Hi, what is a good, hardy groundcover alternative to lawn for a deeply shady front yard (maple tree the culprit) in Midland, Ontario? The soil is average and the plant needs to take foot traffic. Something pretty or aromatic if possible. Thanks


Is this a Norway Maple in your front yard?  If so, its dense canopy and shallow root system present particular challenges.  Although all maple species provide very dense shade, the Norway maple creates difficult conditions underneath it which lack sunlight, water and soil nutrients.  In Toronto, we receive many queries about Norway maples (Acer platanoides) which are considered invasive and are no longer planted by the City.

You may have to experiment a bit to find the groundcover that works for you.  Some gardeners who have written to us have found it frustrating to entice anything to grow successfully under the dense canopy that maples provide.  Improving your average soil by adding organic material such as compost before planting will give whatever you plant a head start.   Now is the time to plant, before the heat and dry conditions of summer, and while your local nurseries still have a supply of plant material.

Here is an article that lists some possible groundcovers for shady areas:  Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is one possibility – it is a very pretty plant with white flowers in spring and its leaves are scented (hence its Latin name).   The Canadian native ginger, Asarum Canadensis, may also take hold in your shady area – it forms dense colonies once established.    Some other groundcovers to consider for dry shade conditions such as yours are bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), barrenwort (Epimedium spp.), the hardy perennial geraniums (Geranium macrorhizum) and Japanese spurge (Pachysandra).  One note of caution: heavy foot traffic would take its toll on all of these suggested plantings, although they should be able to tolerate mild foot traffic.

The Toronto Master Gardeners have produced a guide to lawn alternatives that you may find useful – it offers suggestions for soil amendments and care as well: