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The 20 Best Plants to Grow Under Trees

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If you have a mature tree in the garden, it’s difficult to work with its surroundings. Not all plants can be grown successfully in the shady area under trees. This is because there are some issues that need to be taken into account. Trees require a lot of nutrients and this can often translate to the soil being depleted and too dry. Coupled with the lack of sunlight, and you have the unfortunate combination of bad conditions to grow most plants.

However, there are some exceptions because certain plants can still manage to thrive despite the poor conditions in the tricky area under the tree. It may take some special soil preparations and some extra effort, but many gardeners welcome this sort of challenge. If you can pull through and handle all these obstacles, the result can be quite satisfying. You can enhance the beauty of the tree by having blooming flowers right underneath. Check out our selection of plants that you can try to start a garden under your favorite mature trees.

1. Primrose

Brightening up the space underneath the tree can be done effectively with the help of primroses. This cheery-looking flower can easily thrive in damp shade. The appearance of primroses will usually be one of the first signs of spring. Bees and other pollinators love this flower due to blooming quite early. There’s a considerable variety in terms of flower color, size, and plant shape. A nice aspect regarding primrose is the way the plant’s blooming period can extend throughout the summer.

Sometimes, primroses can also produce flowers in the fall season though it’s more difficult for those planted under trees. The main reason why this plant is recommended for growing in such a difficult area is the overall hardiness. Primroses are remarkably capable when it comes to adapting to different conditions. Retaining moisture will probably be a bit challenging considering the growing conditions underneath trees. A simple solution is to provide the primroses with a nice layer of mulch.

2. Bluebell

A native wildflower with great potential to grow under trees, the bluebell plant can decorate this overlooked spot with its fragrant blooms. Bluebells start their flowering period in the spring. These dainty perennials are available in a wide range of colors. You can expect shades of deep purple to light blue and white. To enjoy their spring bloom, it’s recommended to plant bluebells in the fall. Also called wood hyacinths, these flowers don’t require a lot of effort to grow successfully.

Moist soils can help bluebells to multiply. Growing bluebells under trees might be a bit more difficult when it comes to meeting the rich soil requirements. The good news is that the bluebell plant is adapted to shade and can thrive under large trees despite partial sun exposure. This represents a great advantage. The plants can reach maximum heights of 12 inches. The recommended companions for bluebells include various woodland native plants such as ferns or hostas.

3. Wild Ginger

When it comes to low-maintenance plants that grow well under trees, wild ginger can be a very reliable candidate. This plant doesn’t stand out with its blooms but the foliage has an attractive look with leaves in the shape of hearts. Despite its name, the plant isn’t related to the culinary ginger. Even though there are many differences, there’s at least something that this plant has in common with the culinary type. With few exceptional varieties, wild ginger is edible and has a distinctive spicy flavor.

Considering how this plant can’t grow in the full sun and needs full to partial shade, it’s safe to say that you can bring it to decorate the area underneath the tree. By planting wild ginger under a majestic tree, you can boost the naturalistic style of the landscape. It’s definitely a welcomed addition if the soil under the tree tends to be humus-rich and moist. To grow this plant successfully, it’s recommended to avoid bringing in companion plants to prevent extra competition. Keep in mind that wild ginger plants can be susceptible to pests like snails or slugs that often appear earlier in the spring season.

4. Hosta

Hosta plants work nicely to fill up that space underneath large trees. While their presence everywhere has made some people think of them as bland, it’s good to know that you have an impressive selection of hostas at your disposal. There are countless types and varieties that allow you to discover the right one to bring some visual interest under any trees. You can select a huge or tiny hosta or try out some adventurous cultivars with unique color blends and variegated leaves.

Hostas perform very well in the shade as the foliage is vulnerable to excessive sun. There are a few exceptions but it’s safe to say that you won’t run into any issues by planting hostas in the shade of a large tree. Dry soils aren’t problematic for this plant as it has decent drought tolerance. For optimal foliage health, it’s recommended to ensure consistent moisture though. Another great advantage of the hosta plant is that it tends to live a long life. Using hostas as ground cover represents a solid idea.

5. Azalea

Azaleas are great plants to consider for growing under trees. A member of the Rhododendron family, the azalea shrub prefers shaded areas while requiring fairly acidic soils. It’s not an ideal plant for some areas but if you live in hardiness zones 6 through 9, you can expect some nice growing results. Thanks to their exquisite multi-colored blooms, azaleas are highly recommended to bring a touch of color underneath any tree. The only problem is the relatively high maintenance.

The azalea plant depends on consistent levels of moisture but all the extra effort will be surely rewarded. The shrub can be damaged by full sun exposure so it could be advantageous to plant it under a tree. This is particularly relevant when it comes to hotter climates. The area underneath the tree can provide an optimal climate to grow azaleas. One issue that you might expect is some nutrient deficiency in the soil. Your azalea shrubs can’t grow to their full potential when the soil is low in nitrogen so if you notice early leaf drop or other signs of stunted growth, it’s necessary to add fertilizer.

6. Mountain Laurel

Growing the mountain laurel plant under a tree is a breeze. This broad-leaf evergreen is similar to plants from the Rhododendron family. This means that it can thrive without too many issues in areas with more limited sun exposure. The mountain laurel is a shrub that produces brilliant clusters of white or pink flowers. If you plant it underneath trees, the mountain laurel’s bloom production could be impacted. It all depends on the amount of sunlight and acidity of the soil.

Another thing to be careful of when planting mountain laurel is the drying out of its root system. The shrub could be at risk in an area such as under the tree because it doesn’t have deep roots. Any potential issues can be solved by applying some organic mulch. In terms of water requirements, there are no special considerations for the mountain laurel. The shrub tends to prefer moist conditions in this regard but regular watering is more important before the plant gets fully established.

7. Wild Columbine

This flower can be found in woodland meadows in its natural habitat. Although it’s a wild variety, it shows off some striking resemblances to the garden columbine. The visual characteristics are quite similar considering the bell-like flowers that tend to have a drooping appearance. The wild columbine’s flowers aren’t just attractive for increasing the vibrancy of the area under trees. You can also count on them to attract beneficial insects and hummingbirds in search of the sweet nectar contained inside the flowers.

The wild columbine is a perennial flower that has compound leaves. It can reach a height of up to two feet. Light shade and partial sun represent ideal growing conditions for this flower. There are no special requirements when it comes to soil type but this wild plant can thrive in loamy and rocky soils. Growing the wild columbine takes only a bit of effort initially. It’s a low-maintenance plant after it gets established. The attractive flowers and foliage of the wild columbine can create a superb visual display underneath any majestic tree.

8. Japanese Painted Fern

An excellent shade plant to consider for growing under trees, the Japanese painted fern shows off some attractive characteristics. It sets itself apart from the familiar green ferns by offering an eye-catching silver purple-tinged foliage. While the coloration might not seem that impressive in the sun, its vibrancy seems to come to life in dappled shade. This makes the Japanese painted fern ideal for filling up the area underneath the trees. The maximum height of this fern can reach 18 inches. You can expect it to grow beautifully in USDA zones 3 to 8.

Despite the stylish appearance and suitability for growing in the shade, the Japanese painted fern has some disadvantages. Most notably, the plant is a favorite snack of rabbits. Some fertilization could be necessary, depending on the soil conditions you have. This type of fern can optimize its growth if you choose to compost the soil before planting. It can also benefit from adequate levels of moisture but it’s essential to ensure good drainage of the soil.

9. Daffodil

Daffodils can cheer up the bland area under your trees. These plants are known for their flowers that bloom quite early in the spring. This could be an advantage as the daffodils are able to meet their sunlight requirements before the tree produces leaves and covers the ground with shade. Just make sure you select an early-blooming variety such as ‘Dutch master’ or ‘February gold’. A nice advantage of planting daffodil flowers is the way they tend to live quite long.

Daffodils will generally perform best in full sun but the dappled shade under trees shouldn’t pose issues. Neutral soils are preferable while the plants enjoy a regular watering routine, especially during the blooming period. Pests don’t seem to bother daffodils too much. Coupled with the overall hardiness, it looks like this is quite an adaptable flower. Blooming issues are usually caused by poor soil quality. This can sometimes happen if you plant the flower underneath the tree so prepare light fertilizer to feed your daffodils.

10. Solomon’s Seal

A fitting choice for any woodland garden, Solomon’s seal flower works very well in a visual display together with large trees. Many gardeners use this plant as ground cover in shaded areas. The plant is very appreciated for its ability to resist deer. It can be found in the wild in wooded areas but it’s recommended to visit a nursery or garden center if you plan on adding Solomon’s seal to your yard.

This plant features bell-shaped blossoms that look beautiful on the arching stems. The white flowers will usually appear in mid-spring and can last until early summer. After the blooming period is over, berry-like fruits will start to emerge in late summer. Caring for Solomon’s seal plants shouldn’t pose too many issues. The area under the tree will already provide good growing conditions. Although it prefers moist soil, the plant has solid drought tolerance. Watering is only essential when Solomon’s seal is still young.

11. Foxglove

Thanks to preferring the shady conditions under trees, foxglove plants can be considered ideal to plant in this area. Compared to other flowers, the blooms of the foxglove grow in an upward style so they can stand out more effectively in the garden. This is an ideal plant to add a sense of structure. We recommend selecting a tall variety if you want to bring more visual interest to the shady spot underneath your trees. With proper care, foxglove flowers can grow up to 6 feet tall.

The tubular blooms of the foxglove can be found in a wide range of colors like purple, pink, and yellow depending on the variety. To be able to enjoy their full flowering potential, it’s recommended to stick to species that can thrive in partial shade to full shade. Foxgloves are quite hardy in zones 4 to 10 and usually benefit from extra shade in hot climate areas. Well-draining soil with rich nutritional content ensures optimal growth.

12. Aquilegias

Aquilegias is another pretty flower that’s worth considering for growing under trees. This is mostly due to this plant’s ability to thrive in dappled shade. The aquilegias flower works amazingly well for a cottage garden but they can look striking in a woodland setting as well. The bonnet shape of its flowers makes this plant a charming solution to cover the ground area under trees. You can expect the aquilegias to bloom in early summer. In terms of varieties, you won’t be disappointed.

Aquilegias plants can be found in multiple color choices. There are yellow, purple, and pink options so it’s easy to find the right flower to match the color scheme of your garden. Some visual interest is also brought by the plant’s fresh springtime foliage that can add a touch of green quite early after winter passes. It’s not hard to please aquilegias flowers as they don’t have fussy soil requirements. The plant can self-seed readily with limited help.

13. Periwinkle

Known as a fairly tough plant, periwinkle will easily handle more difficult growing conditions like under-tree areas. Normally, this flower can grow quite aggressively in mixed gardens so it seems to perform well in terms of filling a specific niche. A mix of broadleaf foliage and pretty flowers will craft an attractive display under some large trees. Periwinkles are often used to provide ground cover. They’re incredibly low-maintenance plants as even pests don’t usually affect them.

The flower colors can range from blue and purple to white. Although periwinkles don’t grow very tall, they have trailing vines that can get pretty long. It’s a plant with a creeping habit which can be welcomed in an area where you wish to prevent the growth of weeds. Flowers appear in spring while a second less-impressive blooming can start in the summer. Periwinkles can tolerate poor soil conditions but the drainage needs to be good to prevent diseases.

14. Comfrey

A favorite for filling gaps between shrubs, comfrey plants can perform well in less-than-ideal conditions such as the spot underneath the trees. They emerge quite rapidly compared to other plants and can sometimes reach up to 5 feet in height. Although it appears as a shrub, comfrey is related to the borage plant that’s smaller but with similar characteristics. A notable feature of comfrey is the drought tolerance that makes it hardy in zones 4 through 9.

Comfrey performs best in rich, organic soil but it can work decently even if the soil is poor. If it has stunted growth, it’s recommended to compensate with the help of organic matter that will supply the much-needed nitrogen. Starting multiple comfrey plants is usually done through root cuttings. Germination periods can be very long if you choose to grow comfrey directly from seed. One practical use of comfrey is as mulch for vegetable crops such as tomatoes. The leaves of the plant are particularly rich in nutrients like potassium.

15. Bloodroot

Fitting for all kinds of shady locations, the bloodroot flower represents an excellent solution to decorate areas under trees. This plant shows off a stylish rosette of white petals that look even more impressive together with the clasping leaves. Bloodroot matches the aesthetic of woodland gardens very well and it can be successfully incorporated in partially shaded zones. The flower can be often found growing in the wild in wooded areas. The name of the plant is given due to the presence of a crimson sap in the roots and stems.

Bloodroot flowers can be planted for this sap to be used as red or orange dyes. The only problem is that many parts of the plant can irritate the skin. While there are various claims of medicinal properties, bloodroot is known to be a poisonous plant. Growing this flower successfully will require a sufficient level of moisture for the soil. Under-tree areas shouldn’t usually have issues in that regard but you might need to supply extra organic matter. Regular watering can prevent bloodroot from becoming dormant.

16. Sweet Woodruff

Able to flourish in damp shade and tolerate some dry shade, the sweet woodruff shouldn’t be overlooked. This flower is very appreciated in woodland gardens for its ability to create a carpet of delicate flowers. Owners of shade gardens can find sweet woodruff valuable for its ground cover uses. The plant is considered a herb and has been originally grown for the distinctive scent of its leaves. Growing sweet woodruff is quite easy if you live in hardiness zones 4 to 8.

Moist soils can allow this herb to reach its maximum growth potential. The area underneath trees seems like a fitting spot for sweet woodruffs thanks to their need for rich and organic soil. Decomposing tree material will provide some much-needed nutrition. There’s no need to bother with fertilizer, and watering is only needed when facing prolonged dry spells. Sweet woodruff has some medicinal uses but the plant is mainly appreciated for its star-shaped leaves and textural white flowers.

17. Impatiens

Beginner gardeners can be usually successful when planting impatiens flowers. This is an easy-to-grow plant that performs admirably in containers or border plants but it will also manage in less-than-ideal conditions in the partial shade of trees. Full sun can actually be damaging to this plant. The only big issue to consider is watering. Impatiens flowers lack good tolerance to drought so you need to keep the soil moisture levels in a proper range to prevent wilting.

It’s not hard to see why this annual flower is so popular. Impatiens can beautify any landscape with bright and vibrant blooms. Most varieties reach a maximum height of 1 foot. Although fertilizer isn’t a strict requirement, it can make an important difference in terms of flowering productivity and overall showy qualities. Trimming off the leggy look of impatiens flowers represents a good solution to encourage the appearance of new blooms.

18. Heuchera

Coral bells (Heuchera) can enhance the appearance of any under-tree area with their stunning foliage and colorful flowers. This is a fairly hardy plant that blooms from late spring to early summer. Heucheras get their ‘coral bells’ name from the appearance of the little towers of bell-shaped flowers. Many gardeners bring them into their yard mostly for the showy style of their lime-green, purple, or bronze foliage.

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to get this plant to thrive in the partially-shaded area underneath trees. Filtered sun is actually preferable for heuchera to get protected from intense heat. Thanks to the mounding habit, corral bells perform nicely in woodland gardens. Moist, but well-draining soil seems ideal while organic matter enrichment can be a huge help.

19. Bleeding Heart

With an exotic look that will appear eye-catching even when the plant isn’t blooming, the bleeding heart flower is recommended to grow under trees. Any spot of neglected landscape can benefit from the show look of this plant’s pendulous blooms that seem to resemble the shape of a heart. The texture of the leaves can also bring a lot of visual interest to the area.

Bleeding heart has a preference for partial to full shade. The soil has to be rich in compost to give young plants a good start. The heart-shaped flowers can be vulnerable to strong winds so you can protect their beautiful look in the sheltered spot under a large tree. There are no dangerous pest or disease issues for bleeding heart and the plant can be maintained with ease as long as the soil is kept relatively moist.

20. Wild Violet

Wild violets are very easy to grow in any garden. Their heart-shaped leaves and purple flowers can enhance the empty area underneath trees. They provide a subtle yet beautiful accent to woodland gardens. Thanks to their efficient spreading, wild violets can be easily used as ground cover in many areas. The only downside is that the plant can often spread to the point of becoming invasive.

Although wild violets aren’t that showy compared to other plants that can be grown under trees, they also have more practical applications. For example, the leaves and flowers are edible. Ensuring moist, yet properly draining soil can guarantee that your wild violets will flourish. Add some organic matter to boost the nutritional content of the soil. It’s worth noting that even if you sometimes neglect these plants, they’re hardy enough to take care of themselves.

By Stefan Bucur

Stefan is the founder and owner of Rhythm of the Home. He has 6 years of experience in home improvement, interior design, cleaning and organizing.

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