En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
3 ratings

Tuesday - April 22, 2008

From: Detroit, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Soils, Trees
Title: What can be planted under a pine tree in Detroit, MI?
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

What type of plant would you suggest I plant under my big (Blue bruce) pine tree? It's about 25 ft high and the branches are trimmed to about 4 feet up, so it does get some light but mostly shade.I am having trouble keeping anything alive, I was told that was because of the acid in the pine needles,is this true? What would you suggest I plant, that is strong enough?

ANSWER:

We went looking for a "Blue Bruce" pine, but could not locate one. We did, however, find Picea pungens (blue spruce), which is a native of North America. It is mostly found in Colorado, but since it has a "Christmas tree" shape, it is widely sold in the nursery trade. The blue spruce is in the genus Picea, and one of about 35 species of coniferous evergreen trees in the family Pinacea. There is a lot of confusion about which trees are really pines, and which are firs or spruces. Read this Gardenline webpage on Fir, Pine, or Spruce - Which do I have? In terms of your question, it really doesn't matter a whole lot what it is, as they all share the same characteristics of creating acidity in the soil beneath them.

So, the problem is not the strength of the plant that goes beneath the tree.The problem you are having is due to the acidity of the soil. The acid-loving plants are rhododendrons, including azaleas, blueberries, blackberries and hydrangeas, as well as many types of evergreens and conifers. All of these are considered moist woodland plants, but they all require some sun. Leaf drop from deciduous trees, and especially conifers, will raise the acidity in the soil underneath. Really, if you value your tree, and you certainly should, you need to leave it alone, and not try to grow anything until out beyond the drip line of the tree. And don't clean those needles up-the tree needs them for continued nutrition. Here is a page of Images of the blue spruce.

 

More Soils Questions

Wisconsin Ground Cover for Acid Soil
July 09, 2012 - What type of native wisconsin ground cover plants do best on acidic bare areas under pine trees such as blue spruce?...and where is best source for these plants or seeds? Thanks so much for your help
view the full question and answer

Problems with Texas Mountain Laurel in Dallas
May 04, 2010 - I have a Texas Mountain Laurel that is about 3 years old. When I bought it 2 summers ago, it was about a foot high. Now it is over 6 feet. It seems to have grown so fast that the branches can't ke...
view the full question and answer

Patience for slow-growing Baptisia
July 07, 2004 - I have three different varieties of well established Baptisia that I have had for several years ... none of them bloom. One of my plants got a very small flower in April, but just pooped out after th...
view the full question and answer

Trees for Plum Grove, TX
October 05, 2013 - Sorry Mr. Smarty pants, my question is I live in Plum Grove Texas, I have 5 acres and NO TREES. What trees were on the property were either taken out by Ike, or the twisters that followed. I have boug...
view the full question and answer

Zinc tolerant plants for sunny area
June 08, 2012 - I have a very high zinc soil in an all day sun area. Any suggestions as to what kind of flower can I grow successfully? Zone 8 Thank you
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center