Who says gardening under trees is a challenge? While dense shade and competition for resources can pose obstacles, there are numerous plants that can thrive in the cool and sheltered environment beneath trees.
In this article, we’ll introduce you to 33 incredible plants that have adapted to these conditions and can transform those shady spots into vibrant and enchanting havens. Whether you’re looking for ground covers, perennials, or even colorful flowers, we’ve got you covered.
So, let’s dive into our list and discover a wide array of botanical wonders that can coexist harmoniously with trees, creating a breathtaking tapestry of beauty and foliage.
1. Hostas (Hosta spp.):
These leafy perennials are renowned for their remarkable diversity, offering a plethora of textures, sizes, and colors. Their striking foliage adds a touch of elegance to any shaded garden.
2. Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.):
Lungwort’s attractive spotted leaves and delicate clusters of pink or blue flowers make it a fantastic ground cover choice. Plus, it’s deer-resistant!
3. Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis):
This classic beauty boasts heart-shaped flowers hanging from arching stems, infusing your garden with romantic charm.
4. Hellebores (Helleborus spp.):
Known as the Christmas or Lenten rose, these early bloomers greet you with their nodding flowers in shades of white, pink, purple, or green.
5. Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia):
With its delicate foam-like flowers and attractive foliage, this low-growing perennial adds a touch of enchantment to shady areas.
6. Astilbes (Astilbe spp.):
Astilbes offer feathery plumes of flowers in various shades, providing a burst of color and elegance to the shade garden.
7. Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum):
The fronds of this fern feature stunning silver and purple hues, creating a striking contrast against the greenery.
8. Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis):
Its sweetly scented, bell-shaped white flowers and lush green leaves make this classic ground cover a must-have for any shade garden.
9. Lamium (Lamium maculatum):
This versatile ground cover offers charming variegated leaves and delicate flowers, creating a vibrant carpet under trees.
10. Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum spp.):
These graceful plants bear arching stems adorned with bell-shaped flowers and distinctive oval leaves, adding an air of elegance to the garden.
11. Coral Bells (Heuchera spp.):
With their colorful foliage in shades ranging from deep burgundy to lime green, these perennials inject a dose of vibrancy into the shade.
12. Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra):
The cascading, arching blades of this grass gracefully bring movement and texture to the shade garden.
13. Blechnum spicant:
This evergreen fern thrives in the shade and offers beautiful glossy fronds that provide year-round interest.
14. Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum):
Known for its fragrant leaves and white star-shaped flowers, this ground cover is perfect for shady areas and even has medicinal uses.
15. Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense):
This low-growing plant with heart-shaped leaves adds a unique touch to the shade garden and provides attractive ground cover.
16. Barrenwort (Epimedium spp.):
Also known as bishop’s hat, this perennial offers delicate, spider-like flowers and beautiful foliage in various colors.
17. Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica):
These spring-blooming beauties produce clusters of bell-shaped flowers in shades of pink, purple, and blue, creating a breathtaking display.
18. Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia):
This vigorous ground cover with vibrant yellow leaves forms a cascading carpet and thrives in moist, shady areas.
19. Impatiens (Impatiens spp.):
With their wide range of colors, these annuals bring a burst of brightness to shady gardens and are perfect for containers too.
20. Ajuga (Ajuga reptans):
This hardy ground cover boasts lovely spikes of blue, purple, or white flowers and glossy leaves, making it a popular choice for shady spots.
21. Toad Lily (Tricyrtis spp.):
Known for their unique orchid-like flowers with spots, toad lilies add a touch of exotic beauty to shady areas.
22. Anemones (Anemone spp.):
These perennials offer charming flowers in various colors, ranging from white to pink, and bloom from late summer into fall.
23. Ferns (Various species):
From the delicate maidenhair fern to the statuesque ostrich fern, these elegant plants bring texture and grace to the shade garden.
24. Forget-Me-Nots (Myosotis spp.):
These dainty blue flowers thrive in shady areas and self-seed easily, creating a sea of enchanting blooms.
25. Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica):
This native shrub produces fragrant white flowers in spring and vibrant red foliage in autumn, adding year-round interest.
26. Columbine (Aquilegia spp.):
Columbines offer delicate flowers in a range of colors, including pastel shades and vibrant hues, attracting hummingbirds to the garden.
27. Lilyturf (Liriope spp.):
With their grass-like foliage and spikes of purple or white flowers, lilyturf provides an attractive ground cover option for shady areas.
28. Heleborus foetidus:
This evergreen perennial boasts clusters of green flowers and finely cut foliage, adding an intriguing element to the shade garden.
29. Bishop’s Weed (Aegopodium podagraria):
A hardy ground cover with variegated leaves, bishop’s weed thrives in the shade and spreads quickly to fill empty spaces.
30. Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum):
Native to North America, this perennial produces delicate flowers in shades of pink and purple, attracting pollinators.
31. Alchemilla (Alchemilla mollis):
Known as lady’s mantle, this perennial features lovely frothy chartreuse flowers and scalloped leaves that hold droplets of water.
32. False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum):
Resembling true Solomon’s seal, this plant produces delicate white flowers and bright red berries.
33. Periwinkle (Vinca minor):
This low-maintenance ground cover offers glossy evergreen leaves and lavender or white flowers, spreading to fill empty spaces.
Tips for Gardening Under Trees:
Creating a thriving shade garden under trees requires careful preparation. Loosen and amend the soil with compost, monitor moisture levels, and provide supplemental irrigation when needed. Apply organic mulch, keeping it away from the tree trunk, to retain moisture and regulate soil temperature.
Choose shade-tolerant plants with adaptations for low-light environments. Consider leaf litter and either select plants that tolerate it or remove it regularly.
Take advantage of microclimates within the shade and strategically prune lower branches for better light penetration. Be patient, experiment, and learn from the process to find the right plants for your shade garden.
Prepare the soil:
Before planting, loosen the soil and amend it with organic matter like compost to improve drainage and fertility.
Trees can absorb a significant amount of moisture from the soil, so it’s important to monitor water levels and provide supplemental irrigation if needed, especially during dry spells.
Apply a layer of organic mulch around plants to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. Keep the mulch a few inches away from the tree trunk to prevent rot.
Choose shade-tolerant plants:
Opt for plants specifically adapted to shade conditions to ensure their success. Shade-tolerant varieties often have larger leaves to maximize light absorption or unique adaptations to low-light environments.
Consider leaf litter:
Some trees drop a significant amount of leaves, creating a dense leaf litter layer. Choose plants that can tolerate leaf buildup or make it a regular part of your garden maintenance to remove the leaves.
Even within a shaded area, there may be variations in light and moisture levels. Take advantage of these microclimates by planting shade-loving plants that have slightly different requirements.
Prune lower branches of trees to allow more light to filter through and create a more open canopy. However, avoid excessive pruning, as it can harm the tree.
Gardening under trees may require some trial and error to find the right plants that thrive in your specific conditions. Don’t be discouraged if a few plants don’t make it—keep experimenting and learning from the experience.
With this extensive list of 33 plants that thrive under trees, you now have an array of options to transform those shady spots into stunning, thriving gardens. From colorful flowers to lush ground covers and elegant foliage, there’s something for every shade garden enthusiast.
Remember to prepare the soil, choose shade-tolerant plants, and provide the necessary care and attention for successful gardening under trees. So, grab your gardening gloves, embrace the challenge, and create a breathtaking oasis beneath the leafy canopy of your favorite trees. Happy gardening!