Best Native groundcover for wooded area

Asked August 19, 2020, 2:33 PM EDT

Hi I have five acres of woods. I’ve been battling some stray Japanese pasychandra and will finally get it all gone this fall. I’m ready to plant a native ground cover that can spread on its own where I’ve eliminated the invasive groundcover. I was thinking of crested iris or pussytoes or Allegheny spurge or maidenhair fern. Are any of these more desirable than others? I have four spots. One is along my driveway and I’d like it to look interesting. The other areas are along trails in the woods. Most are full shade. One is sunnier. Yes we have deer. Thanks so much for any advice.

Carroll County Maryland

2 Responses

We see some plants of another invasive weed in the photos, unfortunately - the groundcover Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon 'Variegatum'), so this should be removed as well to minimize competition as the new plants establish.

There are numerous options, though not all native species have been evaluated for relative deer resistance since they are only recently gaining popularity in gardens. Therefore, while you can cross-check some of the ideas given for native groundcovers, we do not know the degree of unpalatability with regards to deer for all of them. Here are two reference lists that rank plants for deer preferences:

Groundcovers don't necessarily need to be ground-hugging and low in order to control erosion and out-compete weeds, so depending on the look you want, this increases the list of candidate plants. Self-sowing natives can be useful to perpetuate themselves as gaps in the understory open up along the wooded paths. For the driveway, understandably this may need to look tidier and here lower plants might make more sense.

The four species you mention are good choices; here is a starter list of more ideas for the shadier areas:

  • White Wood Aster and Blue Wood Aster (Aster divaricatus, Aster cordifolius)
  • Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens)
  • Golden Ragwort (Senecio aureus)
  • Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) and various other ferns, like Hay-Scented (Dennstaedtia punctilobula)
  • Woodland Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum)
  • Violets (Viola) - many species
  • Early Saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis)
  • Blue Wood Phlox and Creeping Phlox (Phlox divaricata, Phlox stolonifera)
  • Foamflower (Tiarella)
  • Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)
  • River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)
and for sunnier areas:
  • Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)
  • Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata)
  • Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea)
  • Heath Aster (Aster ericoides, particularly variety 'Snowflurry')
  • Green-and-Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)
  • Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)
  • Lyre-leaf Sage (Salvia lyrata)
Here are other native plant lists that may help in making selections:


Thank you very much for your help!