Why Does Nothing Grow Under Pine Trees?

Most plants fail to thrive when they grow under pine trees. What is the cause? Why does nothing grow under pine trees? Pine trees create unfavorable growing conditions. Pines compete for nutrients with other plants and deny them access to ample sunlight, water, and nutrients. Despite the harsh conditions, some plants have a tolerant system and happily grow under a pine tree.

Learn why pine trees are problematic, plants that can tolerate such conditions, and how to make soil under pine trees favorable.

What Unfavorable Conditions Lurk Under Pine Trees?

Pine trees are not the best hosts because they create an environment that limits most plants from growing. Below are conditions that plants have to bear with if they’re to thrive under a pine tree:

Acidic Soil

Pine trees grow in acidic soil with pH levels of 5.5. This differs from most lawn plants requiring a pH of 6.5 and above.

Pine trees often alter the soil’s pH to acid with time. Even if you plant them in alkaline soil, the pH will change to acidic over the years, which isn’t suitable for most lawn plants.

Dense Shade

Pine trees have a dense shade that prevents sunlight from penetrating and reaching plants underneath.

The dense shade prevents rain from soaking the ground, drying out the soil. You can overcome the shade issue by trimming some branches to allow light through.

Nutrients Competition

The competition for water and nutrients between pine trees and other plants is fierce. Pine trees have deep tap roots, but their lateral roots are shallow, about 12 or fewer inches below the ground.

The shallow roots compete with plants under the pine tree for nutrients and water. Most of the time, pine trees win if you don’t compensate for the nutrients.

You can compensate by moderate watering and adding compost.

Pine Needles

Pine needles usually fall to the ground constantly and create a crust-like mat. The mat prevents sunlight from reaching the ground, which is necessary to warm the soil.

If you have young plants under the pine tree, they can be damaged by falling pine needles and have a hard time establishing themselves.

Some pine needles are allelopathic. They release chemicals that prevent the growth of other plants. The release happens when they decompose on the ground.

There’s a myth that pine needles are acidic and increase the soil’s acidity. According to Oregon State University, only fresh attached pines are acidic, with a pH of 3.2 – 3.8.

The acid is not broken down when they fall on the ground. Instead, acidity starts decreasing, and by the time the needles dry out, the acidity is gone or neutralized by microbes.

Plants That Grow Under Pine Trees

Why does nothing grow under pine trees? Actually, some plants grow under pine trees. They don’t mind dense shade and acidic soil, and you won’t need to water them for long.

Here are examples of plants to grow under a pine tree:

Plants That Thrive in Acidic Soil

The soil under pine trees can be neutralized, but it may revert to acidic with time.

If you don’t want to keep changing the soil’s pH, choose plants that won’t have a hard time thriving in acidic soil. Such plants include camellias, hydrangeas, daffodils, and azaleas.

Plants That Prefer Shade

Pine trees have dense shades, blocking sunlight from reaching the ground.

Select plants that can thrive in partial shade, such as primrose, coral bells, foxglove, and Japanese forest grass.

Plants That Require Little Water

Living as a plant under a pine tree means competing with the tree for water. The best option is to go for plants that don’t need constant watering. Examples of plants that thrive with little water include red valerian, bloody geranium, milfoil, and spire.

Perennial Plants

Few annuals grow under pine trees because they require sunlight and don’t grow well in acidic soil.

Perennials are different from annuals. They grow naturally in perennial forests, so they’ll quickly adapt under your pine tree. Examples include hostas, ferns, and Jacob’s ladder.

Ground Covers

When you plant ground cover under your pine tree, the result is a striking foliage carpet. There’re many superb-looking ground covers suitable for acidic soil. 

Examples include wild ginger, sweet woodruff, and bunchberry.

Tolerant Grass

Tolerant grass grows under pine trees even when the conditions are intolerable. Such grass can survive even when pine branches filter sunlight.

Examples of tolerant grass include fescues, centipede, and Bahia.

Tips For Growing Plants Under Pine Trees

As much as you may be asking, “Why does nothing grow on pine trees?” The following tips will increase the growth capacity of plants under a pine tree.

Modify the Soil

Purchase a soil test to check the soil’s pH. You can add lime to raise the pH and make it plant-friendly.

You can also add compost, moss, mulch, or peat to provide nutrients and improve the soil. Soil lacking organic matter is low in fertility and doesn’t retain moisture.

Consider tilling the soil under pine trees to about 6 inches deep before adding nutrients.

Trim Your Pine Tree

You can make your plants’ life more bearable by increasing the sunlight they receive. This is achieved by trimming the tree.

Cut down all the branches below ten feet on your pine trees, then prune the upper ones to allow more sunlight to reach the ground. Don’t cut young trees. You might damage them.

So, Can Anything Grow Under Pine Trees?

Most people who’ve tried to grow plants under pine trees are left wondering in frustration, “Why does nothing grow under pine trees.”

The setbacks are acidic soil, dense shade, nutrient competition, and fallen pine needles that prevent plants from thriving.

Despite the setbacks, you can grow plants that require little sunlight, tolerate acidic soil, and don’t need constant watering.

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