The Q&A Archives: Rehabilitating Plants Under Pine Trees

Question: I have an area under and next to several pines trees that does not support any grass. What can I do to rehab this area?

Answer: Growing a lush green lawn under pine trees is a difficult proposition. First, the dense shade makes grass struggle to live, the canopy of needles generally keeps rainfall directly below the tree to a minimum, the soil is generally acidic, and finally, the grass roots will have to compete with the larger, more established tree roots for moisture and nutrients. If tree roots are growing at or above the surface of the soil, mowing the lawn will be difficult.

If you add topsoil to make a smooth bed for your lawn, you run the risk of smothering the tree's feeder roots. When you visit parks, arboretums and golf courses and see thick turfgrass growing under trees, you'll know it's possible to achieve, but keep in mind that the effect is high in maintenance and very carefully planned before the trees or turf are installed. Most homeowners don't have the time or resources to duplicate it.

I'd suggest planting a groundcover under the trees rather than trying to get grass to grow there. The tree roots will continue to push up over the years and a groundcover such as Ajuga (Carpet Bugle), Vinca (Periwinkle), or Ivy will grow high enough to camouflage the roots.

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