What Shade Plants Will Grow Beneath White Pines?

‘Cutting Edge’ foamflower is a good shade perennial to grow beneath white pines.

My backyard has lots of huge white pines that I want to landscape around. What plants grow best [beneath pines] in Midwest weather and [like] mostly shade? Question from Karen of Adel, Iowa

Answer: You are looking for shade-loving perennials and small shrubs adapted to slightly acid soils. There are quite a few that will grow well in your USDA Hardiness Zone 5 garden. Here are just a few suggestions.

Low Shrubs

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi): If you are interested in a ground-hugging evergreen shrub that spreads and has festive red berries in summer and fall, consider bearberry. It thrives in well-drained, acid soil and survives well under pine trees. It is also native to many areas in Iowa.

Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium): Small, lowbush blueberries are perfect for edible landscaping, and they grow well in acid soils and shade. They also have attractive fall leaves that turn shades of orange and red.


Foamflower (Tiarella spp.): These pretty spreading perennials have pretty foliage that looks attractive from spring to fall and foamy flowers that appear in late spring. Try the new Proven Winners variety ‘Cutting Edge’.

Heuchera (Heuchera hybrids): These may be commonly called coralbells or alumroot, and there are hundreds of varieties on the market with beautifully colored (gold, orange, burgundy, purple, red, etc.) and textured leaves. Some even send up wands of coral or white flowers. Terra Nova Nurseries develops some of the coolest varieties available.

Hostas (Hosta hybrids): Most hostas will grow beautifully in lightly shaded spots among conifers.

Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina): If you like ferns, this delicate looking native fern grows reliably well in slightly acid soil and shade. Just be sure to irrigate it during very dry spells.

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense): Few native groundcovers for shade are as tough as wild ginger. It creates a mat of bright green, heart-shaped leaves that look attractive in shaded gardens. Expect clumps to spread to a few feet wide over time.

Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaticata): Blooming in mid to late spring, wild blue phlox bears airy stems of five-petaled, pale violet-blue flowers that are visited by butterflies and long-tongued bees. The variety ‘Blue Moon’ has especially large flowers of deep blue-violet. This one is also an Iowa native. Plants will spread and naturalize a bit over time.

You can begin planting any of these shrubs or perennials in mid-spring. Before planting, I recommend amending your garden soil with Black Gold Peat Moss and Garden Compost Blend. Be sure to feed plants with a fertilizer formulated for flowering plants at planting time as well. Then keep plants well-irrigated until they set fresh roots and begin to grow well on their own. This usually takes a couple of weeks. It is also wise to irrigate during long, hot, dry spells in summer.

Good luck with planting your new shade garden!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

(Click here for some more shade perennial recommendations.)

(We also recommend that you read this article about evergreen ferns. Some would also work well in your garden.)

What are the Best Perennials for Clay Soils?

Coneflowers of all types grow well in clay soils and look beautiful in summer. (Image by Jessie Keith)

“What are the best perennials for clay-based soils? Thanks!” Question from Trish of Newton, New Jersey

Answer: There are lots of exceptional perennials adapted to clay soils, and many of the best are regional natives. Here are nine perennials that are beautiful, native, and well-adapted to clay soils in the Mid-Atlantic. I’ve included different plants that look attractive in the garden from early summer to fall.

Nine Hardy Perennials for Clay Soils

1. Orange Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa): In my opinion, this is the prettiest of the butterfly weeds, which are the star plants for monarch butterflies. Its bright orange flowers appear from early to midsummer. Clip back the flowers after their first bloom, and they will rebloom later in the summer. (Click here to learn more about growing butterfly weed.)


2. False Indigo (Baptisia hybrids): There are so many wonderful cultivars of this tall, bushy perennial available at garden centers these days. Their deep roots cut through clay soils, and their spires of early summer blooms come in shades of violet-blue, purple, white, or yellow.

3. Pink Turtlehead (Chelone lyonii): In late summer, this pretty perennial produces upright stems of rosy pink flowers that look much like turtle’s heads. It grows well in moist, clay-rich soils and tolerates partial shade.


4. Coneflowers (Echinacea hybrids): Everyone loves the large, colorful, summer blooms of coneflower. There are lots of hybrids that come in shades of pink, rosy purple, orange, apricot, yellow and white. They bloom in summer and attract bees and butterflies. Cut the old blooms back and plants will continue flowering into fall.

5. Miss Manners Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana ‘Miss Manners’): There are many obedient plants, but most varieties are fast-spreading and can become a little weedy. ‘Miss Manners’ is a white-flowered variety that refrains from spreading and looks very pretty in the late-summer garden.


6. Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.): Most Black-eyed-Susans are well-adapted to sun and clay soils. Their sunny summer and fall blooms will brighten any garden and attract bees and butterflies.

8. New York Aster (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii): For a reliable fall-bloomer for clay, try one of the many varieties of New York asters. Their violet-purple or pinkish flowers add needed color to fall gardens and are a favorite of late-season pollinators. (Click here to read more about growing asters.)


9. Switchgrass (Panicum virginicum): It’s always nice to add perennial grasses to the garden for height and texture. There are many exceptional varieties of switchgrass, and all will grow beautifully in clay soils.

Happy perennial gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist