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

Need suggestions for plants for a privacy screen in Long Beach, NY.
August 10, 2011 - I have recently added 1500sq.ft. to my backyard. My backyard faces a busy road. I would like to place native trees and bushes along the fence for added privacy, shade and to protect my house from the...
view the full question and answer

Replanting yaupon in Blanco TX
January 16, 2013 - How do I replant Yaupon in its native area Blanco TX?
view the full question and answer

Native plants for backyard in Michigan
March 12, 2009 - I am an inexperienced gardener but would love to know the best plants/bushes to plant in my backyard. I would love floral and fragrant. I am in Southwest Michigan, near New Buffalo and since this is...
view the full question and answer

Shrub or small tree for hedgerow to block view
November 06, 2007 - For property in the Post Oak Savanah area of Eastern Texas, north of Bryan, Texas, I would like to plant a native hedgerow to block the view of a neighboring property. Ideally this would be a shrub t...
view the full question and answer

Plants for area around pool in Plano, Texas
October 13, 2009 - I just built an in ground pool in Plano, Texas and now want to landscape around it on my own. I am curious what plants/shrubs you recommend. There will be plants/shrubs on three sides of the pool. ...
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.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center