ground cover


Hi, I have a large piece of land at the bottom of my backyard that won’t grow anything. It is very shady, on a slope so it is prone to being waterlogged, and the soil is clay.
Could you please suggest some groundcovers that would thrive in these difficult conditions? I do not mind if they are not Natives, although if you think a mix of native groundcover would be better, then great. But obviously, no invasives.
I am also aware of the cost of buying individual little plants in pots from the nursery for such a large area. Do you have any suggestion on whether it would be possible to seed groundcover like you seed grasses?


Dear fellow gardener,

Would it be safe to presume that when you said it gets waterlogged that you mean when it rains heavily or perhaps in the spring with the winter runoff it gets very wet? A slope on clay soil tends to drain very well except for these two periods, unless the slope is very gentle.

If, as you say, the ground is usually very wet then the best answer is Chrysogonum virginianum also known as Golden Knee, Green and Gold or Goldenstar. While several resources refer to the soil requirements as “well drained and moist” it is very tolerant of both flooding and drought. Please see Goldenstar for a description.

Please note that the resource listed is American and indicates that the plant is suitable for Pennsylvania but does not mention anything further north. Toronto is considered zone 6a and is therefore suitable as the plant is good to zone 5. See hardiness zones

If the land is damp as opposed to water logged then you have more solutions.

Please find attached an article that describes these well. To save a little time within the article the Toronto Master Gardeners suggest that you grow: Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia); Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense); Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense); Woodland/wild Strawberry (Fragaria spp.); or Bunchberry dogwood (Cornus canadensis).

The only caveat I would add is that Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) grows about 6 feet (2m) per year. Every year! So you may need to cut it back yearly but it is quite lovely, turning red in the fall and providing berries for woodland creatures and birds.

Furthermore, my suggestion to you is to get a few sample plants from each of these groundcovers, and try and grow all of the plants this summer. During the year, assess which of them is the most successful, and maybe next year buy a few more of those to fill the spaces left by the less successful ones.

Native groundcovers for garden ditch

The resource for Chrysogonum virginianum is here.

For your reference, I am also including a list of all native ground covers (it’s the first item in the list) here.

Additional info on shade loving ground covers can be found here!