What Plants Will Grow Under Evergreen Trees?

Ideas for Planting Under Those Problematic Pine Trees

Ophiopogon plants growing under evergreens.
Species of Ophiopogon grow well under evergreens. Topic Images Inc./Getty Images

Many people new to gardening wonder, "What plants will grow under evergreen trees?" Perhaps they have tried grass there and had the grass die on them. Perhaps they have replaced the grass with various kinds of flowers, only to be similarly disappointed.

One reader wrote in to report just such a problem. "I have a 50 to 60 foot tall evergreen tree in my yard and all my grass is dead because of it," she wrote. "I thought about reseeding my yard this spring, but I don't want to lose it every year." While you are limited in your planting choices in such an area, there are some plants that will get the job done.

Why Most Plants Perform Poorly Under Big Evergreen Trees

Planting under evergreen trees such as eastern white pines is challenging, in part, due to soil acidity. But it is not enough to find plants that grow in acidic soils. That is because big evergreen trees also out-compete what is growing under them for water and cast a lot of shade. So your plant selections must also be shade-tolerant and capable of withstanding dry conditions. If you have your heart set on grass, try tall fescue grass (Festuca arundinacea). But many people find this type of grass to be weedy-looking. More attractive alternatives can be found among the flowering ground covers.

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

Ground Covers That Come to the Rescue

Another reader had some great solutions to the problem of planting in such an area, which were presented roughly as follows (while Hosta is better-known as a foliage plant, some types, such as H. Plantaginea, do bear nice flowers):

"I have found that Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), which has white flowers and fragrant foliage, ​also grows well under a large evergreen tree, as do species of OphiopogonVinca 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.

Sweet Woodruff or Wild Baby's Breath (Galium odoratum), Perchtoldsdorfer Heide, Perchtoldsdorf, Lower Austria, Austria
Sweet woodruff. Reinhard Holzl / Getty Images