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What to plant around a tree? Garden design with ground covers, flowers and foliage decorative perennials.

A tree provides shade, attracts birds to the garden and offers privacy. However, the area around the tree presents a major challenge to the amateur gardener. Shallow-rooted trees and shade trees in particular are not easy to underplant. In this article, we tell you which plants thrive well around a tree and how to set them off properly.

Garden design around a tree: basic facts about planting under woody plants

What to plant around tree tips for garden design around woody plants

Garden design around a tree is not an easy task. That’s because the flowers, groundcovers and foliage-decorating perennials that grow under trees have to withstand a lot. Few plants can withstand a dry, nutrient-poor soil, a shady location, and heavy root competition. However, if you follow several basic rules, you can turn even this drab area into a thriving and green paradise.

What plants to plant around the tree: Underplant deep-rooted woody plants.

what plants to plant around tree underplanting deep rooting woody plants

Deep-rooted shrubs include the oak, yew, ash, linden, black locust, certain varieties of sycamore, as well as most conifers and some fruit trees such as the sweet chestnut and pear. They go deep and get water and nutrients from lower soil layers. Therefore, these woody plants do not compete with flowers and ground covers. Accordingly, there are many more plants that are well suited for landscaping around a tree.

Planting plants around a tree: Shallow Roots

Garden design around tree tips how to underplant woody plants

Shallow-rooted plants are woody plants that spread their roots not only in depth, but also in width. Typical representatives are the spruce, the Douglas fir, the willow and most fruit trees (the cherry, the apple). These trees are very difficult to underplant because there is a lot of competition for water and nutrients 2 to 5 meters around the tree, depending on the species. Moreover, the roots, which are located in the upper layers of the soil, can prevent the spread of the other plants. In this case, one trick offers a way out: create a raised bed around the tree.

Planting foliage ornamental perennials and ground cover around a tree

ground cover planting under tree ideas


Foliage ornamental perennials and ground covers offer a simple solution for the challenging area around a tall tree. For the area under trees with a spreading crown, different plants come into question depending on the amount of light. If little direct sunlight reaches there, the following groundcovers and foliage-decorating perennials are suitable:

  • Funkias are the classics among perennials for partial shade and shade par excellence. They thrive best right next to the tree trunk; the border area proves unfavorable.
  • Carpet medlar spreads quickly. With its white flowers, red berries and evergreen leaves, it is an eye-catcher all year round.
  • Blue periwinkle is a flowering, carpet-forming plant for shady locations.
  • Knotted Cranesbill is a shade tolerant groundcover that is well suited for planting under trees.

plant ground cover and foliage ornamental perennials under tree

  • Variegated Japan sedge thrives in both partial shade and shade.
  • Lady’s mantle is the perfect plant for bed borders under woody plants.
  • Some varieties of elfflower are also suitable for planting under woody plants.

Foliage ornamental perennials and ground cover under tree underplanting woody plants


These plants do well in partial shade:

  • ‘Rozanne’ cranesbill is a purple flowering groundcover with special charm.
  • Snake’s knotweed does best in partial shade, but requires a fresh to moderately moist soil. Therefore, it is suitable as a border planting.
  • The runner-forming woodland stonewort forms beautiful yellow flowers in spring. In summer, its large green leaves make it the perfect gap filler in the border.
  • Ferns, like funcias, are a popular choice for underplanting woody plants. The Japanese ornamental fern not only looks good, but is also a low-maintenance plant.

If you are underplanting woody plants, plant shade-loving and drought-tolerant groundcovers directly around the trunk. Foliage perennials and ornamental grasses that thrive in partial shade and prefer moderately fresh soil are suitable for edging.

Create a bed under a tree

Planting a bed under a tree tips for plants

Even if the tree is old and large, it has a weak spot. Its roots are very fragile. Therefore, the amateur gardener should be very careful when creating a bed under a tree. Deep roots are not a big challenge, then you can use a spade to dig up the bed. It is quite possible to replant large flowers, flowering groundcovers and foliage perennials from other areas of the garden.

Planting a bed under a tree tips for plants and flowers

If the plants in question are shallow-rooted woody plants, then great care should be taken. The tree roots are usually in the upper ground layer and can be easily injured. Therefore, it is best to completely avoid digging and dig the holes for the plants with a trowel. In doing so, be sure to avoid damaging the root and the bark of the tree. As for the plants, better to avoid large plants and instead plant young plants. During the growth phase, they will adapt to the copse.

Create raised bed under a tree

plant raised bed under tree underplanting woody plants ideas

You want to plant the area around a shallow-rooted tree and have decided to create a raised bed under the tree? Then you should first of all make sure that the roots can get enough oxygen. Every tree is supplied with oxygen through its fibrous roots. A raised bed only proves problematic if the soil is very compacted. Then oxygen cannot reach the roots underneath. Therefore, when creating it, make sure that the soil is airy and loose. Often, a bed border made of stones or wood is also built around the raised bed. If this is low (i.e. around 40 cm – 50 cm high), this is not a problem. When creating a raised bed:

  • Do not use root barriers.
  • keep the soil loose and airy.
  • do not build the raised bed higher than 60 cm.
  • a stone wall or wooden bed border should not be higher than 40 – 50 cm.
  • should be chosen a diameter of no more than 3 meters.

Create a flower bed under tree

Planting a bed under a tree tips and design ideas

Alternatively, you can plant the area under the tree. There are some flowers that do well in semi-shaded and shaded areas and tolerate drought. When planting, leave enough space between each flower. Combine a maximum of 2-3 varieties with similar requirements for location and soil. The flowering groundcovers or the lowest flowers are suitable for border planting. In the middle of the flower bed go high flowers, and directly around the trunk you can choose drought-tolerant low varieties.

Plant annual or perennial flowers around the tree?

Planting flowers around tree tips for suitable planting combinations

There are numerous types of flowers that are suitable for planting under woody plants. However, amateur gardeners often face the question of whether to choose annuals or perennials. The two options have advantages and disadvantages.

Choose annual flowers and tuberous flowers for shallow-rooted trees because they form shallow roots and competition with the tree is not as great.

For deep-rooted trees, you can take perennial flowers, because this way you won’t have to replant the flower bed every year.

What flowers to plant under tree

Planting flowers and ground cover in raised bed under a tree

  • Wood anemone tolerates a fresh to moderately moist soil and thrives best in partial shade. Therefore, it is suitable for edging the flower bed.
  • Canadian bloodroot can get by with little sunlight and prefers a loose soil. It is suitable for underplanting deciduous trees.
  • This small evergreen is one of the hardy plants that thrives under woody plants. It adapts to site light conditions, but prefers sunny and semi-shady locations.

Hydrangea under tree

Planting hydrangeas under tree ideas

Hydrangeas feel at home in the shade of a tall tree. These perennials spice up the area with their blooms, providing blossoms even in shady corners. Depending on the variety, hydrangea can be combined with other shade-loving plants such as ferns. If you choose hydrangeas, plant them directly around the trunk of a tree.

Plant lavender around a tree

planting lavender around tree in mediterranean garden olive tree

Lavender thrives in dry and fully sunny areas. In individual cases, it is possible to plant the Mediterranean plant even in places where the sun is off. However, rarely the area under a deciduous tree is suitable for it. Instead, we offer an idea with a container tree. The olive tree has similar soil and site requirements and grows quite tall in a container. It has a spreading crown, but it does not cast dense shade on the plants. Just put the tub plant on display in a sunny spot in the garden and plant lavender all around it. The duo is guaranteed to catch everyone’s eye.

Plants around the tree: a few unusual design ideas.

Plants around the tree climbing plants

Finally, here are several unusual ideas for what you can plant around a tree:

1. you can green their trees with flowering climbers. The showy vine is the absolute classic in this respect. But some varieties of clematis are also good for this. First, to be on the safe side, you should seek advice at the garden center, because climbing plants should generally only be planted on healthy and tall trees.

2. you have planted a young tree? Then refrain from planting underneath and only cover the area around the tree with a layer of mulch for the first few years.

Planting around tree Creating rock garden with ornamental grasses

3. certain tree species are suitable for use in the rock garden. You should then plant the area around the tree sparingly. Ornamental grasses and groundcovers can fill in the gaps between the stones.

The area around a tree presents a great challenge to the amateur gardener. But with good planning, even a bare shady corner can be transformed into a flowering paradise. Above all, it is important that the tree remains healthy once it has been underplanted. When planting, be careful not to damage the roots and bark. This is because cuts make young trees in particular susceptible to fungus and other diseases. It is best to leave the tree without underplanting for 2-3 years, so that it can get used to the location. Only then can you plant saplings with similar soil and moisture requirements. As for care, most plants for shaded areas are fairly undemanding. You do not need to fertilize or water them.