Trees are beautiful, but sometimes they can seem like the enemy of the avid gardener. They block out the light and they take most of the water and nutrients below them. It may seem like nothing will grow under large trees, but that is not the case. Having a raised bed can help, but the most important aspect is the plants you choose. Choosing plants that grow in shade and can tolerate limited moisture is paramount. And even the tree it’s under can matter. A light shade plant might do fine under a deciduous tree, whereas full shade perennials might be fine under an evergreen tree. The seasonal patterns and water requirements of both the tree and the plants that grow in shade under them matter.
Some plants are full shade perennials and are drought tolerant, so they do well as plants that grow in shade under trees. The Aspidistras (Cast iron plant) do equally as well as full shade perennials and houseplants, due to their tough nature. These lovely drought tolerant foliage plants come in many shapes and patterns to add interest under trees. Plants that grow in shade under trees can have other growing conditions and still do well.
One group of beautiful groundcover plants that grow in shade that are particularly suited for being under trees is the cyclamen. Cyclamen are winter growers with patterned leaves that are drought tolerant, but can rot with too much moisture especially when dormant. Trees can tie up moisture when it is dormant during summer, to keep it from rotting. Another group of patterned leaf groundcover full shade perennials are the Asarums (wild ginger). Unlike the cyclamens many are evergreen and don’t tend to mind moisture, but like them can tolerate conditions under trees.
Lycoris (surprise lilies, spider lilies) do best in full or part sun but are fine in part shade as well. They are particularly useful for planting under deciduous trees. They are winter and spring growers that are summer dormant, but flower in late summer and fall without foliage. This means they don’t compete with the trees for water or sun, but can still add color under them. It doesn’t matter that they aren’t full shade perennials as long as they work in the conditions at a given time. Don’t be afraid of planting under trees, a large number of plants will work as long as you know its needs in detail.