13 Best Plants to Grow with Rhododendrons

If you love rhododendrons, you may wonder what other plants pair well with them. We’ve selected 13 ideal species to grow alongside small and giant rhododendrons. Read on with Jerad Bryant and discover which companion plants work best for your garden.

Coleus plants feature dark violet leaves with distinct green edges, showcasing a striking contrast.

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Embrace the enchanting allure of rhododendrons—their bright flower clusters and symmetrically arranged leaves make a stunning statement. In the spring, rhododendron flowers pop shiny white, light pink, and deep purple colors. Their leaves range from deep green to brown, with some types displaying a fuzzy coating on the underside, overside, or both sides.

Over 800 rhododendron species exist with varied colors, styles, and sizes; this allows for a wide range of expert pairings. In the Pacific Northwest, an iconic duo is the sword fern and western azalea. You’ll find this combo in wild and natural spaces; it creates a forest understory habitat.

No matter what region you’re in, there are rhododendron companions for you. This list includes native and nonnative noninvasive species that behave well with others. Use a mix of two or three to offer a blend of pollen, nectar, and seeds to surrounding wildlife. A mix also creates a delightfully natural appearance in cultivated spaces. 

A note on propagation: rhododendrons prefer slightly acidic, organic, well-drained soil. They naturally grow in broken-down tree duff and leaves. Amend alkaline, clay, or sandy soil ahead of planting. Use a ratio of 50% organic matter, 30% native soil, and 20% sand. This aerated mixture allows alkaline salts to drain and creates an airy home for the fine-haired rhododendron roots. 

The following companions also prefer well-drained, organic soil. They thrive with part shade or dappled sunlight, organically rich soil, and average drainage. Without further ado, here are 13 of the best plants to grow with rhododendrons

False Solomon’s Seal

 A False Solomon's seal plant stands out against a blurred background of lush greenery.
This plant spreads quickly underground with its rhizomes.
botanical-name botanical name Maianthemum racemosum 
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial shade
height height 1-3’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

You may have heard of Solomon’s seal, but what about false Solomon’s seal? This arching lookalike is just as pretty as its namesake and is native to North America. White flower clusters erupt at each stem’s tip and attract dozens of pollinators. In autumn, the flowers form red berries that mammals and birds favor.

Each year, false Solomon’s seal creeps underground with its rhizomes. New sprouts emerge when temperatures warm in spring. Plant a few underneath tall rhododendrons, and they’ll quickly claim their territory, or allow it to roam free around smaller azaleas. 

Carpet Bugle

bright purple ajuga flowers growing in a shady spot
Hardy ajuga provides a beautiful ground cover but can be aggressive.
botanical-name botanical name Ajuga reptans
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 4-6”
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-10

This low-growing spreader creeps underneath the plants above it. It forms a ground cover and will crawl into lawns and open spaces. In spring, blue-purple flower spikes emerge that bees and flies frequently visit. 

For white flowers, try ‘Alba.’ ‘Burgundy Lace’ is my favorite variety; its purple, white, and green leaves offer an alluring background to the brown bark of rhododendrons. 

This plant can be invasive in certain states and counties. Limit its spread by cutting spent flowers—remove runners before they spread outside your yard. Cultivate this plant with seeds, runners, or transplants. Sow them in fall or spring and keep the soil moist as they establish themselves. 

Blue Star Creeper

Blue star creeper plant featuring lush green foliage interspersed with petite blue flowers.
This requires vigilant removal to prevent establishment.
botanical-name botanical name Pratia pedunculata
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 2-3”
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 6-8

Similar to carpet bugle, blue star creeper forms lush mats of foliage low to the ground. It is native to Australia and forms small half-inch leaves. This semi-evergreen plant blooms white-blue flowers no higher than three inches

One notable cultivar is ‘County Park’, with darker, bluer flowers than the species kind. It spreads by seed and runners and quickly creates lush green carpets on bare soil. Prevent its spread by pulling runners and seedlings before they establish themselves.

My friend let me dig out some blue star creeper from her yard to transplant into my garden. In a year, it spread and filled all the pockets where nothing grew. Find seeds or potted plants at garden retailers, or from a gardening friend. Sow them in spring and keep the soil moist; they’ll claim the space below your rhododendrons in no time!

White Hardy Fuchsia

A close-up of a white hardy fuchsia branch adorned with green leaves and delicate pink flowers.
The white hardy fuchsias can grow up to ten feet tall.
botanical-name botanical name Fuchsia magellanica ‘Alba’
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial shade
height height 5-10’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 7-10

This isn’t your average fuchsia. Cold-hardy, vigorous, and decorated in lacey white flowers, this variety shines alongside rhododendrons. It is native to Chile and Argentina, although it thrives throughout North America with mild weather.

White hardy fuchsias reach ten feet tall in frost-free areas! They’ll stop growing around five to six feet tall in areas with winter chill, like the Pacific Northwest or the East Coast. Pair them with high-growing rhododendron species, or prune them to keep them small. Find this variety online or at a nursery near you. 

Strawberry Begonia

A strawberry begonia plant with fuzzy leaves, thriving in a ground covered with dried twigs.
Its cultivars add striking leaf colors to gardens.
botanical-name botanical name Saxifraga stolonifera 
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 6-24”
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 6-10

Strawberry begonia appreciates the damp, cool conditions found under the shade of azaleas and rhododendrons. It spreads like a strawberry, sending out tendril-like runners that sprout new clumps as they touch the soil. White flowers cluster atop the clumps and form a pleasing display. 

Try the species kind or a funky cultivar. ‘Maroon Beauty’ creates leaves with deep maroon shaded undersides and red patches on their tops. ‘Harvest Moon’ sprouts yellow leaves that work well with purple and pink flowered rhododendrons. 

Start this plant in your garden with transplants or runners from a friend. Bury their roots in the soil in early spring. They’ll spread throughout the area by autumn if they have consistent water

Brunnera 

Brunnera leaves showing pale green surfaces with intricate, vibrant veins running through them.
This shines at dawn and dusk with its silver-green variegated foliage.
botanical-name botanical name Brunnera macrophylla 
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial shade
height height 18”
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-8

A lovely woodland perennial with forget-me-not-like flowers, brunnera graces the garden with its presence. After the flower show, green heart-shaped leaves sprout out from its center. With time, this eastern European native plant spreads through clumps and seeds underneath rhododendrons

‘Jack Frost’ is a choice variety with silver-green variegated foliage. The four-inch wide leaves shine at dawn and dusk, making this variety an excellent choice in a moon garden. Sow seeds during fall, or plant mature specimens in early spring. 

Golden Coltsfoot

Golden coltsfoot plant with deeply lobed leaves resembling stars, illuminated by sunlight.
Ensure ample organic-rich soil and consistent watering for optimal growth.
botanical-name botanical name Petasites frigidus var. palmatus ‘Golden Palms’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 12-20”
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 6-10

Want to add North American native plants to your landscape? Golden coltsfoot is a great choice to start with. Hardy and low maintenance, this yellow selection of the perennial ground cover spreads with ease in rich soil. It sprouts large, yellow leaves divided like a hand, and it blooms white fuzzy flower clusters in late winter to early spring.

Give this variety a soil rich in organic matter, regular water, and room to spread. It will form a beautiful layer of foliage that balances well around deciduous and evergreen rhododendrons. 

Wild Ginger

A close-up of wild ginger leaves amidst a backdrop of dried twigs.
This serves as an ornamental beauty beneath the shade of a rhododendron.
botanical-name botanical name Asarum sp.
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 6-8”
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-8

Three main species of wild ginger claim North America as their home:

  • Asarum canadense
  • Asarum caudatum
  • Asarum shuttleworthii

These hardy groundcovers grow green leaves that resemble kidneys in shape. On the East Coast, deciduous Asarum canadense thrives despite the freezing winters common there. In alpine forested areas try the Appalachian native Asarum shuttleworthii. West Coast gardeners can select from all three types—they need consistent moisture, shade, and organically rich soil to perform perennially.

Although this plant smells like ginger, it is not the culinary type. Use it as an ornamental beauty beneath the shade of a rhododendron. Plant transplants in early spring, and keep them well watered throughout summer.

Coleus

A close-up of green coleus leaves featuring deep purple veins and finely serrated edges.
Propagate cuttings indoors in autumn to preserve this fleshy shrub.
botanical-name botanical name Solenostemon scutellarioides
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial shade
height height 1-3’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 1-13 as annual, 10-11 as perennial

Coleus is a delightful little shrub with plenty of varieties to choose from. These plants grace the shelves of big box retailers every year. Purple, white-green, purple-green-pink, and lacey foliage cultivars exist, offering many design choices to match rhododendron colors.

Treat this fleshy shrub as an annual where frosts are common in winter. To keep a cultivar, take cuttings in autumn and bring them indoors. Root them in water or soil and give them indirect light. By spring, you’ll have adult plants ready for transplanting.

Aaron’s Beard

Yellow Aaron's beard flowers, vibrant against a backdrop of green foliage, bask in sunlight.
Transplant this in fall or spring and ensure they are well-watered.
botanical-name botanical name Hypericum calycinum 
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 1’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-10

Vigorous and hardy, Aaron’s beard competes with other vegetation and keeps weeds at bay. It sprouts perennial stems with green to yellow foliage. On top of each stem blooms three-inch wide yellow flowers resembling St. John’s wort, this plant’s cousin.

Transplant this ground cover during fall or spring. Keep them well-watered, and let them roam underneath your rhododendrons and azaleas. Remove unruly stems by digging them up at their base. If your neighbors want the runners, gift them!

Large Leaf Avens

A close-up of small yellow Large Leaf Avens flowers and leaves, contrasted against a softly blurred greenery backdrop.
This plant forms a low-growing rosette of green leaves in spring.
botanical-name botanical name Geum macrophyllum
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 1-2’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-10

Native to North America, this hardy perennial thrives in many different conditions. It is drought tolerant, although it’ll grow its best with regular moisture and nutritious soil. Rhododendrons are a perfect match; they provide the same conditions that large leaf avens appreciate.

In spring it grows close to the ground and forms a rosette of green leaves. By early spring the rosettes extend flowering stalks with further divided foliage. At the tips sprout bright yellow flowers that attract local pollinators. Sow seeds in late summer to early fall, and let the plant naturally germinate in the spring.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit

A Jack-in-the-Pulpit plant with leaves surrounding a distinctive pitcher-like flower.
The Jack-in-the-Pulpit produces a two-foot-tall flower structure with pitcher-like blooms.
botanical-name botanical name Arisaema triphyllum 
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 2’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-9

An unusual perennial native to North America, Jack-in-the-pulpit adds charm wherever it lies. It grows underneath tree canopies in well-drained organic soil and slowly spreads through tubers and seeds

This species has tri-lobed leaves at its base and sends up a two-foot-tall flower structure. The blooms resemble pitcher plants, and their hoods conceal the purple fleshy flower spike. Plant it in fall or spring, and amend the soil continuously with compost or organic mulch. 

There are other types with different colors and patterns. ‘Black Jack has black tinted foliage, and ‘Starburst’ sprouts leaves with silver-white veins. Try a few and find which works best for you!

Christmas Fern

Lush Christmas ferns with vibrant green fronds and delicate, arching stems.
Cultivate Christmas ferns by providing moist soil and partial to full shade.
botanical-name botanical name Polystichum acrostichoides 
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 1-2’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

Christmas ferns survive cooler temperatures than their cousins, the sword ferns. They’re both in the Polystichum genus and are evergreen ferns that sprout on shaded forest floors. The Christmas fern’s dark green fronds unravel to a little over a foot tall in late winter to early spring. With time, this fern creates a clump three feet wide.

Give Christmas ferns moist soil, cool winters, and partial to full shade. Arrange a few asymmetrically underneath a tall tree-type rhododendron and watch as they unfurl their fronds. They also work well alongside dwarf types and small azaleas; they provide a lush barrier between different cultivars

Grow this fern from spores by sprinkling them on the preferred area. Keep the soil moist, and wait up to three months for germination. In a rush? Find potted plants online or at your local nursery. Polystichum ferns are the most widely cultivated of all ferns and are readily available throughout North America.

Final Thoughts

Rhododendrons are a favorite of established and new gardeners alike. They are wonderful shrubs to plant for new homeowners, as you are lucky to watch them grow gnarled and tall with age. These 13 companions ensure no bare soil remains, and they’ll add texture, contrast, and color to the garden. Try one today for endless flowers and foliage! 

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