Some good ground cover plants for shady areas include English ivy, hosta, pachysandra and Japanese painted fern. Myrtle, wild violets, lily of the valley, sweet woodruff and golden star are flowering ground covers that grow well in shade.
English ivy grows well on the ground under trees. The soil should be moist while the vines are growing, but established ivy can tolerate dry conditions as well. Hosta plants also grow well under trees; they require soil with good drainage. Pachysandra is especially good in areas with acidic or low-nutrient soil. The Japanese painted fern requires moist soil and prefers a humid environment, but it can grow well in lightly and densely shaded areas.
Myrtle, with its periwinkle flowers, can be used on hillsides for erosion control. It can tolerate dry soil once it is established. Wild violets and lilies of the valley both like light shade and moist soil. Sweet woodruff bears small, star-shaped white flowers; it grows best in slightly acidic soil. Golden star requires some sun and soil with good drainage.