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Planting Under Cedar Trees: 17 Perennials That Will Thrive

Planting Under Cedar Trees: 17 Perennials That Will Thrive

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The durable and insect-deterring wood of the evergreen cedar tree ensures that it will continue to be a lovely embellishment to your garden for many years. Nevertheless, some homeowners may want to plant something below their cedars in spots where the soil seems to lack any growth.

What perennial plants grow under cedar trees? Despite the shade that cedar trees provide, many perennials can grow in these conditions. Some examples include flowers and bulbs, such as coral bells and columbine; ground cover, such as periwinkle and sweet woodruff; shrubs, such as azalea and hydrangea; and some ferns, such as lady fern. 

More than just basic shade-loving species, you can find a variety of tones and textures to plant beneath your cedar tree. Keep reading to learn about several excellent options.

Perennials To Grow Under Cedar Trees

Although you must consider your particular variety of cedar as well as your soil type and average rainfall before planting anything, these perennials generally meet the conditions required to grow beneath a cedar tree. 

Perennial Flowers & Bulbs

While bergenia and liriope make wonderful additions to the cedar landscape, you can also count on the following flowers to thrive in the environment under cedars.

Astilbe

Pink astilbes or false goat's beard blooming in a garden.

Preferring dappled shade, you can select from 25 different species and hundreds of hybrids of this plant.

  • Botanical Name: Astilbe
  • Average Size: 1 to 5 feet
  • Best for Grow Zones: 3 to 9
  • Available Colors: Whites to dark purples, although most are pastels

Coral Bells

A thriving magenta coral bell plant.

This clump-forming woodland native prefers the drier soils found under cedars.

  • Botanical Name: Heuchera
  • Average Size: 18 to 24 inches
  • Best for Grow Zones: 4 to 9
  • Available Colors: Huge assortment of color options

Columbine

Pretty purple and white columbine flowers.

This plant tolerates many different types of soils as long as the drainage is good.

  • Botanical Name: Aquilegia
  • Average Size: 2 to 3 feet
  • Best for Grow Zones: 3 to 8
  • Available Colors: Pink, purple, yellow, red, blue, orange, and white

Crocus

Newly emerged crocus flowers in yellow, purple, and white.

The earliest signs of spring, these bulbs have been known to flower through snow cover.

  • Botanical Name: Crocus
  • Average Size: 4 to 6 inches
  • Best for Grow Zones: 3 to 8
  • Available Colors: Purple, orange, blue, lavender, or white

Lily of the Valley

A flowering stalk of the lily of the valley plant.

Easily grown in well-drained soils, this perennial has a tendency to be invasive, so divide regularly.

  • Botanical Name: Convallaria majalis
  • Average Size: 6 to 12 inches
  • Best for Grow Zones: 3 to 8
  • Available Colors: White

Perennial Ground Cover

If you want to create a mat of cover under your cedar, you can use creeping juniper or the non-climbing partridgeberry vine for a hint of color, but the following species can be counted on for both color and ability to cover the ground well.

Sweet Woodruff

Galium or sweet woodruff blooming in a shaded garden.

This cover that looks as sweet as its name with tiny white flowers and bright green leaves grows well even in slightly damp conditions.

  • Botanical Name: Gallium
  • Average Size: 6 to 12 inches
  • Best for Grow Zones: 4 to 8

Periwinkle 

Periwinkle groundcover with light-blue flowers.

With its showing lavender flowers, periwinkle makes an inviting addition covering the ground under the green boughs of a cedar.

  • Botanical Name: Vinca minor
  • Average Size: 4 to 6 inches
  • Best for Grow Zones: 4 to 8

Bugleweed 

Purple flowers of the bugleweed plant.

Set off with a spiky blue bloom, bugleweed adds textual as well as visual interest and does well in even mildly wet soils.

  • Botanical Name: Ajuga
  • Average Size: 6 to 9 inches
  • Best for Grow Zones: 3 to 10

Boston Ivy 

Boston ivy transitioning to fall foliage.

Although you commonly see this ivy climbing walls and garden fences, you can allow it to vine horizontally for a rapidly growing ground cover.

  • Botanical Name: Parthenocissus tricuspidata
  • Average Size: 30 to 50 feet
  • Best for Grow Zones: 4 to 8

Mondo Grass 

Mondo grass clumps among leaves and rocks.

With its light pink bloom and dark foliage, mondo grass creates an interesting visual effect in the shade of a cedar tree.

  • Botanical Name: Ophiopogon japonicus
  • Average Size: 9 to 12 inches
  • Best for Grow Zones: 6 to 9

Perennial Shrubs

Shrubs can add height and depth to the interest under a cedar tree.

You can try a rhododendron if you have enough moisture, but the following shrubs do particularly well in the microclimate the cedar creates.

Azalea

A group of light-pink azaleas in a woodland setting.

Azaleas thrive in acidic loamy soil with dappled shade and tend to bloom vigorously under good conditions.

  • Botanical Name: Rhododendron 
  • Average Size: 3 to 5 feet
  • Best for Grow Zones: 4 to 9
  • Popular Varieties: Electric Lights Double Pink, Lemon Lights, Fireball

Virginia Sweetspire

A Virginia sweetspire in full bloom.

A rounded, broad, spreading shrub, sweetspire contains arching branches with drooping blooms.

  • Botanical Name: Itea virginica
  • Average Size: 3 to 4 feet
  • Best for Grow Zones: 5 to 9
  • Popular Varieties: Henry’s Garnet, Merlot, Sarah Eve

Hydrangea

Various shades of blue and purple hydrangea flowers.

With so many varieties to choose from, you can find just the right look of hydrangea to complement your landscape.

  • Botanical Name: Hydrangea
  • Average Size: 6 to 8 feet
  • Best for Grow Zones: 3 to 8
  • Popular Varieties: Limelight, Quickfire, Incrediball

Japanese Rose

A Japanese rose in full bloom.

This tough shrub adds a graceful touch with its drooping limbs and blooms.

  • Botanical Name: Kerria japonica
  • Average Size: 5 to 10 feet
  • Best for Grow Zones: 4 to 9
  • Popular Varieties: Pleniflora, Picta

Ferns

Always a classic go-to for shady spots, ferns offer a textual contrast to spiky flowers and large shrubs.

With so many to choose from, such as ostrich ferns or Japanese painted ferns, you can find a long list of beautiful ferns to plant under your cedar tree.

Lady Fern

A group of lady ferns growing in the woods.

Easy to grow, but be sure to divide this fern every few years.

  • Botanical Name: Athyrium filix-femina
  • Average Size: 1 to 3 feet
  • Best for Grow Zones: 4 to 8

Eastern Wood Fern

Close look at the fronds of the eastern wood fern.

Offering a more complex look, this fern adds winter interest to the landscape.

  • Botanical Name: Dryopteris marginalis
  • Average Size: 12 to 18 inches
  • Best for Grow Zones: 3 to 8

Christmas Fern

Green and gold fronds of Christmas fern.

This fern will not spread, although it will clump over time.

  • Botanical Name: Polystichum acrostichoides
  • Average Size: 1 to 2 feet
  • Best for Grow Zones: 3 to 9

Considerations Before Planting Under Cedar Trees

While you should always consider your growing zone regardless of what you’re planting, you must make special considerations before planting under cedar trees if you want your plants and trees to thrive.

Shade

Cedars have a pronounced amount of shade year round, but the canopy offers different types of shade depending on where you plant.

Closer to the tree, you have deep shade that protects plants like ferns from the sun’s harsh rays. You can find dappled shade near the edges, sufficient for some plants to get the bit of daily light they need.

Root System

Most cedar trees have shallow, fibrous root systems, which means you can damage the tree by planting too many plants underneath it.

Plants can steal water and nutrients from the cedar tree, but a balance of plants gives both the tree and perennials an opportunity to thrive together. 

Moisture Level

While too many plants can rob the cedar tree of valuable nutrients and water, if your yard gets too wet, adding more plants under your cedar tree can be a good thing.

Additional plants in a wet area absorb extra moisture so that the ground remains the slightly dry environment that cedar roots enjoy.

Related Question:

Here’s another quick tip on the topic of gardening under cedar trees.

How Do I Grow Grass Under a Cedar Tree?

Be sure to select a shade- and drought-tolerant grass if you want grass under your cedar tree.

For cool seasons, consider planting fescue, and for warm-season grasses, Zoysia makes a great addition under your tree.

Conclusion

The microclimate created under cedar trees shortens the list of perennials you can plant to keep the ground looking vibrant.

However, by choosing and planting carefully, you can find plenty of variety to keep the ground under your cedar tree looking lush with life.