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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Sunday - April 21, 2013

From: Indianapolis, IN
Region: Midwest
Topic: Deer Resistant, Drought Tolerant, Erosion Control, Groundcovers, Shade Tolerant, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Shady Perennial Groundcover Suggestions for Indiana
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

Could you please recommend perennial groundcovers for Indiana that are low and leafy, self-spreading, non-invasive, deer resistant, and moisture tolerant; and that are good for erosion control on a shady, hillside, woodsy environment on various soils?

ANSWER:

The first place to go to find a list of potential plants is our Native Plant Database.  Use the Combination Search feature instead of Recommended Species. This will provide a bigger selection with much more choice to narrow down. The volunteers and staff at the Wildflower Center who maintain the database have partners in different regions to help with these recommended species lists based on what is easy to access in local nurseries.

Under Combination Search, select the following categories: Indiana, Habit – herb (for herbaceous, Duration – perennial, Light requirement – shade, Soil moisture – dry, Size characteristics – 0-1 ft.

The result of this search turned up 11 species (not all of these will work as groundcover plants). Next check this group of plants against the deer resistant list on our website.

The best prospects from this search are:

Erythronium albidum (white troutlily) Good groundcover for shady woodland sites, spreads by root offshoots and seed. white spring blooms, attractive foliage, suited to deciduous hardwood forests, non-invasive, not deer-proof (they will eat the leaves).

Mitchella repens (partridgeberry) Evergreen woodland creeper, fragrant white flowers during summer, very ornamental foliage, scarlet fruit, moisture tolerant, best for acidic soils, propagate by root division, seeds or cuttings. Not on the deer resistant list.

Pyrola elliptica (waxflower shinleaf) White fragrant flowers in summer, tolerant of deep shade, difficult to establish, propagate by root cuttings or runner division, prefers acidic soils. Not on the deer resistant list.

Rubus pubescens (dwarf red blackberry) Trailing bramble with white blooms and tart edible red fruit. Prefers rich, moist woodland soil. A good groundcover plant. Not on the deer resistant list.

You may want to include taller plants (1-3 feet) in your potential groundcovers list and this would include many more plants including Matteuccia, Osmunda and Pteridium ferns, Solidago (goldenrods), Vernonia (ironweeds), Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower), Chelone (turtleheads), Actaea (cohosh) and more.

 

From the Image Gallery


White troutlily
Erythronium albidum

White troutlily
Erythronium albidum

White troutlily
Erythronium albidum

Partridgeberry
Mitchella repens

Partridgeberry
Mitchella repens

Partridgeberry
Mitchella repens

Waxflower shinleaf
Pyrola elliptica

Dwarf red blackberry
Rubus pubescens

Dwarf red blackberry
Rubus pubescens

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Bibliography

Field Guide to Indiana Wildflowers (2000) Kay Yatskievych

Natural Heritage of Indiana (1997) Jackson, M.T. (ed.)

Wildflowers of Indiana (1988) Wampler, M. ; F. Wampler

Wildflowers of Indiana Woodlands (1994) Runkel, S.T. & A.F. Bull

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