Why Does Nothing Grow Under Pine Trees?

When it comes to growing flowers, shrubs, and other greenery to help add some vibrancy to their lawn, many gardeners encounter issues growing plants under pine trees. It seems that, no matter what they do, they can’t get any plants to grow well under these species. However, why does nothing grow under pine trees?

Most plants don’t grow under pine trees because there’s not enough sunlight, water, and nutrients for them to receive. Moreover, the soil is highly acidic. However, some plants can still grow under pine trees, but these are relatively rare and need to be able to withstand these adverse conditions. 

Pine trees have often been romanticized in our culture, and for those who live in an area where pine trees don’t grow naturally, the idea of growing a pine tree in your backyard can be pretty exciting. Read on to learn more about why plants have a hard time growing under pine trees, including what plants you can grow successfully, how you can improve growing conditions, and how you can prevent a pine tree from harming plants growing in its vicinity.

Plant Growth Difficulties Under Pine Trees

If you’ve ever taken a hike through the woods, you’ve likely encountered the needles of a tall pine tree. The trees are unmistakable. With their evergreen needles and pleasant smell, pine trees are a favorite of many. When it comes to growing pine trees, many people don’t seem to face serious issues. Where larger problems do occur, however, is when gardeners try to grow plants below pine trees. For some reason, nothing seems to grow.

There’s a number of reasons why plants don’t seem to grow well underneath pine trees. The first issue many pine trees produce for plants growing below them is that they block out a lot of sunlight. Pine trees are very tall, and their branches reach far. Plants need sunlight in order to photosynthesize and create the energy they need to grow. The shade that pine trees provide is often too intense for plants to be able to grow in.

Another issue plants encounter when growing underneath pine trees is that they have a hard time fighting for the nutrients and water in the ground. Pine trees have massive root systems, with some trees reaching between 35 and 75 feet (10.5 and 23 meters) below ground. These root systems are well-trained to absorb any nutrients or water that might exist in the soil. When plants try to grow under pine trees, they often can’t compete for nutrients and eventually die.

Finally, plants sometimes have a hard time growing below pine trees because the soil is highly acidic. Pine trees don’t normally increase soil acidity, but they can if they have been planted in one spot for a long time. Many plants can’t survive the high acidity and die, or don’t grow, as a result. For more information on soil acidity from pine trees, check out this article: Do Evergreens Make Soil More Acidic

Plants To Grow Under Pine Trees

Since pine trees impose both lighting and nutrient issues for plants that want to grow below them, many of the plants that try and grow under pine trees will die, or will never sprout in the first place. Even if you can find a plant that grows well in acidic soil or without a lot of sunlight, it might still need a lot of nutrients. For a plant to grow well under a pine tree, it needs to meet all of these conditions. 

While few plants do this well, there are some varieties that can succeed in these conditions. Perennial plants growing in acidic soil are a great example. Columbine flowers, rhododendrons, certain lilies, and hydrangeas all grow well under pine trees. These plants might need to receive extra watering and fertilizer to ensure that they get all of the nutrients they need, but generally speaking, these will do well under these circumstances.

There’s also a number of shrubs and bushes that do incredibly well growing under pine trees. Creeping phlox, Bearberries, Chokeberries, and Blueberries all grow well under pine trees. Most berry plants will also do well under pine trees, as they’re not exposed directly to the sun and like acidic soil. However, since pine trees provide a great shelter for animals, you might have to compete for any of the berries you want to grow!

Other plants that are less prepared for acidic soil or shade can survive under pine trees but might not be able to thrive. Grass, for example, can grow underneath pine trees, but it might need extra care in order to do so.

Improving Growing Conditions Under Pine Trees

Now that we understand why many plants have a hard time growing under pine trees and which species do well in these conditions, it’s important to consider how you might be able to improve growing conditions for plants under pine trees. Since pine trees are often very big, there isn’t a lot that can be done to improve certain issues, but steps can be taken to make the growing conditions more hospitable.

Many plants don’t like soil that is too acidic or too basic. Plants like soil that is relatively neutral on the pH scale. Though they can tolerate higher and lower levels of pH if necessary, it’s generally best to keep the soil as neutral as possible. Under pine trees, this often means adding a substance to make the soil less acidic. To do so, apply some sort of soil supplement that includes lime. This will help lower acidity levels.

You can also improve growing conditions for plants under pine trees by adding more nutrients and water to the soil. Since pine trees are so good at absorbing these materials, there’s a chance you’ll see growth in your pine tree, but you’ll also see growth in the plants under the pine tree as there is less competition for important nutrients.

Finally, try raking the area around pine trees or trimming the pine tree back so that plants have better access to sunlight. When fewer obstacles are in the way of light, they often do better. This matters most for plants that are just beginning to sprout but can help older plants too.

Preventing Harm To Plants Near Pine Trees

Now that we understand how to improve growing conditions, it’s important to consider how we can prevent plants that already exist from being damaged by pine tree growth. Just like some plants have a hard time growing under a pine tree, others can be damaged by having a pine tree growing nearby. Let’s take a deeper look at how we can prevent pine trees from harming nearby plants. 

One way pine trees can harm pre-existing plants is by growing roots into the root systems of other plants and sucking out the nutrients these plants need to survive. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to prevent plants from being affected by this issue. 

Some gardeners try adding a wall of the stone underground to prevent roots from interfering with plant growth, while others will dig underground boxes to plant their plants in. These can both be effective methods.

Another way to prevent plants from being harmed by nearby pine trees is by adding a high amount of fertilizer where the pine tree is planted but nowhere else. Doing so can prevent the pine tree from extending into other areas in search of nutrients. 

Finally, you can try pruning a pine tree so it doesn’t grow near other plants. If you frequently prune one area around a pine tree, eventually, it will stop growing. Prune the parts of the pine tree growing near other plants to prevent the latter from dying.


Though it can definitely be difficult to grow plants under pine trees, it’s not impossible. Plants growing under pine trees often face challenges due to acidic soil, low amounts of nutrients and water, and not enough sunlight. Planting plants that can thrive in these conditions is the best way to encourage plant life underneath a pine tree.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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