What Can You Plant Around the Base of a Tree?

Would you like to plant the sparse area under your garden tree? Perennials for the shade are the ideal solution. These survival artists can take root particularly well under trees in autumn and can hardly wait to show their beautiful leaves and flowers in spring. Whether it’s an elfin flower or a cranesbill – we’ll show you how to make the best use of the space under your trees.

Perennials for the shade

If shrubs and perennials for the shade are planted in the ground at the same time, it is usually not a problem for both to grow in. After all, the soil has not yet taken root, the tree and the herb have the same starting conditions and come to an arrangement with each other.

The situation is different under old-growth woody plants: While the underplanting of deep-rooted and heart-rooted shrubs such as lime, hornbeam, tree-hazel, amber tree, trumpet tree, pine, yew and most fruit trees is still relatively problem-free, the conditions under shallow-rooted shrubs such as rock pear, magnolia, birch, robinia, spruce and thuja are considerably more difficult. This is because their dense root network brushes just below the surface of the soil, pressuring the perennials for shade and sucking water and nutrients away from them.

A good time to establish perennials for shade in such difficult locations is early autumn. By then, the woody plants have largely stopped growing and draw only a little water from the soil. The perennials can get a foothold.

Exception: Shade grasses and ferns are better planted in spring.

Perennials for shade: plant selection

If you want to grow under trees, you have to cope with a lack of light, dryness and root pressure. But they do exist, these tough survivors. Here is a selection of popular perennials for the shade:

Balkan Cranesbill 'Czakor', 'Spessart', 'Bevan' (Geranium macrorrhizum)
Elfenblume 'Frohnleiten' (Epimedium x perralchicum)
White-edged Solomon's seal (Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum 'Variegatum')
White wood aster (Aster divariatus)
Knotted cranesbill (Geranium nodosum)
Tellweed (Montia sibirica, syn. Claytonia sibirica)
Caucasus comfrey (Symphytum grandiflorum)
Rauling (Trachystemon orientalis)
Carpet ungarwort (Waldsteinia ternata)

Perennials for the shade: Soil Preparation

Digging with a spade is often hardly possible under woody plants. Besides, many roots would be damaged. It is better to carefully loosen the soil with a digging fork or a hand hoe and carefully read existing root weeds. If you come across larger, root-free gaps, you can create planting niches by replacing the soil with fresh planting soil or a compost-soil mixture. Perennials for the shade can find space in this way.

If, however, the entire soil is completely rooted, the only solution is to add a layer of humus about 10 cm thick to plant perennials for the shade, e.g. from well-matured compost. Note, however, that not all woody plants tolerate a heavy mounding (e.g. magnolia, beech, spruce). In addition, a 30 cm wide strip should be left around the trunk to prevent rotting at the base of the trunk.
Practical tip: The water supply is decisive!

Do not plant perennials for shade with a dry root ball. They should be allowed to soak in a bucket of water beforehand. It is also important to water the entire planting area thoroughly. Continue to water the shade perennials in the following weeks until they have taken root. It is best to water at longer intervals, but water abundantly and let the soil dry out a little in the meantime. This forces the roots to grow deeper. A mulch layer, e.g. of shrub chaff or leaves, helps to keep the moisture in the soil.