A woodland garden design is not complete without barrenwort somewhere among the other shade lovers. This graceful, low-growing perennial features delicate flowers and interesting shaped leaves, which take on lovely hues of burgundy and rose in spring and fall. Use barrenwort as an edging plant along wooded pathways and along the edge of stonewalls to soften any hard lines or edges.
This ground cover grows best in USDA zones 5-8 as a ground cover in any shaded spot in the garden. Both dry shade and damp shade suit this perennial. Barrenwort prefers rich, loamy soil and should be mulched in the fall with a layer of finely shredded leaves and organic compost. This will not only provide nutrients as the mulch breaks down but will also add organic matter, making the soil more moisture retentive.
Photo by Allison Carson
Shrubs To Plant With Barrenwort
Shrubs that grow well in part to full shade are great companions for barrenwort. Plant barrenwort at the base of nandina, fir trees, dwarf conifers, hydrangea, rhododendron, azaleas, red currant, or Oregon grape for a very lush and ever-changing ground cover. Barrenwort also works well in front of lower-growing azaleas and camellias to hide any naked stems or bare patches in the foliage.
Ensure the garden bed has ample drainage year-round for good growth and healthy roots. Barrenwort does not grow well in standing water and may develop crown rot in boggy soil.
Perennials To Plant With Barrenwort
A wide range of shade-loving herbaceous perennials and ephemeral plants combine effortlessly with barrenwort. Traditional shade plants such as hostas, columbine, ferns, bleeding hearts, bluebells, and daffodils are all elevated when grown near barrenwort. Turn up the volume with late bloomers like coral bells, lady’s mantle, cranesbill, Japanese iris, and hellebore planted behind a sea of barrenwort ground cover.
Mulch herbaceous perennials yearly in the spring just as their new growth emerges. Supplemental watering may be necessary depending on seasonal rainfall. Irrigation with drip systems or soaker hoses is the most efficient method of getting water to the roots. This also keeps the foliage drier and less susceptible to molds and mildew.
Annuals To Plant With Barrenwort
The early barrenwort flowers shine against hardy spring annuals planted as edging plants. Our favorites in this group include pansies, violas, wishbone flower, alyssum, and lobelia for early season color. In the warmer months, consider adding fuchsia, coleus, impatiens, and tuberous begonias for color until the first frost in fall.
Barrenwort and other perennials take a few years to fully grow in, and in the meantime, leave bare spots where weeds can pop up. Annuals can serve as place fillers to cover the bare spots and suppress weeds in the garden.
Best Companion Plants For Barrenwort in Containers
Barrenwort grows well with other plants in container arrangements. Use barrenwort as a filler and surround it with hostas, ferns, coral bells, and lamium for a dramatic collection of foliage colors and textures. The foliage-forward design will add drama to a porch, front door display, or shady location of the yard.
Planters should have proper drainage and friable, well-draining soil. Filling planters with perennials is a great way to create a permanent display that only needs to be divided and repotted every 2-3 years depending on the size of your container.
Plants Not To Grow With Barrenwort
Barrenwort does not like to grow in more than 4 hours of direct sun. Avoid planting it with sun lovers like coneflowers, crocosmia, Russian sage, and bearded iris, which will grow poorly in shade and may die out. Barrenwort should also not be paired with plants that need wet soil, such as meadowsweet, Siberian iris, and clethra. Dry shade is the perfect site for hard-working barrenwort.
Best Plants To Grow With Barrenwort
Barrenwort thrives in woodland settings under taller trees and shrubs. Combine it with other woodland plants that prefer full to part shade and rich, loamy soils. Our favorite companions include Japanese iris, cranesbill, lady’s mantle, and hostas, which match for barrenwort.