What to Plant Under the Shade of a Southern Oak Tree

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Live oak creates deep shade.
Live oak creates deep shade. (Image: tree and stadium seating image by jimcox40 from Fotolia.com)

Live oak (Quercus virginiana) grows well in the southern United States. Excellent specimens of this beautiful shade tree can be seen in the cities of South Carolina, Georgia, Texas and Florida. Multiple trunks and broad, graceful branches give live oak a height and spread of 100 feet or more at maturity. Select plants for landscaping under live oak that are shade and heat tolerant. Plant in containers near the trunk, or in the ground toward the outer part of the tree's root zone for best results.

Vines and Groundcover

Plant groundcover plants to quickly fill in shady areas under live oak where grass won't take. English ivy is a fast grower and comes in a range of green shades. It will need annual trimming to keep it from climbing and strangling the tree. Asian jasmine is another good creeper for planting under younger trees that haven't yet developed deep shade. Periwinkle also spreads quickly, with bright blue flowers in light to full shade.

Herbaceous Perennials

Ferns and hosta will come back year after year under southern oak. There are literally hundreds of hosta varieties to choose from in a range of green, gray and blue variegated leaves, and sizes from dwarf to monster. Hostas have a brief period of bloom, with tall stalks that spring from the center of the plant, bearing pale, bell-shaped blossoms. There are also many species of fern to consider, with sensitive, holly, wood and river fern being easily adapted to southern climates.

Annual Flowers

Plant shade-loving annuals in containers for setting under southern oak. This will keep you from disturbing the tree's roots and the plants from competing with the tree for nutrients. Impatiens and begonias do well in cool shade if you keep the soil moist, adding vibrant colors of red, pink, white, purple and yellow. Lobelia, which tends to get crispy in sunny areas can add a contrasting blue with its tiny, vining flowers. Coleus has inconspicuous flowers, but brightly colored, variegated foliage.

Perennial Flowers

Plant perennial flowers sparingly under live oak to avoid disturbing the roots. They will multiply on their own and fill in larger areas over time all by themselves. Caladium, columbine and creeping phlox form mats of flowers in spring, and can be easily planted toward the outer drip zone of the southern oak, where they can get a little sun. Violets appear briefly in spring, but also spread through shallow root systems. Try digging a fairy ring of narcissus bulbs. These will also divide and spread, offering some of the first blooms of the year, before the foliage of southern oak fills in.

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