What to Plant Under Trees: Discover the Perfect Ground Cover

Are you up for a challenge? Gardening beneath a tree can be quite demanding. You’ll have to contend with shade, dry ground, and acidic conditions if you choose to tackle this task under a coniferous tree. But if you’re feeling adventurous, there’s something undeniably romantic and beautiful about blooming flowers beneath the towering branches. So, without further ado, let’s explore 32 plant options for your under-the-tree flower bed. Our selection comprises mostly perennials, with a few shade-loving annuals thrown in for good measure.

Coniferous or Deciduous?

To better understand the plants that will thrive beneath your tree, let’s revisit your elementary science class for a moment. Coniferous trees remain green throughout the year, like Fir, Pine, and Spruce. On the other hand, deciduous trees shed their leaves every autumn, such as Oak, Elm, and most fruit trees. While most of the suggested plants work well under either type of tree, there are a few essential considerations.

If your tree is coniferous, you’ll need to trim the lower branches to allow some light to reach your plants. The soil underneath coniferous trees tends to be acidic, so you may need to make amendments or enrich the soil.

If your tree is deciduous, you have the opportunity to plant early flowering perennials like Crocuses, Daffodils, Tulips, and Hyacinths. Since the leaves won’t have fully grown during the blossoming season, these flowers can thrive despite the shade.

The Best Ground Covers for Underneath a Tree

If you’re seeking low-maintenance beauty, consider perennial ground covers that will add a splash of color to your tree bed. Here are a few options:

1. Anemones

Anemones are easy to find, have extended blooming periods, and spread nicely while remaining manageable. They make an excellent choice for ground covers.

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2. Bugleweed

This ground cover boasts stunning purple flowers. However, be aware that it can be invasive and challenging to get rid of. But if you’re dealing with difficult growing conditions, Bugleweed might just be the solution you need.


3. Japanese Spurge

Ideal for woodland areas, Japanese Spurge forms a thick carpet when mature. It’s a reliable ground cover, although it doesn’t fare well in dry conditions.

Japanese Spurge

4. Lamium

Lamium is an early blooming spring perennial that adds a touch of pink and blue to your flower bed. While not intended as cut flowers, their beauty might tempt you to incorporate them into a bouquet.


5. Lily of the Valley

Lily of the Valley is a fast-spreading plant that can function as a ground cover, despite not being officially classified as one. Its rapid growth and beauty make it a worthwhile addition.

Lily of the Valley

6. Saxifrage

Saxifrage, with its long-blooming pink or yellow flowers, adds a vibrant touch to the space under your tree. Consider planting it between rocks for a striking visual effect.


7. Solomon’s Seal

This beautiful plant thrives in woodland gardens and serves well as both a ground cover and a flower bed plant. Just be mindful that its berries are poisonous to animals and children.

Solomon's Seal

Perennial Flowers That Flourish

Perennial flowers bring lasting beauty to your under-the-tree garden. Here are a few perennial options to consider:

1. Bergenia

Bergenia, a popular choice for under-tree planting, blooms early in the season and boasts striking leaves that remain attractive even into the fall. It’s a hardy perennial that’s difficult to kill and not invasive.


2. Black Snakeroot

Black Snakeroot

3. Bleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart, an old favorite, offers options in dark pink, light pink, and white. It blooms for an extended period and adds a touch of unexpected charm to cut flower arrangements.

Bleeding Heart

4. Columbine

Columbines come in a variety of colors, and their seeds are easy to collect. They’re a must-have for planting beneath deciduous trees.


5. Daylilies

Daylilies prefer full sun but can still grow in the shade. However, if the shade is too intense and they receive less than three hours of sun, they might not bloom. Nevertheless, their eye-catching leaves make them worthwhile additions.

The Lilies pictured here are what are sometimes referred to as Ditch Lilies. They can grow wild and become problematic. Opting for other varieties of Daylilies that are not invasive is recommended.

Further reading:  Liriope: A Versatile Evergreen Groundcover


6. Ferns

While Ostrich Ferns should be avoided unless you’re dealing with challenging growing conditions, numerous other fern varieties thrive in shade. Choose wisely to avoid invasive species.


7. Foam Flowers

Foam Flowers

8. Goutweed

Goutweed is a perennial with a bad reputation for spreading rapidly. It should be approached with caution, as detailed in my post, “28 Perennials You’ll Regret Planting.”


9. Hens and Chicks

These hardy succulents thrive in Zone 3 and are perfect for small areas between rocks or spots where nothing else seems to grow.

Hens and Chicks

10. Hostas

Hostas are easy to grow and come in various leaf patterns. Incorporating three to five different varieties can create a stunning display.


11. Lungwort

Lungwort is another excellent choice for shade-loving ground cover. Its purple and pink blooms add a touch of elegance to any garden.


12. Milkweed

For a flower that doesn’t grow taller than two feet, consider a variety of Milkweed. Be mindful that some varieties can be invasive in certain areas.


13. Sedum

With numerous colorful varieties available, you can create a stunning under-the-tree flower bed using only different types of sedum. It’s worth considering!


14. Siberian Bugloss

This plant offers beautiful blue blooms and can be a unique addition to any flower bed.

Siberian Bugloss

15. Siberian Irises

Irises are ideal for planting under deciduous trees due to their early blooming season, shallow root system, and low risk of damaging existing tree roots.

Siberian Irises

16. Yarrow

Although Yarrow prefers full sun, it can tolerate up to six hours of sun per day. It’s an excellent choice for poor soil conditions.


Annual Flowers That Add Instant Color

If you’re looking for vibrant colors and quick results, consider these annual flower options:

1. Begonia

Begonias are a great choice for shade gardening. With various sizes and colors to choose from, they can bring joy to any under-the-tree garden.


2. Coleus

Coleus comes in a rainbow of colors and is readily available at garden centers. You can even bring cuttings indoors before the first frost to enjoy them as houseplants during winter.


3. Creeping Jenny

Creeping Jenny thrives in shady areas where other plants struggle. However, be aware of its invasive nature and check its status in your area before planting.

Creeping Jenny

4. Impatiens

Impatiens are practically foolproof for beginner gardeners. They come in an array of colors and varieties, with double impatiens being a personal favorite.


Shrubs and Bushes for Under-Tree Planting

If you prefer the structural beauty of shrubs and bushes, here are some options:

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1. Alpine Currant

Alpine Currant is a versatile shrub that tolerates various growing conditions, from full sun to shade, poor soil, and hard pruning. It’s perfect for areas where other plants struggle.

Alpine Currant

2. Juniper

Low-growing Juniper varieties like Blue Carpet or Prince of Wales add a year-round splash of green to your under-tree garden.


3. Ninebark

Ninebark shrubs provide unique pops of color, adding texture and interest to your landscape.


4. Snowberry

Snowberry bushes offer ornamental berries that add texture and visual appeal to your garden.


5. Spirea

While Spireas prefer more sun, they can still thrive in flower beds that receive at least some sunlight. Avoid planting them in areas that receive zero sun exposure.


Essential Tips for Successful Under-Tree Gardening

As you embark on your journey to create a flourishing garden beneath a tree, keep in mind these essential tips:

  1. Avoid building up soil directly against the tree trunk. Adding excessive soil can damage the tree and potentially result in its demise. Limit soil height to a maximum of 2-3 inches and surround the tree with mulch instead. This buffer zone prevents weed growth and ensures healthy coexistence between the tree and plants.

  2. Opt for shorter shrubs and plants that won’t exceed three feet in height. Taller plants may interfere with the lower branches of the tree.

  3. Avoid rototilling the ground around an established tree. Rototilling can harm the tree’s roots. Instead, dig individual holes for each plant, taking care not to damage the existing tree roots.


Gardening beneath a tree presents its challenges, but with careful plant selection and proper techniques, you can create a stunning under-tree garden that adds beauty and interest to your yard. Remember to adapt the suggestions to your specific climate, and don’t be afraid to experiment with different combinations. Happy gardening!

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Please note that all images used in this article are from the original article mentioned at the beginning. For more details, visit Ames Farm Center.