Purple periwinkle flower

Plants to grow under trees: part 1

In the first of our two-part guide, we highlight plants to grow under trees in winter and spring.

Overview

Plants that are to be grown under trees and at the bases of hedges need to be chosen with care. The soil in these spots of the garden can be dry, depleted of nutrients and shady, and not all plants will grow in those conditions.

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Read about plants that will grow under trees in summer and autumn.

However, if you prepare the soil well, choose the right plants and help them settle in properly, certain plants will thrive in these tricky spots.

Choose from our selection of plants below, which will give colour and interest in winter and spring.

Pulmonaria offers bee-friendly flowers in a range of colours, from purple to blue to pink, red and white.

Snowdrops

The demurely nodding flowers of snowdrops (Galanthus) brave the coldest weather in late winter. They do particularly well under the canopy of deciduous trees. Plant them ‘in the green’ and divide established clumps after flowering.

Flowers: January to February

A swathe of snowdrops
A swathe of snowdrops

Hepaticas

The European, woodland forms of hepatica love dappled shade, producing pink, blue or white flowers in early spring. ‘Eisvogel’ is a great choice, as it shows up well in dark places.

Flowers: February to March

A white Hepatica 'Eisvogel' flower
A white Hepatica ‘Eisvogel’ flower

Lungwort

A tough but pretty groundcover plant, Pulmonaria offers bee-friendly flowers in a range of colours, from purple to blue to pink, red and white. These stand above silver-flecked foliage. A British native wild flower, it requires little care.

Flowers: February to March

Pink lungwort flowers
Pink lungwort flowers

Wood anemones

Native woodlander Anemone nemorosa flourishes under deciduous trees and shrubs, producing drifts of scented white flowers just before the canopy comes into leaf. Cultivated forms included double-flowered ‘Vestal’.

Flowers: March to April

Double, white Anemone nemorosa 'Vestal'
Double, white Anemone nemorosa ‘Vestal’

Bloodroot

Any cool, shady location suits this little woodlander, Sanguinaria canadensis. Each bloom is a perfect rosette of white petals, opening just a few centimetres from the ground, above clasping leaves.

Flowers: March to April

White flower and clasping leaves of bloodroot
White flower and clasping leaves of bloodroot

Primroses

One of the first spring flowers, our native primrosePrimula vulgaris, will light up your garden for months on end with its cheery, pale yellow blooms. Allow it to naturalise in shady woodland borders and banks, or plant into pots and window boxes.

Flowers: March to May

Yellow primroses
Yellow primroses

Bluebells

Plant this fragrant native wildflower, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, for a sea of blue beneath trees in spring. The bulbs will multiply happily in the dappled shade of deciduous trees, in moist but well-drained soil.

Flowers: April to May

Bluebells
Bluebells

Comfrey

Symphytum is very easy to grow in damp soil and its flowers attract early foraging bees. There are several colours to choose from, including white and red, but ‘Hidcote Blue’ is a favourite, great for filling gaps between shrubs.

Flowers: April to May

Pink comfrey flowers
Pink comfrey flowers

Epimedium

These robust shade-lovers spread quickly, covering the ground with their leathery foliage. This is infused with rich bronze hues in early spring and turns green over summer. Above the leaves rise airy clouds of tiny flowers.

Flowers: April to May

Coral-pink, star-burst flowers of epimedium
Coral-pink, star-burst flowers of epimedium

Lesser periwinkle

The pretty flowers of Vinca minor give a long season of interest under trees. ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ is a compact variety with pure white flowers and evergreen leaves, ideally for brightening shady areas.

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Flowers: April to September

Purple periwinkle flower
Purple periwinkle flower

Growing lesser periwinkle

Vinca minor is a popular ground cover plant. Is a smaller version of its more vigorous relative, greater periwinkle. Its leaves, flowers and growth rate are about two-thirds those of Vinca major. Cut back any unwanted shoots in spring to prevent it covering too large an area.