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Friday - April 01, 2011

From: Washington, DC
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Shrubs
Title: Shrubs for planting under hollies in DC
Answered by: Anne Bossart


I would like shrub suggestions for planting under holly trees. I live in Washington, DC and have 2 very well-established large holly trees (2 story tall trees) in the front of our house, facing north. We have had trouble keeping any shrubs alive under these trees and would appreciate suggestions. We have tried a couple of different dwarf azaleas and rhododendrons with no success. We are looking for dwarf shrubs as this is along the stone wall lining our sidewalk. We currently also have pachysandra, coral bells and liriope growing under the tree with success; the shrubs seem to be the problem. Interesting foliage would be a plus, but at this point, anything that grows is welcome. A large, interesting perennial is an acceptable alternative. Thank you.


Competition for water and nutrients in the soil under your hollies is fierce, as you have already observed, and there is no point in planting shrubs that need to be kept on "life support".

There are some shrubs native to your area that are adapted to dry shade.  You can generate a list of these by visiting our Native Plant database and doing a Combination Search.  Select DC, shrubs and dry & shady conditions.  The list generated has links to detailed plant information that will give you mature sizes.  You can repeat the exercise for herbaceous plants (perennials) if you decide to forego the shrubs (they are less expensive to replace if they don't survive!).

A few from this list that might work for you are:

Ceanothus americanus (New jersey tea)

Gaultheria procumbens (Checkerberry)

Hypericum prolificum (Shrubby st. johnswort)

Mahonia repens (Creeping barberry)

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (Coralberry)

Viburnum acerifolium (Mapleleaf viburnum)

You may have to prune a few of these to keep them within bounds if they get established and thrive.

Ceanothus americanus

Gaultheria procumbens

Hypericum prolificum

Mahonia repens

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus

Viburnum acerifolium





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