PachysandraJapanese Spurge,
an ideal shade groundcover


Pachysandra terminalis, a hardy groundcover, spends its first year sending out thick white roots underground & not showing all that much above-ground growth. The thick roots are easily disrupted by planting other things nearby. But when it has itself established & is finally ready to spread, it fills up an area with eight-inch to foot-tall densely fluffy broadleaf evergreen foliage of considerable beauty. Since the broad leaves let no light to the ground beneath them, say goodbye to having to weed in that area.

The photograph above is from late February in the spurge's fourth year in our garden (2004). It took almost that long for the pachysandra to become dense in this area. The photo shows the earliest bloom. The flowers will be whiter & increasingly numerous in March, & continue deep into April.

It is of the Box family, but nothing like box shrubs. Pachysandra's foliage is even nicer than the March & April blossoms & it is really for the foliage it is grown, although as you can see the white blossoms do add a pleasant spring touch.

Pachysandra requires no grooming or pruning or anything beyond shade & moisture. It is very undemanding, though there are a couple diseases it is susceptible to, notably "pachysandra leaf blight," which, knock wood, I've never had cause to learn more about.

It likes very deep full shade to partial shade. Moist sandy loam is best but it will also do well in swampy conditions. It's very cold hardy, but less forgiving of hot climates. Harsh winter winds can burn the leaves but it is low-growing so is easily protected by surrounding shrubs, & in our area it never gets cold enough to bother this plant. In spring the leaves sometimes have a faint purply tingue & in winter there is more of a yellow-green appearance. Most of the year it is a very bright green.

Ours is planted up close to a fence behind a bench & behind a big deciduous Whitethroat Azalea where it gets all the shade it requires. There are not many evergreens that do so extraordinarily well with so little sun; it even grows under walnut or pine trees where not many groundcovers have any chance of survival.


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