You’ve most likely heard that nothing grows under pine trees, but this isn’t necessarily true. Instead, you just have to find plants for under pine trees for them to do well. Many plants can get sick and die in this environment, and they won’t sprout under conifers and the matte habit. Also, fallen pine needles lower the pH of the soil to around 5.5, and they have a very dense canopy all year-round that blocks the light.
However, you shouldn’t give up and put pots, stones, or features around your trees. To succeed with getting great looks for your plants under pine trees, you have to pick out cultivars that love acid and can withstand both drought and shade. This will really impact your choice, but there are still several plants, including mosses, ferns, and types of grass that have no issues with these growing environments.
There are also several small shrubs, flowering plants, and ground cover plants that work as plants for under pine trees, cedars, firs, or other conifers. We’re going to outline 15 of the best plants for this space, and you can decide whether or not they’ll work well for you and your climate.
1. Columbine (Aquilegia Spp.)
Columbines offer a large range of colors, and there are perennial varieties that work nice as plants for under pine trees. In fact, these adaptable and hardy plants tolerate shaded areas and prefer to grow in acidic soil. They produce unusual-looking nodding bloms that come in purple to white coloring, including pinks, yellows, oranges, reds, and some hues of purple and blue. You can also get multicolored blossoms with this plant, and the crown is usually a different color from the petals.
Also, Columbine plants produce fern-like foliage that can be blue or green, and it can help turn your space into a focal point in your yard. All columbines will do well under the pine trees, but if the conditions are more harsh and you want to be on the safe side, pick a natural species instead of a cultivar, like Rocky Mountain Columbine, Alpine Columbine, or Canadian Columbine.
Depending on the variety, they’re hardy in zones three to nine or four to eight, and they like anything from full sun to light or dappled shade. The soil should be well-drained and medium-fertile, and they do well in clay, loam, sand or chalk-based soil with a neutral to acidic pH level. They get between one and two feet tall with a one foot spread, and they bloom in late spring or early summer with the chance to bloom a second time during the fall months.
2. Daffodil (Narcissus Spp.)
Daffodils are great plants for under pine trees and conifers, and they are huge bloomers with a very strong scent to them in the early spring months. There are also many varieties you can choose from when it comes to the Daffodil, but more natural choices usually do best, like Wild Daffodil or Poet’s Daffodil as they are stronger and adapt better to the habitat.
Daffodils tend to naturalize very quickly, and they require little maintenance to thrive. They are some of the most aromatic types of flowers you can have in your yard. Planting your Daffodil bulbs under your pine trees is also very easy, and they come back year after year. All you have to do is split the bigger clumps every two or three years to help them spread over a large area and propagate.
These plants are hardy in zones three to nine, and they like everything from light shade and full sun to partial or dappled shade. The soil should be medium fertile and a well-drained loam, sand, or chalk-base with a pH that is acidic or neutral, right under 6.0. It will tolerate drought well once it establishes when it’s not blooming, and they tend to bloom in the late spring.
3. Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris Cristata)
The Dwarf Crested Iris is a very low-growing perennial plant for under pine trees, and it grows well under firs and other conifers. It forms clumps of sword-shaped, bright green leaves that spring straight from the soil, and it produces rhizomes that spread and naturalize easily.
The flowers on the Dwarf Crested Iris come in groups of three, and they are violet-blue in color. They get up to four inches in diameter, and they have a white dash on the lower sepal during the fall months around the bright yellow beard patch. These plants thrive in humid and shaded places, and they are perfect for woodland areas. They’re easy to grow, and it’s a favorite plant of gardeners all over the world. While it’s very popular to grow in rock gardens, it adapts to virtually any other design.
This plant is hardy in zones 4 to 10, and it needs partial shade to dappled sunlight to do well, so under a tree will be perfect. The soil should be humus-rich, well-drained, and fertile while draining well but being continuously humid clay-based or loam soil. The pH level should be between 6.1 and 7.5, so mildly alkaline to mildly acidic, ideally under 6.8. Dwarf Crested Iris will bloom in mid-spring and grow six to nine inches tall with a 6 to 12 inch spread.
4. Gardenia (Gardenia Spp.)
Gardenia is also called Cape Jasmine, and it’s a very plucky shrub that loves the conditions you find when you use it as a plant for under pine trees. It loves acidic, loose soil, and it likes shelter from any excessive sunlight or heat. It produces very pretty rose-like blooms in brilliant white that can get six inches across and be highly fragrant when they bloom. There are currently over 200 Gardenia varieties you can pick from, and they are all stunning options. The thick foliage is a very dark green and glossy, and this makes the flowers stand out even more when they bloom.
Gardenia is a plant that can lose the sheen when you plant it under deciduous trees, and this is due to the soil pH levels. Conifers make sure this doesn’t happen, and this makes it a perfect plant to put in a pine woodland area. Gardenias are also very elegant plants, and they have a look that goes well in traditional western-style gardens like English Country ones, and they also work in more oriental, Japanese gardens.
This plant does well in zones 8 to 11, and they like dappled or partial shade up to light shade and full sun. The soil should be organically rich and fertile, and it should drain well but be kept constantly humid with sand or loam-based soil with a more acidic pH between 5.0 and 6.5. It will bloom in the spring and summer months if you get the growing conditions correct, and it grows between four and eight feet tall with a three to five foot spread.
5. Grape Hyacinth (Muscari Armeniacum)
Grape hyacinth is another great plant for under pine trees because it’s one that is native to temperate woodlands. It can create nice effects with the huge amount of deep blue, bell-shaped blooms that blossom all at once to cover the underbrush with a color explosion. It’s an early spring flower that has a range of colors from whtie to dark blue, and the spikes will appear from the soil and be surrounded by green foliage with a lot of fleshy, long mid-green leaves that look like blades of grass.
The overall effect this plant has is very natural, and many people classified it as a groundcover for a while. However, the leaves will disappear after the blooms die back. It’s a bulbous flowering perennial that you can naturalize easily, and it’s not a demanding plant to grow. In fact, gardeners find that it’s very forgiving and generous. It’s one of the best things to pick if you want a huge impact for little effort and money.
This Hyacinth grows in zones four to eight, and it likes everything from full sun to partial or dappled shade. The soil should be medium fertile and drain well, and it should have a clay, chalk, or sand base. The pH should be neutral to fairly acidic, and it can survive in a mildly alkaline soil. This plant gets between six and eight inches tall with one to two inch spreads, but the clumps can be much larger.
6. Hostas (Hosta Spp.)
People grow Hostas mostly for the foliage they produce, and they’re shade-loving, low-maintenance perennials that function as a groundcover and love to grow as plants for under pine trees. Hostas are a great groundcover plant, but they prefer acidic soil and require shade to thrive. They are also a favorite plant of slugs and snails that loves the broad, fleshy leaves. We love these plants because they grow to form very thick and lush clumps with heart-shaped leaves in hues of green, creams, yellows, or blues, and they make great coverage for smaller animals.
The pests can’t stand the pine needles though due to their sharp and pointed ends. So, planting hostas under trees can save them from slug and snail damage. Healthy plants will produce pink, white, or lavender blooms on spikes that rise high above the foliage. It can spread and form bigger clumps under the correct conditions, as long as you make a point to water it regularly.
Hostas are hardy in zones three to nine, and they like full shade, partial shade, or dappled shade. Full sun can scorch the foliage. The soil should be very fertile and rich but drain well. A continuously humid clay or loam-based soil with a pH that is mildly acidic to mildly alkaline will serve your plants wel. They can get between one and two feet tall and three to four feet wide.
7. Hydrangea (Hydrangea Spp.)
Hydrangea is a great flowering shrub to consider as a plant for under pine trees because they adore acidic soil and the shade that the trees offer. It also likes the fact that it won’t have to strain the roots to find nutrients as it grows under the trees. Hydrangeas have a huge size and color range to choose from, and you can have flowers in white, purple, orange, red, pink, and green. They produce thick and large clusters of blooms that last for months, and the flower displays can turn a shaded area into a light explosion.
There are so many Hydrangea varieties available that it’s hard to pick one, but you can have dwarf ones too if you have a small garden. There are a few conditions you have to meet to grow your hydrangea under pine trees though, including having to regularly mulch the soil to preserve the nutrients and humidity levels. You also don’t want to plant it by the trunk, and you should grow them at the edges of the shaded area that the canopy casts, especially if you have very thick foliage.
These plants are hardy in zones five to nine, and they like partial shade, dappled shade, light shade, and some even like full sun. The soil should be fertile and humid, and it should be a well-drained sand or loam-based soil with a pH level that ranges from mildly alkaline to mildly acidic. They’ll bloom in the summer, and they get between 2 and 10 feet tall and wide, depending on which variety you plant.
8. Lady Fern (Athyrium Filix-Femina)
Lady fern works like a natural ground cover plant in woodland spaces, including in pine forests. It loves to grow in shaded spots under thick tree canopies, so you can see why it thrives as a plant for under pine trees. The fronds are arching, beautiful, finely segmented, and triangular. They have a light to medium-green coloring that complements the fine and elegant texture.
The Lady Fern is one that looks very impressive from a distance as it allows you to admire the rosette foliage arrangement, but when you get close, you can see all of the more delicate details. This plant won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit, and it’s easy to grow as it propagates naturally. It’s a temperate woodland classic plant that is strong and lush, but it needs constant humidity to survive under the pine trees.
This plant is hardy in zones four to nine, and it grows best in full, partial, or dappled shaded spots. The soil should be very humus rich and fertile, and it should also be constantly humid and well-drained with a sand or loam base and pH level from acidic (4.0) to neutral (7.0). It will get between one and three feet tall and wide.
9. Lily Of The Valley (Convallaria Majalis)
Lily of the Valley is a popular plant for under pine trees in a huge range of areas, including conifer forests. It produces very stylish foliage that is arching, broad, and pointed that grows straight from the soil. It will form a very thick foliage while spreading quickly and naturally. In the mother species, you’ll see bright green foliage, but you can find cultivars that offer much darker coloring with lime stripes. You also get the delicate bell-shaped flowers that grow on long stems above the foliage to add to the overall visual impact this plant offers.
It’s a very strong and low-maintenance plant, and Lily of the Valley has won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit too. It will give you a nice woodland look as a ground cover without a huge amount of effort on your part, and it even grows well in colder climates. However, this plant is toxic if ingested, so keep it away from your kids and pets.
You’ll have success growing Lily of the Valley in zones two to seven in full shade, partial shade, or dappled shade. The soil should be organically rich and fertile, and it should drain well with a loam base. The pH should be between 5.0 and 7.0, or acidic to neutral to keep it happy. It’s also tolerant of heavy clay or dry soil types, and this plant blooms in mid to late spring while getting up to a foot tall and wide.
10. Meadow Anemone (Anemone Canadensis)
The Meadow Anemone is a very common plant for under pine trees in woodland settings where it will form a very dense carpet of mid-green leaves with rich textures. They will hide the layer of pine needles under the foliage, and they love the conditions in this space. It also has very low demands while spreading rapidly. You’ll get a very delicate-looking display of erect but delicate-looking flowers with white petals and a bright yellow center that scatter over the emerald-colored foliage and last for months.
This bulb flower only requires that you plant a few under your pine trees to get a huge flower carpet in just a few short months. It spreads using underground rhizomes, and this gives you a cheap, quick, solution for taking that brown space under your trees and turning it into a fine and lush carpet of white flowers and green leaves, even in colder planting zones.
Plant Meadow Anemone is zones three to eight in full, partial, or dappled shade to encourage strong growth. It needs medium-fertile soil that is regularly humid, and it should be well-drained with a chalk, sand, or loam base. The pH can range from mildly alkaline to mildly acidic. It’ll bloom from mid spring to early summer, and it can get between one and two feet tall and one and three feet wide.
11. Persian Violet (Cyclamen Coum)
This is the most common Cyclamen you’ll find growing in pine forests around the world in more temperate regions. They can fill in the carpets of pine needles you find under conifer trees with unusual and bright, reflex flowers that grow very low in the shade of the tree’s canopies. With the pretty rosy purple hues on the flowers, this small plant for under pine trees is a reliable and strong choice if you’re after an early-blooming plant to bring spring to shaded spots.
The flowers will unfurl as the buds on the stems form, and the stems pop straight from the ground and open as the days start to get longer. The leaves are dark green, broad, and heart-shaped with lighter spots on them, and they form small clumps as they grow. This low-growing perennial has won the Award of Garden Merit, just like a few others on the list, and it will spontaneously naturalize in fertile and loose soil. The corms will multiply underground, and it works as a partial ground cover solution.
The Persian Violet does best when you plant it in zones four to nine in partial shade or dappled shade. It likes humus rich and fertile soil that drains well, and it should be kept humid with a clay or loam base. The pH levels will have to be fairly acidic to neutral, and the area to shoot for is right around 5.8. It will bloom in the late winter and early spring months, and this plant is three to six inches tall with an eight-inch spread per plant.
12. ‘Redwig’ American Cranberrybush (Viburnum Trilobum ‘Redwig’)
If you want to bring a striking burst of colors to your yard or garden, consider this plant for under pine trees. When the spring comes around, it produces lace-like cymes of flowers in brilliant white. The lobed leaves are medium-green, and they have some amaranth coloring at this stage that attracts lots of butterflies. During summer, it produces big, drooping clusters of red berries that draws the birds into your garden to eat them.
As the days start to get shorter, the dense foliage on the thicker branches will take on shades of orange and red. It’s a very cold-hardy deciduous shrub that makes a fantastic contrast with the blue and green needle canopy conifers and pine trees produce to help it stand out more.
This shrub grows in zones two to seven without any issues, and it likes partial shade, dappled shade, light shade, or full sun. The soil should be medium fertile with a well-drained clay or loam-base with a pH range between acidic and neutral. It will also survive in mildly alkaline soil conditions, and it’s both drought and heavy-clay tolerant. It blooms in the spring, and it can get between 8 and 10 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide at full maturity.
13. Rhododendron (Rhododendron Spp.)
Rhododendrons are some of the best plants for under pine trees when you’re looking for flowering shrubs. They’re shade and acid-loving plants that are stunningly beautiful, and this bush will produce a huge amount of blooms that seem to cover the whole plant. It’s one of the most popular garden bushes available, and they come in a range of colors and sizes. The colors can include yellows, whites, reds, oranges, pinks, purples, reds, violets, and blues.
Some Rhododendrons have bigger blooms and some are smaller while others offer a strong fragrance. These are iconic shrubs for woodland gardens, and you have to do two main things to keep them happy. The soil should be loose as they don’t have a strong root system, and they have to have acidic soil to thrive.
Put this colorful shrub in zones five to eight in full shade to dappled shade. The soil should be very fertile and humus rich while draining well, and the pH levels should fall between 4.5 and 6.0. It will bloom in the spring and summer months, but there are both early and late blooming-cultivars too. It gets between 3 and 15 feet tall and wide, depending on the cultivar you choose.
14. White Trillium (Trillium Grandiflorum)
To get very showy plants for under pine trees, consider this perennial. White Trillium produces very big flowers that are the color of snow with bright yellow reproductive organs, and they also have broad, showy, veined petals in groups of three. They can be four inches across, and they pop from the dense green foliage with pointed, broad leaves that are very decorative. You can allow this plant to spread to give you generous and long-lasting blooms under your tree’s canopies all season long.
This shade flower is a great choice for big flowers or if you’re planning out a wildflower garden or woodland habitat. They’re fast-spreading and easy to grow, and it will give you a very showy, candid display when it blooms. It also won the Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society.
White Trillium grows well in zones four to eight, and it needs full to dappled or partial shade. The soil should drain well and be humus rich, and it can have a chalk or loam base with an acidic to neutral pH level. This plant will bloom from mid-spring to early summer and get a foot wide with a one to two-foot spread.
15. Wintergreen (Gaultheria Procumbens)
The final plant for under pine trees on the list is Wintergreen, and this is a low-growing shrub that does well under both pine trees and conifers. It has oval, broad, glossy leaves with a leathery feel that form a very thick cushion as it grows, and it comes in a range of colors from purple to bright green. The foliage will change color as the season progresses, but they’re an evergreen that lends winter interest. The white, bell-shaped flowers have a light touch of pink that bloom in the summer before giving way to the pretty green foliage. It also produces bright red, shiny berries during the winter.
The berries look like miniature apples, and they attract a decent amount of birds to the garden. You can use Wintergreen as a shrub or ground cover, and you can plant several specimens around your trees to fill in the space.
This plant grows well in zones three to nine in full shade, dappled shade, or partial shade. The soil should be organically rich and fertile while draining well, and the pH should range from 4.5 to 6.5. However, it also tolerates neutral soil without any damage. It blooms from July to August, and it grows three to six inches tall with a foot spread.
These 15 plants for under pine trees can help you fill in and brighten up what was historically an eyesore in your garden or landscape design. You can easily mix and match plants to get a nice layered look, and ensure you have pops of color and pretty foliage all season long.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.