Plants for Tree Beds - Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Plants & Gardens Blog

Plants for Tree Beds

Annuals, perennials, and bulbs can be beautiful additions to a tree bed, as long as you remember that the tree’s health comes first.

Here are some tips:

  • Never raise the soil level when you install new plants—this can rot the bark at the base of the tree.
  • Use small plants and bulbs—large plants require deeper holes that can damage tree roots and often have large root systems that compete with the tree for water and nutrients.
  • Choose plants with low water requirements. Plant tags and catalog descriptions that say “drought tolerant” and “good for xeriscaping” tell you that a plant doesn’t need much water.
  • Select plants that can take abuse. A tree bed is a harsh environment: Choose tough plants that can survive and thrive.
  • Install a tree guard to protect the bed.

Plants for Sun

These choices are best beneath newly planted trees.

Dusty miller (Senecio cineraria)
Licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare)
Marigold (Tagetes species)
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum species)
Rock rose (Portulaca species)
Verbena (Verbena × hybrida)
Zinnia (Zinnia angustifolia)

Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum)
Oxeye daisy (Chrysanthumum vulgare)
Lilyturf (Liriope muscari)
Sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa)
Wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum)

Plants for Shade

These choices are best beneath established trees.

Begonia (Begonia × semperflorens)
Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides)
Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana)
Lobelia (Lobelia erinus)
Pansy (Viola tricolor) (some are winter hardy)

Elephant’s ears (Bergenia cordifolia)
Spotted deadnettle (Lamium maculatum)
Lilyturf (Liriope muscari)
Periwinkle (Vinca minor)

Spring Bulbs

Most spring bulbs like at least half a day of sun. Since they bloom before deciduous trees fully leaf out, these bulbs will thrive in the beds of even established trees.
Crocus (Crocus species)
Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis)
Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) (best in shade)
Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis)
Glory-of-the-snow (Chinodoxa species)
Grape hyacinth (Muscari species)
Daffodil (Narcissus species)
Species tulips (Tulipa species)
Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

Comments will be posted after review; your email address will not be displayed. Have a gardening question for BBG staff? Reach out to our Gardener's Help Line.

Image, top of page: Mustafa Onder