Need Help?

Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at

Consultation and coaching for do-it-yourselfers is provided. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

See my work on Pinterest at Garden Guru Montreal

« Heuchera Hercules, a Painterly Perennial | Main | Liatris, a Vertical Perennial »

Dry Shade Perennials: What to Grow Under Trees

I meet many home owners who are unhappy with the portion of their lawn that grows under trees. The grass is never as green or as dense as the rest of their property and that area always looks messy and unkempt. There are several possible explanations for this situation. One reason is the absence of sufficient sun and rain to nourish the lawn. Another reason is that the roots of the trees suck all of the available nutrients from the area leaving the grass stressed. And, another possible reason is that the tree roots grow close to the surface of the lawn preventing healthy grass roots from developing. The positive thinking gardener will turn this situation into an opportunity to create a shade garden.

Perennials will grow under trees if they are watered regularly, are fed with lots of organic material such as compost [which supplies both nutrients and humidity], and are covered with mulch to inhibit water evaporation.

Before planting, it is important to overcome the dense surface layer of tree roots by building a raised flower bed over them. This bed begins with a one-inch layer of compost, followed by two feet of black earth that is topped off with another inch of compost. Leave the hard work of blending the compost and earth to the worms and bugs. Now the bed is ready to be planted with perennials that thrive in shade.

To plant in this new raised garden, dig an appropriate sized hole for each plant, fill up that hole with water and then insert the perennial into the waterlogged hole. Follow by back-filling the hole with earth. When the entire bed has been planted, give it a good soaking and cover with a layer of mulch. Water the flower bed daily until the plants become established.

It may surprise some readers to discover how many beautiful perennials will thrive in dry shade with adequate watering. Here is a partial list: - Aquilegia, Campanula porscharskyana, Corydalis, Dicentra spectabilis, Eupatorium, Heuchera, Hosta, Iris Crystata, Japanese fern, Geranium, Pachysandra, Pulmonaria, Polygonatum, Primula, Thalictrum, Tradescantia and Trollius. In addition, the ornamental grass, Carex does well in shade as do fall-planted bulbs such as Camissia and Scilla sibirica.


PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (4)

The outskirts of my lot are covered with oak trees that don't like to share. In some spots I'm trying to see what I can get to grow, but I just seem to be encouraging oak sprouts. Raised beds are my next plan! Thanks for a great post.

June 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMeredith

Not just perennials! I have great success with all sorts of greens in the filtered shade under my maple. The secret is high pruning and watering the entire area under the tree, not just the area where the greens are growing.

June 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStacy

We have a row of cedar trees along the back of the property on a slope. We built a wooden retaining wall and filled it up with dirt. We assumed heather would grow there but not really, the spot seems to be too dry. Any ideas?

August 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlbert

In my experience hardly any plants will thrive near cedar roots.

September 24, 2013 | Registered CommenterAllan

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>