What Plants Will Grow Under Evergreen Trees?

Low lying plants growing underneath evergreen tree near pond

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

If you are new to gardening, you may wonder, "What plants will grow under evergreen trees?" Or, maybe you have tried planting grass under an evergreen and your grass died on you. Or, have you tried planing various kinds of flowers, only to be similarly disappointed?

If you have a well-established evergreen and everything dies under it or you find yourself constantly reseeding your yard, it can become a costly proposition every year. You may be somewhat limited in your planting choices, but there are some plants that will get the job done.

What Is the Problem?

Planting under evergreen trees such as eastern white pines is challenging. It is largely a myth that this is due to soil acidity. In fact, even plants that grow well in acidic soils often struggle under pine trees.

There are two strikes against big evergreens: they can out-compete plants for water and have a tendency to cast a lot of shade. So, that means you must look at plant selections that are shade-tolerant and capable of withstanding dry conditions.

If you have your heart set on grass, try tall fescue grass (Festuca arundinacea). Many people find this type of grass to be weedy-looking. But there are many more attractive alternatives that you can find among flowering ground covers. You do have to remain wary about the type of plants you pick, there are many shade-tolerant plants that are considered invasive. Research your selections well and to be on the safe side, check with your local extension office to make sure you are not planting a problem for your landscaping.

Tall fescue grass with dreamy bokeh
Tall fescue grass Federica Fortunat / Getty Images

Ground Covers That Come to the Rescue

Since the spot under trees usually looks barren, what you a really looking for is a plant that is a good filler. Also, to choke out weeds under a tree, a ground cover must be vigorous. There are a couple that you can consider like Hosta, better-known as a foliage plant, with the H. Plantaginea variety that bears nice flowers.

Some other popular choices for under-tree cover include sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), which has white flowers and fragrant foliage, and grasses in the Ophiopogon species, like Black Mondo grass.

Vinca vine (Vinca minor) is valued for its glossy leaves and blue flowers. Vinca, however, can be invasive, so weigh this factor into your decision to grow it. Another plant so tough that it can survive these conditions (at the cost of being potentially invasive) is lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis). It offers white, bell-shaped flowers that are very fragrant.

Invasive plants compete so successfully against other plants that they can crowd out their competitors, thus producing a monoculture that discourages the growth of other plant species. These exotics often crowd out indigenous plants.

The Last Resort

If all else fails and you throw up your hands and give up on the idea of planting anything under an evergreen, then your best option is probably using mulch in your field or lawn. Or, you can simply encircle the no-growth-zone with an edging material and let the pine straw serve as your mulch. Or, landscape rock works fine, too.

Sweet Woodruff or Wild Baby's Breath (Galium odoratum), Perchtoldsdorfer Heide, Perchtoldsdorf, Lower Austria, Austria
Sweet woodruff Reinhard Holzl / Getty Images
Article Sources
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  1. Water Use by Trees. Forestry Commission.