Planting Under Cedar Trees: Which Plants Grow Underneath Them?

Do you have a cedar tree in your yard, but aren't quite sure what to plant underneath it? Certain plants will grow much better underneath cedar trees, but how do you know which ones to pick? In this article, amateur gardener Jason White examines what kind of plants do well underneath cedar trees, as well as several of the most popular options.

Cedar Trees With Plants Underneath

Cedar trees are a favorite landscaping tree for many people all over the world. But finding the perfect plant to grow underneath them can be a bit of a challenge because of their structure, and root system.

Adding plants under any tree is a common technique for integrating that tree into a landscape and avoiding empty space. You can also create an interesting layering effect by adding a mix of ground cover and shrubs.

However, there are some important considerations when choosing these plants, especially for cedars. The wrong plants could harm nearby trees or not do well if they have to compete with the tree’s root system for water and nutrients. Read on to learn more about cedar trees and which plants do well underneath them.

A Few Facts About Cedar Trees

Cedar trees belong to the Pinaceae family. They’re native to the Himalayas and the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.

These evergreen trees are incredibly resilient. They don’t need a lot of water and thrive in slightly acidic soil with no fertilizer. The only maintenance they require is the occasional mulching and some light pruning. You’ll also have to water regularly when you first plant a cedar tree, but adult trees only need rainwater.

Cedars need plenty of sun. They grow rapidly and do well in Zones 7 through 9A, but it’s a very versatile tree that can adapt to different conditions.

There are a few diseases to watch out for, including cedar-apple rust, a type of fungal disease that affects cedar trees and apple trees. Port-oxford-cedar root disease is a condition that can spread through soil movement.

Should You Plant Under Your Cedar Tree?

Planting Tree in Front Yard
Whether you are just planting your tree, or have a mature tree, there are several benefits to planting under a cedar.

Besides improving the aesthetics of your yard, plants that grow underneath your cedar tree can help loosen the soil and help the tree’s root system absorb more oxygen and nutrients.

Another benefit is that plants will absorb excess water and help create ideal conditions for the cedar, especially if you live in an area with heavy precipitations. If water accumulates at the base of a tree, it can make the soil too compact and make it difficult for the roots to grow.

Plant Choice Considedrations

Some plants do well under cedars and others don’t. Cedars thrive in soil that is slightly acidic, but they can grow in soil with a pH of anywhere from 5.5 to 7.2, so don’t assume your garden soil is necessarily acidic if you have a cedar tree. It’s best to test the soil before selecting plants that will go underneath the tree, to figure out whether you should select species that do well in acidic soil or not.

Shade can be a challenge. Cedars are evergreens with dense foliage. Cedars can provide similar challenges to growing under other shade trees like oaks. Depending on the cedar variety, they can cast a big area of shade, making planting underneath them a challenge.

The dripline can be another issue. Because of the dense foliage, water will drip where it ends and create a zone that could get saturated with water.

The root system can vary from one type of cedar tree to another, but lots of trees in that family have shallow and fibrous roots. Limiting the number of plants you add around the tree is important so the tree can still get the water and nutrients it needs from the soil.

Caring for Plants Under a Cedar Tree

Landscaped Yard With Trees
There are some considerations you’ll need to factor in when planting under cedars.

Here are a few additional things to keep in mind before learning more about which plants do well under cedars:

  • Avoid adding more plants if you have a young tree.
  • You can plant some shrubs or ground cover once the tree has matured.
  • Remember that cedars have shallow roots.
  • Be careful and dig around these roots when planting new shrubs.
  • Raised beds might look great, but they can suffocate a tree’s root system.
  • It’s best to add plants directly into the soil near your cedar tree.
  • Cedars don’t need a lot of water.
  • In fact, soil with too much moisture can suffocate their root system.
  • Avoid planting shrubs or ground cover that would require frequent watering.
  • Prune your cedar’s branches to any plants underneath get adequate light.

Plants That Grow Well Under Cedar Trees

The following ground covers, shrubs, and evergreens are ideal options if you’re looking to add some plants under your cedar tree. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular, with pictures of each!

Creeping Wintergreen

Creeping Wintergreen Bush
Creeping wintergreen can do quite well, but you’ll need to keep it trimmed.

This ground cover plant features dark green leaves that turn purple in the fall to add a splash of color to your yard. It does well in Zone 3 through 8 and will thrive in a slightly acidic soil.

This eastern American plant is ideal for creating a lush carpet under your cedar tree, but keep in mind that you’ll need to trim it to control its growth.

Bugleweed

Bugleweed on Ground
Bugleweed is easy to grow, and makes for great ground cover.

Bugleweed is another great option for adding some ground cover. Also known as Ajuga reptans, this perennial grows fast and does well in areas where other plants won’t grow. It can thrive in the shade, and the blue flowers will create a nice contrast with the green of the cedar.

Ice Plant

Pink Ice Plant
Ice plants can make great ground cover if you live in a climate that can support it.

If you live in a warm area,ice plants are a great addition to your garden. These perennials get their name from the small hairs that cover them and reflect light. Their foliage is somewhat similar to succulents in appearance. You’ll get plenty of coverage and some colorful flowers with a few ice plants, but keep in mind that these plants don’t do well in the cold.

Periwinkle

Periwinkle Flowers
Periwinkles can do quite well in a variety of different climates.

Common periwinkle or Vinca Minor is a plant that does well in the heat as long as it gets some shade. Shade prevents the leaves from turning yellow.

It’s a great option if you’re looking for an evergreen ground cover. The blue flowers and dark leaves will look amazing underneath a cedar. The main downside is that you’ll have to water this plant frequently, which means you’ll need soil with good drainage to avoid creating an environment that is too moist for underneath this tree type.

Chinese Lantern Plants

Chinese Lantern Plant Outdoors
Chinese Lantern plants can really stand out as ground cover under cedars.

This hardy plant stands out with its unique seed pods shaped like orange lanterns. It’s a plant that grows in clumps and that spreads quickly thanks to shallow rhizomes. It thrives with partial sun exposure, but shade is best in warm climates.

The rhizomes are an ideal option for increasing oxygen flow in the soil around the tree. However, you’ll need to provide plenty of water in the early growth stage of this plant.

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Oakleaf Hydrangea
This particular hydrangea looks fantastic as a ground cover.

The Oakleaf Hydrangea will make a gorgeous addition to your landscaping project with leaves similar to oak trees and white flowers. It’s a plant that does well in cold weather and it’s also drought-resistance.

This plant is native to the southeast of the U.S. It’s a shrub that blooms in the spring and early summer, but you’ll have to prune it to get a full shrub.

Rhododendron

Rhododendron comes in many colors and grows well through many hardiness zones.

Rhododendrons can grow in Zones 5 through 8. These plants thrive in the shade, and the colder temperature underneath the foliage of a cedar tree will help with blooms.

It’s an interesting option to explore because there are many options available in terms of colors, and it’s also a good way of introducing a new scent to your garden. However, you’ll need to water your Rhododendron regularly, which can be an issue for cedars if you don’t have good drainage in that area.

Mountain Witch Alder

Witch Alder
Witch Alder has stunning white flowers and can do well underneath trees.

Fothergilla Major or Mountain Witch Alder is a shrub that can grow to be six to ten feet tall. It does well in partial shade as long as the soil is rich and slightly acidic.

You’ll get more foliage by planting Mountain With Alder in the sun, but it’s a good option if you want something to plant underneath a cedar tree. Plus, this plant will attract butterflies and birds.

Japanese Pieris

The Japanese Pieris grows slowly but makes an excellent companion under cedars.

This evergreen shrub grows slowly but it can reach nine to thirteen feet in height. It’s an Asian plant with floral buds that appear towards the end of summer and late in the winter months.

It’s a great option for planting under a cedar because it thrives in acidic soil and can grow in the shade. However, Japanese Pieris is a poisonous plant and isn’t a good option if you have pets.

Camellia

Japanese Camellia Plant
The camellia can grow quite tall and has vibrant, colorful flowers.

This evergreen shrub can grow as high as a small tree. Its glossy leaves will look great next to a cedar tree, and it can thrive in partial shade.

You can plant camellia in a container or plant it in the soil directly. The cedar will provide shelter from the cold, and you’ll find that camellia grows with very little maintenance.

Japanese Kerria

Japanese Kerria
The Japanese Kerria has beautiful yellow flowers that will make your yard pop.

Japanese Kerria is a shrub that stands out with its bright yellow flowers. It blooms from late March to mid-April and it does well in the shade.

It can grow between three and eight feet in height and will spread to six feet. Once it grows, it will form small colonies of ornamental shrubs that will add color to your yard.

Butterfly Bush

Butterfly Bush Purple Flower
The butterfly bush has bright purple flowers, and will attract butterflies.

Butterfly bush can thrive under a cedar tree as long as you provide well-drained soil. This plant grows fast and produces large blossoms with a conical shape in the summer and fall. It does well in Zones 5 through 8, but you’ll have to control its spread since it’s an invasive species.

There are lots of colors to choose from, and this plant will attract butterflies. Note that butterflies like this plant because of its nectar but won’t nest in it. Plant some milkweed and other plants nearby if you want to create a spot for butterflies.

Forsythia

Forsythia
Forsythia is a shrub with bright yellow flowers.

This shrub is native to eastern Asia. Its yellow flowers attract bees and butterflies. Forsythia can grow to two to ten feet tall, depending on the variety. It’s a fast-growing shrub that can grow in acidic or alkaline soil.

It’s a great addition to your yard because it can help with erosion control and could protect the roots of your tree. Even though it does better in full sun, it can grow in the shade if you don’t mind getting fewer flowers.

Dwarf Inkberry Holly

Dwarf Inkberry Holly Shrub
Dwarf Pinkberry holly is a small shrub that fills up empty spaces quite well.

Dwarf inkberry holly is an evergreen with broad leaves that form dense foliage. It’s a great way of filling up empty spaces, and the leaves have a tip that turns red during the spring to add some color to your garden.

This evergreen can grow in the sun or partial shade and will thrive in soil conditions similar to what cedars need.

Buxus

Boxwood Shrub
Boxwoods make great ground cover, and equally good space fillers.

Buxus or boxwood is native to western and southern Europe. It’s an evergreen shrub that can grow anywhere from three to 30 feet tall.

You’ll often find Buxus growing in forests as a ground plant. It could be an excellent addition to your landscaping project if you want to create layers and work with a natural look reminiscent of English gardens.

Columbine

Purple Columbine Flowers
Columbines are easy to care for and grow rather quickly.

Columbine or Aquilegia is a perennial that requires very little attention. It thrives in well-drained soil and prefers shade in hot climates. You might have to add some organic matter to help with growth. There is a wide range of colors to choose from, including blue flowers, pink, purple, red flowers, and more. Columbine flowers also have a very unique shape.

Japanese Anemones

Japanese Anemones Pink Flower
The Japanese Anemones have beautiful flowers, and make an excellent tree-planting companion.

Japanese anemones are plants that need partial shade as well as rich soil. You’ll have to add some organic matter for these plants, but they’re a good option for the area underneath your cedar tree since they don’t like moisture in the soil. Japanese anemones can grow slowly at first, but you’ll get excellent coverage after a few years once the rhizomes develop.

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that this list is non-exhaustive. You can find more plants that will thrive under your cedar tree by looking for plants that do well in the shade, don’t need a lot of water, and can grow in neutral or slightly acidic soil.

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