How to Plant Under Pine Trees

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Pine trees can be difficult to incorporate into your landscaping plans. They create acidic soil, and shade nearby plants from sun. But there are a few tricks to get plants to grow underneath a pine tree, including choosing the right—though rare—plants, and caring for them attentively.

Things You'll Need

  • Trowel
  • Spade
  • Gloves, if desired
  • Hand cultivator
  • Compost or garden soil
  • Acid-tolerant plants
  • Fertilizer, if desired

Planting Under a Pine Tree

  • Dig up your planting area. Use a garden spade, the narrow-bladed kind, to dig around the pine tree's base, being careful not to chop through big roots. To improve your plants' chances of thriving, turn over the soil at least a foot down. You may have to do it in several small sections to avoid the tree roots. Even the soil with a hand cultivator.

  • Add compost. While the pine needles dropping into your planting area will make the soil acidic no matter what, your plants will still benefit from a rich, dark compost or garden soil added to the area. Mix it in well with the existing soil, which is likely to be dry. Use a hand cultivator for the small areas.

  • Choose shade- and acid-loving plants. These will stand up to the pine's acidic soil and survive in its shadow. Vinca is a popular choice for underneath evergreens, as it is an evergreen itself. Another method is to take direction from your local woodlands. Where there are pines in the woods, you also will find wildflowers and plants like hosta, lily-of-the-valley, creeping ivy, periwinkle, grape hyacinth, bluebells and some ferns. Also consider sturdier, bush-type plantings. Azalea, rhododendron and hydrangea like acidic soil and produce brightly-colored blooms. Impatiens also does well in the shade beneath a pine tree. If you are searching for a groundcover plant, wintergreen, bunchberry, vinca and ivy all will spread out over the pine tree's base.

  • Plant your plants. With a trowel, make holes in your prepared soil, deep enough for each plant's roots; at least a hand's depth for transplants, and just a few inches for seeds. If planting seedlings, separate the roots coiled in the bottom of its transplant pot, to allow them to grow downward. Place them in the holes. Firm up the soil around each plant so it is supported. If you are not opposed to the use of fertilizer, add a sprinkle to the base of each plant, with plenty of water.

  • Water frequently. The pine tree will be the dominant force among the plants, taking up most of the water from rainfall and your watering. Be sure to water enough to keep your plants or flowers looking bright and healthy. They need at least an inch of water each week. If it does not rain more than that, water thoroughly. Late in the summer, cutting back the successful plants will help them use less water.

Tips & Warnings

  • Gardening under pine trees takes a lot of water, as the tree will suck up much of the rainfall, and dry seasons will require frequent watering. Consider your water bill when planting; you may wish to put a priority on drought-resistant plants like hosta, bishop's weed or lily-of-the-valley.
  • Each garden is different. If the plants you try under your pine tree do not thrive or survive, add different varieties or different types next year. Consult your local nursery or greenhouse for other, climate-specific recommendations. If nothing grows after a few seasons, you can consider placing wooden containers around the tree's base and planting in them rather than the pine's soil.
  • Wildflowers like bluebell, lily-of-the-valley or periwinkle are delicately rooted and difficult to transplant unless they come from a nursery. They are not often found in a nursery as seedlings, so in many parts of the country it is advisable to plant them from seed.
  • Strawberries also grow well under pines, providing you with summer fruit. Place a thin layer of mulch or straw around them, if the tree does not shed enough needles to keep the berries off the ground.

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