How To Garden Beneath A Tree: Types Of Flowers To Plant Under Trees

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By Susan Patterson, Master Gardener

When considering a garden beneath a tree, it is important to keep a few rules in mind. Otherwise, your garden may not flourish and you could injure the tree. So what plants or flowers grow well under a tree? Read on to learn more about growing gardens under trees.

Basics of Growing Gardens Under Trees

Below are some of the basic guidelines to keep in mind when planting under trees.


Do trim away lower branches -Trimming away a few of the lower branches will give you more space for planting and allow light to come under the tree. Even if the plants you want to use are shade tolerant, they too need a little light to survive.

Don’t build a raised bed – Most gardeners make a mistake of building a raised bed around the base of the tree in an attempt to create better soil for the flowers. Unfortunately, when doing this they can harm or even kill the tree. Most all trees have surface roots that require oxygen to survive. When compost, soil, and mulch are piled up thick around a tree, it suffocates the roots and allows no oxygen to get to them. This can also cause the roots and lower trunk of the tree to decay. Although you will have a nice flower bed, in a few years the tree will be nearly dead.

Do plant in holes – When planting under trees, give each plant its own hole. Carefully dug holes will avoid damage to the tree’s shallow root system. Each hole can be filled with composted organic matter to help benefit the plant. A thin layer of mulch (no more than 3 inches) can then be spread around the base of the tree and plants.

Don’t plant large plants – Large and spreading plants can easily take over a garden under the tree. Tall plants will grow too high for the area and start trying to grow through the tree’s lower branches while large plants will also block the sunlight and view of other smaller plants in the garden. Stick with small, low growing plants for best results.

Do water the flowers after planting – When just planted, flowers do not have established roots, which make it difficult to get water, especially when competing with the tree’s roots. For the first couple of weeks after planting, water daily on days it does not rain.

Don’t damage the roots when planting – When digging new holes for plants, don’t damage the roots of the tree. Try to make holes for small plants just large enough to fit them in between roots. If you hit a large root while digging, fill the hole back in and dig in a new location. Be very careful not to split major roots up. Using small plants and a hand shovel is best to cause as little disturbance as possible to the tree.

Do plant the right plants – Certain flowers and plants do better than others when planted under a tree. Also, be sure to plant flowers that will grow in your planting zone.

What Plants or Flowers Grow Well Under Trees?

Here is a list of some common flowers to plant under trees.

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