Below is a regional list of shade-tolerant, drought-tolerant, low-maintenance, ground-covers that are gorgeous native plants great for shady corners. And they’ll attract songbirds and butterflies to boot!

You probably all know that English Ivy can get out of control and overwhelm other plants. Just like Snakehead Fish, Norway Rats, Japanese Beetles, and House Sparrows, English Ivy is an invasive exotic with very few predators or diseases in this country to keep it in balance. Problems with English Ivy (and other non-natives):

  • It grows out of control, covering ferns, wildflowers, herbs and even tree seedlings, thus removing essential food sources for birds and other wildlife while decreasing biodiversity.
  • It has almost zero wildlife value.
  • There are no native butterfly or moth caterpillars that feed on its leaves, few insects nectar from its flowers and 
  • The fruits are low-quality and largely ignored by both resident and migratory birds.

So why are ivy and other relatively boring and invasive plants (Climbing Euonymus, Periwinkle, Pachysandra, etc.) used constantly in suburban landscapes? Simple, they are super easy to grow and take care of.

There ARE native options:

  • A list of colorful, shade-loving, drought-tolerant plants that can hold the role of ivy and pachysandra.
  • They do so while providing a vital food source to native wildlife in an area with depleted natural resources.
  • And these plants “play well with others”, i.e. co-exist with your other garden plants rather than overwhelming them.

Use the list below and share it with your neighbors, home owner associations, landscape companies, office parks, nurseries and garden centers, schools and churches, local parks departments and anyone else who might be tempted to use any of the invasive exotic plants listed above.

Shade-tolerant Native Ground-Covers for Northern Virginia

Birds and butterflies look for clumps and masses of the same plant – it offers a better chance of finding fruit and nectar.To make plantings useful for them, use at least 7 individuals of whatever species you choose, more if possible. Rather than a demonstration garden planting, choose 3 to 5 species and plant large masses of each.

WILDFLOWERS: a great way to attract native pollinators and the birds that feed on them – plant a wildflower and build a food web!

  1. Creeping Mint (Meehania cordata)
  2. Coral Bells (Heuchera americana, H. macrorhiza, H. villosa)
  3. Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)
  4. Phlox (Phlox stolonifera, P. divaricata)
  5. Foam Flower (Tiarella cordifolia)
  6. Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)
  7. Violets (Viola labradorica & many other Viola species)

SEDGES: excellent seed source for finches, native sparrows and other birds, also essential food for over a dozen butterfly larvae – plant lots of Carex!

  1. Carex Sedges (Carex appalachica, C. flaccosperma, C. platyphylla)

FERNS: wonderful forage, shelter and nesting material for wrens, thrushes, chickadees, woodland warblers and many other small birds

  1. Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
  2. Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina)

VINES: excellent food source for hummingbirds, butterflies and migrating songbirds

  1. Virginia Creeper ( Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
  2. Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) – our native honeysuckle
  3. Passionflower (Passiflora Incarnata)
  4. Carolina Jasmine/Evening Trumpetflower (Gelsemium sempervirens)
  5. Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia durior)

*Even drought-tolerant plants need water to get established. Be sure to water all these plants for the first year *

For other native plant guides, check the following sites:

Source: Audubon Society of Northern Virginia

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