The Q&A Archives: Shade-tolerant Ground Cover

Question: I am a new Massachusetts homeowner looking for ground cover suitable for weekend traffic. The ground cover must co-exist with exposed roots from large pines. Area in question is a pathway from side yard to back yard and receives very little light.

Answer: I can't think of any low-growing ground cover that will thrive in an area that receives very little light--not to mention withstanding foot traffic. And it is often just about impossible to get anything to grow under pines--the needles seem to create an almost impervious layer. (I find this attractive in its own way.) If you are looking to liven up the area, I suggest using some containers of annuals, rather than trying to get something to grow. Whatever you do, don't spread a thick layer of soil over the tree roots; this can damage the tree.

How about creating a stone walkway, then planting a ground cover along the edges? European ginger (Asarum eropaeum) grows to a height of about 6 inches, and would make a nice edging plant next to the walkway. It needs a moist, rich soil. Lily of the valley has similar characteristics, but can be invasive, spreading into lawns and gardens. Bishop's hat (Epimedium grandiflorum) is another possibility. None of these, however, will withstand foot traffic.

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