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The Advantages of Underplanting

January 11, 2017

flower pot with flower with words guide to underplanting

Underplanting is the act of cultivating the ground beneath a bigger plant using smaller plants. When done correctly, it’s a gardening method that offers a lot of benefits for both the “host” and the “guest” plants. If you’re sitting on the (garden) fence about underplanting, read on to learn more about its advantages and decide if it’s something you want to adapt.

The plants look more natural.

Nearly everybody loves a well-manicured lawn and immaculately trimmed hedges and shrubs. However, a forest is also beautiful, and it is where underplanting naturally occurs. Shade-loving plants and herbs take full benefit of the canopies of bigger plants and trees. You can choose from grass or moss, to ferns and blooms, through to large shrubs for underplanting beneath established trees. There are many options depending on the size of your garden, the upkeep you are willing to do, and the overall look and feel you want to project.

flowers in a garden


There are many shade-loving plants to choose from.

Many kinds of perennials can thrive in most states, though it’s best to research first on your frost zone, soil quality, light and moisture conditions, and the available plants that are ideal for underplanting in your area. A lot of plants are “communal” - they nourish each other with their proximity, and reach their full potential by growing together. However, care must be taken to select plants that will not compete with each other for moisture and nourishment.

When deciding on the family of plants you want to grow, consider all-season ones for easier maintenance. Highly adaptable plants are root tolerant, like the colorful Epimedium which hardly stops blossoming through the seasons. Hydrangeas are gorgeous flowering plants by themselves, so if you want the look of an English garden, consider planting leafy shrubs like hosta plants beneath and around them. Many woodland plants are shade-tolerant and therefore ideal for underplanting like azaleas, yew, impatiens, pansies, and hollies.

Maintenance is easier.

Speaking of upkeep, maintaining an underplanted garden is much easier compared to caring for individual trees and plants in an open lawn or landscaping. Topiaries, bushes, shrubs, and other plants that are spaced apart require trimming, pruning, fertilizing, weeding, mulching, leaf-blowing, and other exhausting gardening activities that take time, effort, money, and patience for them to look consistently presentable.

With underplanting, perennials and other shade-tolerant plants do not need all the abovementioned treatment all the time. Many are fast-growing and can cover bare ground in a small amount of time, with minimal supervision. This doesn’t mean that you should end up with a tangle of undergrowth, though. Mulching is a must to keep moisture and nutrients in the soil and roots where they are needed most. This is especially important for underplanting because the soil beneath trees tend to be dry. Leafy and twiggy plants need regular pruning while being allowed to reach their full height.

planting on the wall


It is less expensive than traditional “open” gardening.

Because the plants are left more or less to their own devices, there are fewer activities, materials, and expenses involved in underplanting. It’s not uncommon to find lush vegetation underneath bigger trees and plants. Mossy ground covers thrive in shade, while hardy yet colorful annual plants like pansies are tough enough to withstand most conditions without compromising their color and texture.

Since the plants are taking full advantage of the shade provided by bigger trees in your garden, so can you - for free. You won’t have to invest in man-made canopies or garden umbrellas to have a picnic in the grass, surrounded by the scent of blooms and dappled by filtered sunlight. Underplanting allows you to have an enchanting wonderland as nature intended it to be right in your own garden.