The Q&A Archives: Planting Under a Walnut Tree

Question: We have a huge, old black walnut tree in our backyard. What are some good plants for my area to plant under it? I have heard that a lot of plants won't grow under a walnut tree, but something must! Obviously, the area is quite shady, though it does get some sun. What can you suggest?

Answer: Black walnut (Juglans nigra) has a reputation for being allelopathic--that is, for inhibiting the growth of other plants. Small amounts of a substance called juglone are released by the tree roots, but a far greater amount of this growth-inhibiting chemical is found under the canopy of the tree.

Some plants that are tolerant to juglone include: arborvitae, cedar, catalpa, clematis, daphne, elm, euonymous, forsythia, hawthorn, hemlock, sycamore, astilbe, begonia, bellflower, orange hawkweed, hosta, pansy, phlox, marigold, primrose, snowdrop, sweet woodruff, trillium and zinnia. Since your walnut tree is there to stay, try to plant one of the less-susceptible plants in the vicinity of the trees roots or canopy.

Avoid plants that are sensitive to juglone, including apple, blackberry, pear and blueberry, asparagus, cabbage, eggplant, pepper, potato and tomato. Landscape plants sensitive to juglone include azalea, birch, honeysuckle, hydrangea, larch, lilac, magnolia, maple, pine, potentilla, rhododendron, spruce and viburnums.

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