17 Plants That Grow Beautifully Under Oak Trees

Are you looking for a few plants to grow underneath your oak trees this season, but aren't quite sure where to start? We've put together a compehensive list of our favorite plants that will grow well under oak trees. We've included plants for every hardiness zone from all different types and classifications.

planting under oak trees

Contents

Thinking about adding some perennials or beautifully blooming shrubs under the oak trees in your yard or garden? Yes, you can add attractive plants under them to improve your garden landscape. Many of the plants you can add will create some additional visual interest with their vivid colors.

But the big question is, what plants should you plant underneath your oak trees? Are there some plants that are more well suited to grow underneath trees than others? Will their roots impede plant growth due to competition for nutrients in the soil?

If you want to figure out what type of plants to grow under your oak trees, you’ve come to the right place. We look at our favorite plants that will grow quite well under any type of oak tree, with names, hardiness zones and pictures of each! Ready to learn more? Let’s dig in!

Azaleas

Rhododendron
Azalea Plants bloom from March to July in a variety of colors and flower shapes from bell-shaped to tubular.
Scientific Name: Rhododendron
  • Plant Type: Evergreen and Deciduous
  • Geographic Origin: North America
  • Plant Size: 1 to 25 feet in height
  • Sun Exposure: Sunny spot with several hours of shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-11

The flowers of Azaleas are either bell-shaped, funnel-shaped, or tubular. Smaller Azaleas have pointed and narrow leaves while the larger variety has bigger leaves with a leathery feel. Rhododendron plants thrive in North America including as far north as Canada and as far south as the tropical climates of Florida.

These plants can grow between a few feet or as tall as 25 feet. The flowers come in a variety of colors including red, yellow, white, pink, and purple. The plants can blossom anywhere from March through July or even later.

Bush Poppy

Dendromecon rigida
Bush Poppy blooms with yellow flowers from late winter to mid-spring.
Scientific Name: Dendromecon rigida
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: California
  • Plant Size: 10 feet in height
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Plant Zone: 4-24

The evergreen plant has finely toothed leaves with a leathery feel. The plant grows up to six feet in two years. The bush poppy plant blooms in late winter through mid-spring. Its flowers are yellow and it can grow two to eight feet in width. Overall, the shape is that of a funnel and you can find it growing in Baja California.

The leaves are thin and long with a blue-green color. The plant produces fruits with smooth brown or black seeds. These bush poppy plants also grow well on rocky clay slopes. The bush poppy also supports butterflies, bees, and other insects.

California Fescue

Festuca californica
California Fescue has narrow and strong leaves.
Scientific Name: Festuca californica
  • Plant Type: Grasses
  • Geographic Origin: California and Oregon
  • Plant Size: 1.3-4 feet in height and 3 feet in width
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun and some shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-9 and 14-24

The California Fescue plant is native to various plant communities in California and Oregon. It has narrow and hardy leaves that can grow rather long. The reproduction cycle of the plant begins at the base of the clump with seeds growing into buds.

The plant is usually meant for revegetating grassland that was previously cleared out. You will see the plants growing at moderate or fast rates. The flowers from the plant are yellow and support both butterflies and moths. These grasses are easy to take care of and require a low amount of watering.

Coral Bells

Heuchera spp
Coral Bells produces bell-shaped flowers that bloom in spring.
Scientific Name: Heuchera spp.
  • Plant Type: Perrenial
  • Geographic Origin: North America
  • Plant Size: 8 to 18 inches in height and 1 to 2 feet in width
  • Sun Exposure: Full or partial sun
  • Plant Zone: 4a-9a

These plants are round in shape with crowns at their base. The bell-shaped flowers bloom in spring or early summer. Hummingbirds and butterflies use these flowers for their nectar. The evergreen or semi-evergreen leaves are round and lobed.

The leaves come in shades of lime green, gold, rose, and purple. The flowers have orange, pink, red, and white colors. You can plant the Coral Bell flowers in late fall or early spring for the best growth. These plants usually survive for several years. If you plant them in full sun, they will need more watering.

Creeping Sage

Salvia sonomensis
Creeping sage is not picky about watering and soil quality.
Scientific Name: Salvia sonomensis
  • Plant Type: Shrub or perennial herb
  • Geographic Origin: California
  • Plant Size: 1.3 feet in height and 5-15 feet in width
  • Sun Exposure: full sun and partial shade
  • Plant Zone: 7, 14-24

You can find the creeping sage plant in the Peninsular Range, Coastal Ranges, and Sierra foothills of California. Salvia is a herbaceous perennial shrub that has stems growing up to 15.75 inches in height. The leaves are hairy and the lower portion has dense, white-colored leaves. The flowers of the plant come in blue, lilac, purple, and white colors.

The plant supports wildlife like hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and other insects. Creeping sage can survive with extremely low watering in a variety of soils.

Deergrass

Muhlenbergia rigens
Deergrass prefers to grow on sandy or gravel soils.
Scientific Name: Muhlenbergia rigens
  • Plant Type: Grasses
  • Geographic Origin: Southwestern United States and areas in Mexico
  • Plant Size: 4-5 feet in height and 4 feet in width
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Plant Zone: 1-3, 6-11, 14-24

The plant has dense foliage with pointed leaves reaching as long as three feet. The leaves range in color from silver-green to purple. When the flowers bloom, the plant grows 5 feet tall. Deergrass is common in oak woodland communities as well as grasslands, mixed conifer, and riparian communities.

The flowers come in yellow or cream colors. Deergrass grows well in sandy or gravelly soils but can handle nearly any well-drained soil. The plant blossoms in the spring and requires weekly watering at the beginning.

Douglas Iris

Iris douglasiana
Douglas Iris produces gorgeous flowers in a variety of colors and prefer to grow in shade.
Scientific Name: Iris douglasiana
  • Plant Type: Perennial herb
  • Geographic Origin: Southern Oregon, California
  • Plant Size: 0.6-2.6 feet in height, 2-4 feet in width
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun, partial sun, and full shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-9, 14-24

The Douglas Iris is a common wildflower that grows at low elevations below 330 feet. You can find it in grasslands near coastal regions. Douglas Iris flowers need rich soils and some shade to properly grow.

The flowers come in a multitude of colors including white, yellow, purple, blue, and pink. The plant needs watering every two to four weeks and grows best at cooler temperatures. The plant supports butterflies and a few varieties of moths, making it one of the ideal plants under oak trees to try.

Flannel Bush

Fremontodendron californicum
Flannel Bush blooms with large yellow flowers, prefers to grow in sunny areas in the garden.
Scientific Name: Fremontodendron californicum
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: California, Arizona
  • Plant Size: 6-20 feet in height, 20 feet in width
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Plant Zone: 4-12, 14-24

The Flannel Bush grows quickly and has small leaves with large, yellow flowers. You can find the evergreen shrub growing in the mountains of the Transverse and Peninsular Ranges as well as the hills of the San Francisco area.

The Flannel Bush plant grows well in sunny areas and well-draining sandy soils. The plant supports wildlife like bees, butterflies, and moths. The plant can survive cold temperatures as low as 20° F.

You will find the plant in southwestern parts of North America at elevations above 1,300 feet. The Flannel Bush grows well in chalky and sandy soils. Its leaves are fuzzy and come in olive to gray-green colors.

Grape Hyacinth

Muscari armeniacum
Grape Hyacinth prefers to grow in well-drained soil and in full sun or partial shade.
Scientific Name: Muscari armeniacum
  • Plant Type: Bulb
  • Geographic Origin: Europe and Asia
  • Plant Size: 6-9 inches in height, 3-6 inches in width
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun, partial shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-8

These small flowering plants are easy to take care of. You can plant them in the fall and expect them to start growing and blossoming in early spring. The plant also produces green seed pods that last into the late summer.

Grape Hyacinth flowers grow well in full sun and can survive in partial shade. You can plant the flower in any well-draining soil. Grape Hyacinth blooms are small and bell-shaped with a dark blue color. The light-green flower stalks can grow up to 8 or 9 inches.

Holly

Ilex aquifolium
Holly produces spiny green leaves and red berries that ripen in autumn.
Scientific Name: Ilex aquifolium
  • Plant Type: Broadleaf evergreen
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern and central United States
  • Plant Size: 15-30 feet in height, 10-20 feet in width
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • Plant Zone: 5-9

The Holly plant grows well in moist and well-drained soils. The leaves commonly come in yellow colors. If Holly grows during the hot summer days, it needs to stay in partial shade. The plant grows in moist woodlands, the periphery of swamps, and forests.

The plant has spiny green leaves and bright, red berries. These berries ripen in the fall and grow through the winter. The green leaves are thick and leathery with small spines. The green and white flowers of Holly bloom from May to June. 

Hostas

Rain Covered Hostas
Hostas can be a great addition to just about any garden space, and do quite well under large trees.
Scientific Name: Hosta
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Size: Variety dependent
  • Bloom Time: Midsummer
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun to partial shade
  • Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Hostas are a shade darling, and with good reason. Some varieties of blue hosta can grow quite well into the deep shade. This means if you have a more mature oak tree that provides lots of shade, hostas can be a perfect fit.

If you have a younger oak tree that allows more sun to get through, you can opt for lighter colored hosta varieties that can tolerate a bit more sun. These popular perennials can survive in a variety of different climates, and do quite well even in colder regions of the world.

Mahonia

Mahonia aquifolium
These shrubs go well with oaks as they prefer to grow in shady places.
Scientific Name: Mahonia aquifolium
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: North and Central America, Asia
  • Plant Size: 3-10 feet in height
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade
  • Plant Zone: 5-9

The shrubs are dense and have beautiful, large foliage. These plants grow well in shady areas, which makes them perfect to plant under oak trees. They are native to woodland regions of North America and have dark blue or black fruits attracting various birds.

The golden-yellow, bell-shaped flowers bloom in the late winter and early spring. These blooms attract butterflies and bees. The Mahonia plants grow slowly and are easy to maintain. You should plant Mahonias in rich, acidic soils including clay, sandy, or loamy soil types.

During the first year, make sure to water them regularly and deeply.

Monkey Flowers

Diplacus aurantiacus
Monkey Flowers produce beautiful flowers in red, white, yellow and orange that attract many pollinators and hummingbirds.
Scientific Name: Diplacus aurantiacus
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Southwestern North America and Baja, Mexico
  • Plant Size: 3.9-5 feet in height
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade, full sun
  • Plant Zone: 4, 5, 7-9, 14-24

Monkey Flowers are flowering, perennial shrubs that grow in Southwestern Oregon, California, and through Baja, Mexico. The flowers come in red, white, orange, and yellow colors while the plant has deep green leaves. Often, the bees and hummingbirds pollinate Monkey Flowers. The plant also attracts moths and other insects.

The best areas for Monkey Flowers to grow include rocky or sandy hillsides, canyon slopes, woodlands, and cliffs. The evergreen shrub does not have any fragrance and can grow at a moderate pace.

Oak Leaf Hydrangea

Hydrangea quercifolia
Oak Leaf Hydrangea has leaves shaped like oak leaves.
Scientific Name: Hydrangea quercifolia
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Southeastern United States
  • Plant Size: 8 feet in height
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun, partial shade
  • Plant Zone: 5a, 5b, 6b, 6a, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a

The Oak Leaf Hydrangea is a deciduous shrub with fuzzy leaves shaped like oak leaves. By late fall, the leaves turn purple and red. White flowers bloom on the plant in the late spring and summer. The Oak Leaf Hydrangea grows best in moist soils with enough mulch to keep the water from evaporating.

During the winters, you should shelter the plant and protect it from harsh elements. The bark on mature plants turns reddish-brown and the plant blooms in May or June.  The Oak Leaf Hydrangea can even grow in sandy soil and dry environments.

Purple Needlegrass

Stipa pulchra
Purple Needlegrass blooms in spring with purple, red and cream flowers.
Scientific Name: Stipa pulchra
  • Plant Type: Grasses
  • Geographic Origin: California and parts of Mexico
  • Plant Size: 3.3 feet in height, 1.5 feet in width
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Plant Zone: 5-9, 11, 14-24

The Purple Needlegrass grows well in oak woodlands and grasslands. As such, planting it underneath an oak tree is a wise choice. You can use clay and serpentine soils when planting these grasses. The long stems can grow as high as 3.3 feet tall while the roots of the plant grow as much as 20 feet deep into the ground.

The Purple Needlegrass blooms in the spring with flowers ranging in color from green and purple to red and cream. The evergreen plant has no fragrance but does attract butterflies, moths, birds, and other insects.

Shooting Star Perennials

Dodecatheon meadia
Shooting Star Perennials produce gorgeous pink, peppery and white flowers in spring.
Scientific Name: Dodecatheon meadia
  • Plant Type: Herbaceous Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Central and eastern North America
  • Plant Size: 9-20 inches in height, 9-12 inches in width
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun
  • Plant Zone: 4-8

The Shooting Star flowers one-inch pink, white, and purple perennial blooms, which you can find commonly in the American prairie. Specifically, the Shooting Star plant grows in moist soils in the woods and on rocky slopes. The plant thrives in the spring and then becomes dormant in the summer.

In cooler climates, the plant grows well under the full sun while more tropical climates require partial sun and shade. Well-draining and sandy loam soils are best for the Shooting Star Perennials.

The plant requires about one inch of watering every week. You won’t need to use any fertilizer for the Shooting Star Perennials and they can survive cold winters without any interventions.

Wild Lilac

Ceanothus
Plant wild lilac bushes around an oak tree in spring to create a great arrangement in your garden.
Scientific Name: Ceanothus
  • Plant Type: Evergreen and deciduous shrubs
  • Geographic Origin: North America
  • Plant Size: 2-20 feet in height
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun and partial shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-9, 14-24

The Wild Lilac flowers will bring a bright blue color when in bloom under your oak trees. There are as many as 50 species of Wild Lilac flowers with most being evergreen while some are deciduous plants. The shrubs can work as free-standing plants or you can have them as border plants that climb walls, around doorways, and fences.

You can plant the shrubs to grow around each oak tree. You should plant these Wild Lilac flowers in the spring. The flower blossoms come in pink, white, and blue colors. You will need to protect these plants from the winter frost and heavy winds. Furthermore, you need to ensure the plant gets plenty of sun exposure but little water, and that it is planted on well-drained soils.

Only newly-planted shrubs need regular, deep watering. Once the plant’s roots have spread and established themselves, it needs little to no water.

Final Thoughts

Now that you’ve read through the guide above, you will know exactly what type of plants perform well under oak trees in your hardiness zone. There are a variety of choices, ranging from ornamental grasses and shrubs to evergreen and deciduous types. Consider planting flowering perennials, bulbs, and other flowering greenery, too.

Some plants will require more maintenance than others. If you love gardening, you can choose the more complex plants that require fertilization and winter protection. However, if you don’t have time to handle these challenges, you can stick to shrubs or grasses to plant underneath your oak tree.

SHARE THIS POST
Two tree canopies with burnished orange and golden yellow leaves intersect under a blue sky.

Trees

21 Trees With Spectacular Fall Color

Do you want to add color to your autumn garden but aren’t quite sure where to start? Many deciduous trees create massive amounts of color in autumn with very little maintenance. Here, gardening expert Melissa Strauss shares 21 of her favorite trees for maximum fall color.

magnolia trees florida

Trees

13 Types of Magnolia Trees For Florida Gardens

Does your Florida garden crave the beautiful blooms of the magnolia tree? With their beautiful and fragrant flowers, it's not tough to see why so many gardeners are drawn to these popular trees. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss walks through the top magnolia varieties you can add to your Florida garden space this season!

yellow magnolias

Trees

11 Different Types of Bright Yellow Magnolia Tree Varieties

Thinking of adding some yellow flowering magnolia trees to your garden this season? There are a few different options to choose from, depending on your hardiness zone. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss looks at some of the most popular yellow flowering magnolia trees.

Bradford pear alternative redbud tree blooming with pink flowers

Trees

17 Trees You Can Plant Instead of Bradford Pears

Are you looking for some trees to plant instead of growing Bradford Pear trees in your garden or home landscape? There are many different options, depending on your hardiness zone. In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen shares her favorite trees you can plant instead of growing the infamously invasive Bradford Pear tree.

small palm trees florida

Trees

17 Small or Dwarf Palm Trees For Home Gardens

Looking for a palm tree in a small package for your yard or garden space? The good news is, there are plenty of different types of dwarf palm trees to pick from! In this article, we look at the most popular small palms for your garden or home landscape!

Arizona Blue Palo Verde Tree in The Desert

Trees

27 Trees For The Hot and Dry Arizona Climate

Looking for trees to plant in your Arizona yard or garden space? Arizona is HOT! So it takes a special type of tree to be able to hold up to some of the hottest temperatures in the entire United States. In this guide, we take a look at some of the best trees to plant in around your home or in your garden, that can withstand some of the hottest climates.