The Q&A Archives: Planting under pine tree

Question: I have a 50-year old pine tree with a Western exposure. The area under the tree gets about 6 hours of direct sunlight in the afternoon from noon to about 6:00 pm, and complete shade the rest of the day, except for a small ring around the trunk that gets shade all day except for 1 hour (5:15 - 6:15 pm). I'm looking for plants that can tolerate acidity, clay soil and some sunlight. What would be good choices, and what amendments are needed for the soil to help the surrounding plants but not hurt the tree? I am planning to raise the garden to avoid digging deeply into the tree roots, which may strangle the new plants. Plants could grow to a couple of feet high. Thanks for your help.

Answer: I'd caution against adding soil over the established tree roots. Any change in grade could suffocate the roots. Instead, choose plants that will thrive in acidic soils and compete well for moisture and nutrients (tree roots can be such hogs!). You can dig up some of the surface or feeder roots without harming your pine; the roots of your new plants will find their way around the established roots of your tree. Some of the best plants for growing under pine trees include:

Bleeding heart
Variegated ivy
Groundcover strawberry
Vinca minor

Best wishes with your garden!

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