How to Pick Plants That Will Grow Well Under Trees

How to Pick Plants That Will Grow Well Under Trees

There’s something fairytale-like about the ground surrounding trees being covered in a carpet of flowers or other foliage. Even if it is deliberately planted and cultivated, it somehow can still look so natural — as if you’ve stumbled into a part of a forest no one has seen before.

But at the same time, we learn pretty early on in school that plants require water and sunlight to grow, and living under a tree might not offer the optimal conditions. While that’s true for some plants, others don’t mind a bit of shade, and even do well sheltered from the direct sunlight.

If you’re interested in some of those, Holly Crossley has written an article in Gardening Etc that provides a few examples of plants that grow well under trees, and the qualities that make them suited for the shade. Here’s what to know.

Lesser periwinkle

This one is first because it probably needs a self-esteem boost with a name like that. With a maximum height of about 10 inches, this purple flower usually shows up in mid-spring and is with us until early autumn. But that won’t leave your under-tree area naked the rest of the year — the green leaves will last year-round. According to Crossley, lesser periwinkle “will do just fine in partial shade beneath leafy canopies, and will grow to form a dense mat relatively quickly.”


Hostas are one of the classic under-tree plants. One reason for that is probably because they are hardy, low-maintenance perennials that show up in the spring even if you forgot they were there. While most hostas do like their soil fertile, the varieties with thicker, waxier leaves also do just fine if the ground under the tree is on the drier side, Crossley notes. “Wherever you plant them, mulch annually, and keep them watered during spells of dry weather,” she writes. “Watch out for slugs who love to devour the leaves.”


It’s hard to beat a good fern and their ability to look wild, yet intentional. It’s easy to understand why Victorians were so into them. But not all ferns are the same, so be sure to pick a variety that can deal with the shade, like the hart’s tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium), the Japanese shield fern (Dryopteris erythrosora), or the “male fern” (Dryopteris filix-mas), according to Crossley.

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