The number of wonderful plants that thrive in the shade is amazing and most garden centers have a special section dedicated just to the shade lovers. Perennials that grow well in shade are often better known for their foliage than for their flowers but there are still plenty of beautiful species that flower even in deeper shade.
Ground covers are an excellent way to reduce the time you have to spend weed-eating around your trees and shrubs. There are many attractive perennial ground covers that compete well with tree roots and tolerate the dry shady conditions that exist in this microclimate.
One of the best ground cover choices for dry shade is Epimedium. These spring bloomers have beautiful foliage, some with reddish veining, and dainty, nodding flowers. The 8"-12" tall foliage is beautiful and full all season long. It makes a gorgeous display.
Liriope (Lily-Turf) is one of the most popular evergreen ground covers for the shade or sun. It forms a dense grass-like ground cover that fills in quickly. The 8"-12" evergreen foliage can be solid green or variegated. Beautiful flower spikes rise above the foliage in the late summer through fall. These plants are great for planting under trees or as a border edging.
Lamium maculatum (Dead Nettle) makes a bright, colorful ground cover for the shade or part shade. The attractive dark green foliage is splashed with varying amounts of white and silver accents. Showy flowers cover the plant from April to June. A fast grower, Lamium will quickly spread to fill areas under trees and shrubs. Most Lamium cultivars grow to about 8" tall.
Other choices for taller ground covers for the shade are Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum', the variegated Solomon's Seal. There are also many Hosta varieties that spread well and make excellent ground covers.
Ajuga (Bugleweed) is a wonderful fast growing hardy ground cover that thrives in sun or shade. It forms a beautiful 3"-6" carpet of dense foliage which is covered with spike flowers in the spring. An excellent choice for an area under trees where the grass just won't grow!
Leptinella (Brass Buttons) has interesting fern-like foliage that creeps to form a soft, fuzzy mat. It is very low growing and creates a wonderful fluffy ground cover for between stepping stones or in a rock garden.
Another nice low-growing ground cover is Mazus reptans. These hardy plants are also perfect for planting between stepping stones or tucking in crevices in a rock wall. The brilliant green ground-hugging foliage is literally covered with beautiful blooms in the spring.
Trifolium repens 'Atropurpureum' (Bronze Dutch Clover) has beautiful reddish bronze clover-like foliage with a bright green edge. It is a vigorous grower and makes a stunning ground cover. It is especially good for dry areas where other plants have a hard time becoming established. White clover flowers bloom all summer.
The low growing dwarf Japanese solomon's seal, Polygonatum humile, which grows only to 6" is another great ground cover for the shade garden.