Growing plants under trees can be a frustrating experience if you do not do your research on the types of plants you are choosing, the tree you are planting under and the condition of the soil you are planting in. All of these factors can make a huge difference in whether or not the plants you choose thrive, barely survive, or die. The great news is that there are tons of plants that can be added under trees, from flowering plants to plants with interesting foliage.
The Best Plants to Add Under a Large Tree
If you have an empty patch of dirt under a tree that you want to see filled with flowers, try any one of these.
White flowering hostas, purple flowering hostas, hostas with deep green, light green, striped and almost blue leaves; there are so many types of hostas. These shade loving plants fill in huge empty spaces, spreading out and up. Only a few plants are needed to make a huge impact, and as each year passes you can easily divide a single plant into several and add them elsewhere in the garden.
Japanese Painted Fern
Wildly different from hostas, but offering the same amount of coverage under dense canopies. Japanese painted fern offers both a unique shape and distinct colors, a combination that is hard to find in shade loving plants. From green to blue to silver, the fern changes colors as it grows, adding character to the shaded areas of your garden. Ferns are very low key plants, needing very little care after they are planted, but it is important to remember that after establishing itself, the plants do not like to be disturbed or moved, so plant everything in the area of the garden where you add your fern at the same time.
There are several different types of vinca, but vinca minor is an especially hardy option for hard to grow areas under trees with lots of heavy shade and poor soil. Most soil under trees tends to be nutrient poor, but even more troublesome is how thin the workable soil is because of tree roots. Vinca is a vine, so its roots do not need to root deep into the soil, which makes it a great choice for under any for of pine tree, or shallow root trees. The deep green foliage and purple flowers add a lot of color to what would otherwise be a dark spot.
This leggy plant is a great spring addition to the garden bed and will grow under trees where there is some shade, but not entirely dark. Columbine is a great option early in the growing season when most other plants have barely begun break ground. The plant requires some sunlight so it is best added under trees with a crown that is higher up from the ground and thinner foliage. The plants do flower and you can choose from a variety of uniquely colored choices, but the blue mountain varieties are the hardiest.
Iris is another early spring bloomer, and a perennial plant that will fill in an entire garden bed if allowed to. The plant is a rhizome, so its root system travels along the surface of the ground, barely burying itself. This also serves as a way for the plant to establish new plants, creating an entire bed of iris plants. Most of the varieties produce bold purple or yellow flowers, but even after the plant is done flowering there is a nice bed of deep green blades that give an otherwise hard to grow spot color and character.