if you have any.

And if all else fails, you can always plant Liriope muscari ‘Big Blue’!

Don’t forget to prepare your site well before planting.  Preparation, even in moist, shady spots is essential, so loosen the soil and add some organic material.  Ironic as it sounds, you will need to make sure your newly planted site has water.  You never know when we will get into a dry spell.

Please see my Plant Sources page under the Alpharetta Post heading for names of local nurseries and mail-order nurseries.






7 Replies to “Need a Groundcover but Can’t Grow Grass?”

  1. Wow Julie!

    This is wonderful information and insight regarding grasses, flowering plants and ground cover to help improve my courtyard situation. It was more than I could have hoped for.

    I will consider planting several of your suggestions and perhaps a building French drain to support the original drain.
    It will be this Summer’s project.

    Thank you so much for your time and consideration, it is greatly appreciated.


  2. I have a shade problem too, without the moisture. Just the opposite. It took some doing to get grass-like growth on the slope at the front of my lot. At the top of the slope are big oaks. Their limbs shade the slope and their roots soak up practically all the moisture anywhere around. So I sprigged in mondo grass, and the coverage is pretty good.

  3. Thanks, Julie! I will peruse your list and see what might work with my partially-shaded, partially-dry, partially-moist, and partially-soggy areas. 🙂

  4. Thanks Julie!

    I have planted pachysandra in the shaded area of my front yard. We have a big oak tree, and another large tree, and grass just wont grow. The pachysandra has done OK, but how do I keep weeks from sprouting in the middle of it?

    1. Scott, yours was such a good question that I devoted an entire blog piece to it. Look for my answer to your question there. – Julie

  5. Thanks for the post on the weeds in groundcover. I’ve done my share of old fashioned hand pulling! This fall, I’ll try the preventative stuff…

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