Landscaping under pine trees can prove to be difficult due to factors such as the acidity of the soil and the lack of light and water, which makes it difficult to find plants that can thrive under these conditions. This doesn’t mean that you need to give up since there are plenty of tactics you can try so that you don’t have to leave the ground under your pine tree barren and unattractive.
Why is it difficult to grow plants under pine trees?
It is difficult to plant anything underneath large trees, but pine trees can be even more challenging for three main reasons. It is believed that the needles falling from the tree cause the acidity in the soil to grow, which is the main reason why gardeners avoid planting things under pine trees.
However, this is more of a myth since while it is true that fresh pine needles are indeed slightly acidic, by the time they fall off the tree and onto the ground, they lose most of their acidity. Even years of dropped pine needles can’t change the pH of the soil enough to make it difficult to grow other plants on it.
There is, however, some truth in this. Pine trees do best in acidic soil, which means that the soil where a pine tree thrives is likely acidic since, otherwise, the tree wouldn’t be able to survive. So you’ll have to keep this in mind when selecting plants to grow near your pine trees.
With that said, there are still two other big factors that make it even harder to grow plants under pine trees, namely the light and water requirements. Pine trees have dense foliage, and this makes the area directly underneath them very shady. Since pine trees are evergreens, it means that the ground beneath them will remain shady all year round.
As such, when looking for ideas of what to plant under pine trees, you should focus on plants that don’t require a lot of sunlight.
While there are ways to get around the lack of sunlight, the biggest problem why plants struggle to grow when planted under pine trees is the lack of water in the soil. Since pine trees are evergreens, they require a lot of water to stay green throughout the year.
They also have very deep roots, and they will soak up all of the water before other plants have the time to get any. As such, when planting anything under pine trees, you will need to water the soil frequently, especially during the first year since the competition for water is very intense. You can also look for plants that can survive with very little water.
However, you shouldn’t panic since by planning accordingly and using the right plants, you will still be able to create a beautiful bed of plants underneath these big evergreen trees. So take a look below at our comprehensive list of plants that can survive and thrive if planted under pine trees.
You can plant grass underneath pine trees, but it requires a bit of work since you will need to deal with all the three problems we have mentioned earlier: water, light, and acidity. The first step before you can start planting grass is to clean the area underneath the tree of needles and other debris.
You will now need to till the soil to a depth of around 6 inches. You need to be careful when tilling so that you don’t dig too deeply since if you reach the tree’s roots, you can risk damaging them. For this reason, you should try to avoid using a large rototiller and use your hands to dig instead. Moisten the soil if it is too dry to dig by hand.
You should also test the acidity of the soil to make sure that it is suitable for growing grass. Most grasses will do best with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. If you need to raise the pH of the soil, you can apply lime until you’ve reached the right acidity.
Next, you should try to increase some of the available light since grass still needs a bit of it to grow. To achieve this, you should remove all the limbs of the pine tree that are below 10 feet. You should thin or prune some of the upper limbs as well.
It is recommended to use Fescue seed since this grass is known for its high shade tolerance. In the zones where there is more sunlight, you can also try planting Centipede, Bermuda, and Zoysia grasses.
Planting grass under pine trees is not impossible, but it is a time-consuming task, and this is why it is not a recommended choice, especially for people who are new to landscaping.
The grass will require permanent attention as you will need to keep the area free of pine needles and water it frequently so that you can compensate for the competition that comes from the tree roots.
Ground covers are a great choice for landscaping under pine trees as they provide a beautiful landscape of flowers and foliage. However, the question that remains is what ground covers can you plant considering the limitations that plants under pine trees need to handle?
One choice that landscaping pros recommend is the creeping wintergreen, which is a dense evergreen plant that can grow around 6 to 12 inches tall and that can handle full and partial shade and acidic soil.
The Creeping Wintergreen, however, requires a lot of water, so if you do settle for this plant, you will need to make sure that you water it at least once a week since otherwise, the pine tree will cause it to dehydrate.
If you’re looking for a ground cover that requires less maintenance, then the Metallica Crispa bugleweed is another excellent option. This ground cover loves the shade, and it has purple flowers that will attract both butterflies and hummingbirds. It can tolerate both acidic and alkaline soils, and it can handle dry soils.
There are types of shrubs that thrive in the shade and don’t require regular watering, which makes them a great choice for this purpose. Azaleas are the most popular ones, and this large flowering shrub grows best in partial shade, and once its roots get established, it won’t need to be watered regularly.
If the area under the pine trees is shaded partially, you can also plant Witch Alder shrubs as these plants are acid-loving, but they need some sunlight to grow. The shrub will produce beautiful white blooms in the spring that have a pleasant fragrance.
Since both the Azaleas and the Witch Alder have similar growing requirements, you can plant them together. The Azaleas in the shaded areas and the Witch Alder in spots where some sunlight can still reach them.
The prelude Japanese Pieris is a type of evergreen that grows best in slightly acidic soils, and it is resistant to dense shade. It is a type of broadleaf evergreen, and it can reach heights of about 2 feet. In spring, it will also produce impressive clusters of white blooms.
If you’re looking for something different, another good option is the Barrenwort evergreen. It loves the shade, and it is a versatile plant that can also be used as edging or ground cover. It loves all types of soil, and it is resistant to droughts. It can reach heights of 8 to 12 inches.
If you want to plant some vines near your pine trees, we have selected three species that can handle the acidic soil and the fierce competition for light and water. Partridgeberry is a vine that has waxy, round leaves, beautiful white flowers when it is in bloom. The flowers turn into red berries.
Princess Pine is a type of club moss that looks like a miniature Christmas tree. It has what looks like three candles at the top. Lastly, Running-pine is another type of club moss that’s native to open, dry woods. It is evergreen, and it has needle-like leaves that are arranged in pairs along a stalk-like strobilus.
Woolly Thyme is very similar to mint, and it is a plant that forms a small yet dense mat of foliage. It is a great plant for rock gardens, and you can plant it around paths, walks, or as a ground cover. It is a plant that is drought tolerant, and once it is established, it will attract and feed bees.
If you’re looking for perennials that are tough enough to handle the tough conditions underneath pine trees, Lamium is a good choice. This plant is also called dead nettle, and it boasts variegated and textured foliage that is topped with beautiful two-lipped flowers in late spring. They can be used to lighten up and bring some color to shady areas.
Lastly, if you find that planting anything under pine trees is too time-consuming or difficult, you can also consider encircling the area under the tree with an edging material and letting the pine needles serve as you mulch. The mulch will retain moisture in the soil, prevent frost heaving in winter, suppress weeds, and make your garden bed look better.