Steele: Some insights on what can grow under a tree

Small plants are easier to plant between roots under large trees and get established faster than larger ones.

  • Jul. 31, 2012 7:00 p.m.

Growing plants under trees can be very challenging due to shady conditions, dry soil and competition from tree roots.

Small plants are easier to plant between roots and get established faster than larger ones.

For best results, plant in early spring or fall.

Most shade and part shade plants have only a two to four week bloom time so select plants with interesting foliage.

Another consideration is leaf drop. If the tree has small leaves like a honey locust, these can be left as natural mulch.

With large-leaved trees such as maples, leaves may need to be raked off and shredded and then tossed back on the plants as mulch.

In this situation, use plants that will be easy to rake over.

Because walnut trees secrete a substance which is toxic to some plants, always remove walnut leaves and put into the yard waste bin.

Keep access in mind for picking from fruit trees and collection of nuts from the ground under nut trees.

Planting under trees with dense shade will be the most challenging.

Dense spruce trees are best left with their limbs extending down to the ground. If they have been limbed up, for a maintenance free solution, cover the area with woody mulch and allow the needles to drop to continue to add to the mulch.

For native pines and firs, use what naturally grows under them in the wild.

Some options are: Oregon grape, snowberry and wild rose shrubs; kinnickinnick and pussytoes ground covers; and Idaho fescue grass.

Some spring blooming plants to try in part shade are: ladies mantle, Geranium ‘Cambridge’, and Geranium macrorrhizum.

Spring bloomers Bergenia, Epimedium (barrenwort), Anemone sylvestris (windflower), and lambs ears will grow in full or part shade as will ostrich fern.

Spring bulbs can do well under deciduous trees, blooming before trees leaf out.

It is best to use bulbs that will naturalize as they are the strongest.

In part shade, Centranthus ruber (Jupiter’s beard), Nepeta (catmint), and feverfew will repeat bloom if deadheaded.

Many Sedum and Sempervivum (hen and chicks) varieties do well in part shade.

Lamium, a spreading ground cover for full or part shade, has attractive variegated foliage and will bloom repeatedly if spent flowers and foliage are sheared back.

Variegated green and white ribbon grass spreads rapidly in full or part shade.

Silver foliaged Cerastium tomentosum (snow-in-summer) will spread quickly in part shade.

These last three can become invasive.

For additional possibilities search for dry shade or dry, part shade plants in the plant database at”.

If you have a xeriscape garden in your landscape, please enter the Xeriscape Garden Contest.

It’s an opportunity to share your experiences and encourage others to make the change to water-wise gardening.

There are categories for home gardeners as well as professionals. See the OXA website for details.

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