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?


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
2 ratings

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





More Shrubs Questions

Waxy deposits on Magnolia fuscata from Ethel LA
June 18, 2013 - I have a 4yr old Magnolia Fascata (aka banana shrub)- I noticed that it has small oval shaped yellow waxy deposits on the branches.. I have also noticed small black ants on the branches. The unknown d...
view the full question and answer

Safe grazing for donkeys and goats from Osteen FL
June 30, 2012 - I am having a very difficult time trying to find shrubs, hedges, plants, flowers, or trees etc. that are safe for donkeys and goats. We live in Zone 9 and have a small farm. I've had to pull every ...
view the full question and answer

Spots on leaves of Esperanza from Dallas
May 30, 2012 - Have a new 1 foot high Esperanza. It is flowering OK (so far) but it has small rust colored spots about the size of a B-B all over most of the leaves. On the top side of the leaf the spot is depress...
view the full question and answer

Age at which native agarita produces berries
July 28, 2004 - At what age does agarita produce berries? Is this plant self pollinating?
view the full question and answer

Need a good plant for Clayton, NC.
August 23, 2012 - What would be a good plant for Clayton,NC for this time of year. I would like for it to come back every year so I don't have to replant. I have several full sun areas that I need to cover in the fron...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center