See the seasons change at the Garden! Advance tickets are recommended.

Plants & Gardens Blog

From the Street…Tough Natives for Tender Tree Beds

Brilliant orange butterfly weed, cheery black-eyed Susans, and frilly coralbells are native New Yorkers strong enough to survive—and even thrive—in the challenging environment of a city tree bed.

The first job of any tree bed is to provide a home for an oxygen-producing street tree. As such it should be clean, well watered, and properly mulched. Only if these conditions are met and the tree bed is large enough is it advisable to embellish it with appropriate underplantings. If your tree bed is a candidate, remember these guidelines to put the tree’s health first:

  • Never raise the soil level. This rots the trunk bark and degrades root health.
  • Plant small, herbaceous plants, never woodies. Diminutive root systems compete less for water and nutrients; digging small holes disturbs fewer tree roots.
  • Choose drought-tolerant plants. Whether your spot is shady or sunny, it’s vital that the tree gets most of the water.

Sun-loving natives for tree beds with young trees:
Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’
Beebalm (Monarda didyma)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Shade-tolerant natives for tree beds:
Green-and-gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)
Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)
Coralbells (Heuchera americana)
Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens)
Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Spread a half-inch layer of compost to mulch your plantings, leaving a mulch-free zone eight inches from the tree’s trunk. You’ll be rewarded with a tree bed that’s beautiful and street smart!

For more tree bed recommendations, see Street Tree Bed Care: Give Trees a Chance and Plants for Tree Beds. Or take the upcoming Tough Plants for Tender Tree Beds workshop! Contact me at [email protected] with your tree care questions.

Maureen O’Brien is the community field manager at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.


  • Carol M March 8, 2015

    Our experience with Monarda (bee balm) in our upstate New York gardens is that it does quite well in shade that gets only a couple hours of late-afternoon sun. In fact, I think it thrives better under these conditions rather than in full sun. We first started planting it in the shade at the suggestion of a horticulturist.

Submit a Comment

Please keep your comments relevant to this article. Comments are moderated and will be posted after BBG staff review. Your email address is required; it will not be displayed, but may be needed to confirm your comments.

Image, top of page: