Growing plants beneath shade trees is one of gardening’s biggest challenges.

Transforming patches of hard earth and knobby roots into lush, beautiful gardens or landscaping isn’t easy. Without proper planning and care, the plants may not flourish and you could end up damaging your trees.

planting under trees

Follow a few basic gardening rules, though, and you can create vibrant, shady gardens that ensure both your trees and your new plants thrive.

Meet the Needs of Your Shade Trees First

Although you might think that tree roots are buried deep underground, the reverse is true. Most tree species have root systems that remain close to the surface. When planting your shady garden, it’s important to avoid disturbing or damaging the roots. Otherwise you might kill the tree.

Some tree varieties are especially sensitive to soil disturbance, and it can be difficult to plant your shade-loving plants among a tangle of shallow roots. Adding an additional layer of soil is not a good idea because it will reduce the amount of moisture and oxygen that reaches the roots. As a result, your shade trees could suffer.

Instead, carefully dig separate holes among the roots, one for each plant. Once you finish planting, add a thin layer of mulch – no more than two or three inches – to protect the tree and plants.

Choose the Right Plants to Grow Under Your Shade Trees

When you come in to select your plants, think small. That way, the holes you have to dig can be smaller. It will also be easier to tuck smaller plants among the tree’s roots.

Thick shade tree canopies block sunlight and deflect rainfall, and not too many plants can cope with these conditions. Consequently, it’s important to choose plants that are tough enough to thrive in full shade and dry soil.

Some the hardiest choices for this environment are hostas, ferns, impatiens, asters and primrose flowers.

Tips to Help Plants Thrive Under Shade Trees

Your flowers and garden plants will have to compete with your trees for water. This means you may need to water them a little every week, particularly when rainfall is scarce. And, if it appears your trees are stealing all the moisture, you can spot-water your new plants.

Skip fertilizing for the first year after planting your under-tree gardens. Fertilizer encourages top growth, not the root growth your new flowers and plants need.

Each spring, replenish the soil by laying down organic matter such as compost, manure or shredded leaves. Doing so naturally enriches the soil and helps your new plants become established. It also helps retain critical moisture in the soil.

At Millcreek Gardens, northern Utah’s favorite garden center, our friendly associates can offer advice on a variety of gardening challenges. Visit our Salt Lake City nursery today to learn more about successfully growing flowers and plants under shade trees.