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How To Garden Beneath A Tree: Types Of Flowers To Plant Under Trees

How To Garden Beneath A Tree: Types Of Flowers To Plant Under Trees


By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener

When considering a garden beneath a tree, it is important to keep a few rules in mind. So what plants or flowers grow well under a tree? Read on to learn more about growing gardens under trees.

Basics of Growing Gardens Under Trees

Below are some of the basic guidelines to keep in mind when planting under trees.

Do trim away lower branches -Trimming away a few of the lower branches will give you more space for planting and allow light to come under the tree. Even if the plants you want to use are shade tolerant, they too need a little light to survive.

Don’t build a raised bed – Most gardeners make a mistake of building a raised bed around the base of the tree in an attempt to create better soil for the flowers. Unfortunately, when doing this they can harm or even kill the tree. Most all trees have surface roots that require oxygen to survive. When compost, soil, and mulch are piled up thick around a tree, it suffocates the roots and allows no oxygen to get to them. This can also cause the roots and lower trunk of the tree to decay. Although you will have a nice flower bed, in a few years the tree will be nearly dead.

Do plant in holes – When planting under trees, give each plant its own hole. Carefully dug holes will avoid damage to the tree’s shallow root system. Each hole can be filled with composted organic matter to help benefit the plant. A thin layer of mulch (no more than 3 inches (8 cm.)) can then be spread around the base of the tree and plants.

Don’t plant large plants – Large and spreading plants can easily take over a garden under the tree. Tall plants will grow too high for the area and start trying to grow through the tree’s lower branches while large plants will also block the sunlight and view of other smaller plants in the garden. Stick with small, low growing plants for best results.

Do water the flowers after planting – When just planted, flowers do not have established roots, which makes it difficult to get water, especially when competing with the tree’s roots. For the first couple of weeks after planting, water daily on days it does not rain.

Don’t damage the roots when planting – When digging new holes for plants, don’t damage the roots of the tree. Try to make holes for small plants just large enough to fit them in between roots. If you hit a large root while digging, fill the hole back in and dig in a new location. Be very careful not to split major roots up. Using small plants and a hand shovel is best to cause as little disturbance as possible to the tree.

Do plant the right plants – Certain flowers and plants do better than others when planted under a tree. Also, be sure to plant flowers that will grow in your planting zone.

What Plants or Flowers Grow Well Under Trees?

Here is a list of some common flowers to plant under trees.

  • Hostas
  • Lilies
  • Bleeding heart
  • Ferns
  • Primrose
  • Sage
  • Merry bells
  • Bugleweed
  • Wild ginger
  • Sweet woodruff
  • Periwinkle
  • Violet
  • Impatiens
  • Barren strawberry
  • Crocus
  • Snowdrops
  • Squills
  • Daffodils
  • Yarrow
  • Butterfly weed
  • Aster
  • Black eyed susan
  • Stonecrop
  • Bellflowers
  • Coral bells
  • Shooting star
  • Bloodroot

This article was last updated on

Read more about General Tree Care


Plants under trees

I have this "wall" of trees at the end of my garden that I want to keep for a bit of privacy but I was wondering if I could plant anything underneath them. Ideally any useful plants such as herbs or berries or anything that would survive in those not ideal conditions and would possibly bloom and make the side prettier. As non of the trees produce fruit or anything useful climbing plants like morning glory are fine too. Location is north east of England. Sun will be fairly limited.


Siberian Bugloss

The heart-shaped leaves with contrasting white veining catch the eye of many gardeners with shady lots, but the cloud of sky blue flowers that Brunnera macrophylla produce in the spring is the icing on the cake. Besides being perennial stalwarts that bloom reliably in zone 3 regions, the Siberian bugloss will slowly form a colony of plants that you can use to populate the landscape under the tree, or transplant to other parts of the yard.


Spring Bulbs

Many kinds of daffodils (Narcissus) can thrive in the dry shade of cedar trees. Good varieties include "Campernelle" (Narcissus x odorus) and "Avalanche" (Narcissus "Avalanche"), both hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9. Later in spring, Japanese iris (Iris japonica), hardy in USDA zones 7 through 9, blooms in single colors or combinations of purple, white and blue-purple. Spring starflower (Ipheion uniflorum), hardy in USDA zones 6 through 9, provides blue, low-growing flowers. For best results all of these species should be planted towards the outer perimeter of the tree's shade area.


Planting Under A Pine Tree

Generally, the plants that you should choose for planting under a pine tree should be shade loving and loves the acidic soil. Pine trees can grow tall and plants that you’ll grow under this will mostly get partial light exposure.

The soil underneath your pine tree is slightly acidic and let me tell you why.

Pine Tree’s Soil Acidity

And so it’s true that you can’t really grow some plants under a pine tree no matter how hard you try.

What you really should know is that the pH level of the soil where your pine tree stands can be acidic. People would blame the acidic pine needles that fall off under a pine tree for this.

A pine needle is known to have a pH level of 3.5 as it falls to the ground. Multiple needles can make your soil slightly acidic.

It’s not all bad when the soil is acidic. In fact, pine trees grow better in soils that are acidic or with a pH level of more than 7.0 (neutral).

How To Neutralize Pine Needle Acid In Soil

When soil is acidic, there are only certain plants that you can grow on it. A quick fix is to neutralize the soil, but since your pine tree will constantly shed pine needles, neutralizing your soil is not really the best solution. Picking out plants that love acidic soil underneath pine trees is your best option.

There are different plants out there that love acidic soil. You can get a certain perennial, evergreen, or a plant that is good as a ground cover for this.

You don’t have to look further as I’ll let you know what they are.

Now, even if the plants on this list are ones that you’ve never heard of before, I’ll also share with you the important things that you should know about them.


Watch the video: Plants that will grow under trees