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
Not Yet Rated

Friday - May 23, 2008

From: Cortland, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Groundcovers, Shade Tolerant, Trees
Title: Evergreen groundcover under pine tree in NY
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Hello! I live in upstate NY. I'm trying to find an evergreen ground cover to plant under a pine tree. I believe it's a white spruce (but I'm not postive). I've read conflicting information regarding growth under pines. Some information states nothing (or very little) will grow under a pine tree due to the acidity of the fallen pine needles. Other information states it's more of a factor of lack of sun and rain under the tree vs. acidity. This particular location does get some morning sun so I would consider it part sun/part shade. Can you recommend an evergreen ground cover that will thrive (or at lease survive) under pine trees in Zone 4-5?

ANSWER:

Picea glauca (white spruce) is known to have allelopathic effects on some understory species, i.e., other species won't grow underneath it. Allelopathy refers to the inhibitory effect of one plant species on another plant species caused by a toxin or toxins it releases—a biomolecule present in its foliage, fruit or roots. You can read a study by Kim Coder at the University of Georgia, Warnell School of Forest Resources, Potential Allelopathy in Different Tree Species, that gives information on several other Picea species, some of which have strong allelopathic effects and some with only slight effects. For P. glauca its allelopathic effect is complicated by the fact that not only does its foliage contain substances that hinder the growth of other plants, but its leaf (needle) litter contributes less to the quality of the soil (e.g., additions of carbon and nitrogen) than deciduous tree litter (Wardle, D., et al. 1998. An ecosystem-level perspective of allelopathy. Biol. Rev. 73:305-319.). Addtionally, the foliage of the spruce is very dense letting little light filter through and this also affects what plants will grow beneath it.

To help counter the effects of the spruce's allelopathy, you might remove the tree litter underneath it and supplement the soil with compost and then choose plants that will grow in shade.

Here are some New York native evergreen plants that will grow in the shade (<2 hours of sunlight/day):

Sub-Shrubs:

Gaultheria procumbens (eastern teaberry)

Mitchella repens (partridgeberry)


Ferns:

Dryopteris cristata (crested woodfern) not entirely evergreen since the fertile fronds fall over, but the sterile ones remain green all winter and like acid soils.

Pellaea atropurpurea (purple cliffbrake)

Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern)

Polypodium virginianum (rock polypody)


Gaultheria procumbens

Mitchella repens

Dryopteris cristata

Pellaea atropurpurea

Polystichum acrostichoides

Polypodium virginianum

 

 

More Trees Questions

Injury from non-native Canary Palm from Torrance CA
October 18, 2013 - I got stuck in the eye a yr ago by a Phoenix canariensis. It went through my retina and through the integral chamber and put a stamp on my lense. There was no room for any more err without causing bli...
view the full question and answer

Pfluegerville Screening Hedge
May 25, 2014 - We live just north of Austin in a subdivision built on farm land so we have relatively flat land with good soil. We just put in a pool and are needing a privacy hedge along our 66 ft back fence. We ...
view the full question and answer

Identification of native dogwoods in Williamson Co., TX
March 12, 2007 - Hi Mr/Mrs SmartyPlants What are the small-ish wild trees that are blooming so beautifully now? They are practically covered in pretty white blossoms. I've always called them dogwoods but in the vari...
view the full question and answer

Space between trees from Blythewood SC
April 05, 2013 - I'm planting 4 green giants in a back corner of my yard. I also have a kumquat tree to plant. I have somewhat limited space. What is the minimum spacing between the four green giants and the green gi...
view the full question and answer

Can I make my large pecan trees produce larger nuts?
November 14, 2013 - I have 2 older large pecan trees about 40' tall but the nuts are very small, only about 1 1/2". What can I do to get larger nuts?
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