Growing Plants Under Conifers

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) by ann j p

TheGardenLady received this question from Bronwyn.

I’m trying to find a low growing plant (20cm max height) for planting under my conifers.  The garden is extremely bare under the conifers. Do you have any advice please?

It can be tricky to grow plants under your conifer because a) you need something that likes the acidic soil the conifer grows in b) you need something that doesn’t need much sunlight and c) in your case, you are asking for something that is under 8 inches tall. Your choice will depend also on whether your soil is dry or moist under the conifer.

Here are a few suggestions:

Cornus canadensis Bunchberry is about 6 inches (15 cm) tall zones 2 to 7  See here.

Gaultheria procumbens wintergreen (15cm) zones 3 to 8  See here.

Maianthemum canadense Canada Mayflower (up to 25cm) zones 3 to 7  See here.

Mitchella repens Partridge berry (8cm) zones 4 to 9  See here.

Sunshine Farm is a great source to buy some of these plants. The owner is very knowledgeable about the plants he sells and could advise you on the best choices. Let TheGardenLady know what you chose and how it is doing. A photo would be lovely.


Fall is a good time to attend gardening lectures. Not that there isn’t a lot of work still left to do in the garden: harvesting if you have vegetable gardens, putting your plants to sleep for the winter if you have flowers, bringing in summer bulbs like gladioli,  planting next spring’s bulbs like daffodils, etc.  But since there are many good lectures going on in the Fall, like the Perennial Plant Conference on Friday, October 17th at Swarthmore, when readers have free time, they should make every effort to attend.

To that end of going to lectures to learn more, TheGardenLady attended a lecture entitled “Conifers for Your Garden” given by Steven Kristoph who has taught about conifer trees at Rutgers University for over 25 years. He also owns Steven Kristoph Nursery and has a website. 

Steven opened his lecture by saying how pleased he was that so many people attended his lecture since so many excellent websites can be Goggled up on conifer trees that one can find out just about all there is to know about conifers without leaving home.  Conifer trees are defined as a grouping of trees with needle or scale-like leaves (e.g. pine, spruce, cypress) and bear cones. They are usually, but not always, evergreen. A website that he recommends is The American Conifer Society.  This website lists all the conifers with photos as well as tells the readers where there are lectures or symposium on conifers.

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