Skip to Content

What To Plant Under Hemlock Trees

Hemlock trees are native trees that you often find in many areas in the U.S. Some homeowners like the presence of hemlock trees in their backyards, but the big shady trees often look bare underneath. If you are looking for some companion plants for your hemlock trees, you're in luck! We've come up with a list of plants that you can put under your hemlock tree.

A full-grown hemlock tree is very tall, which means that companion plants should do well in shady areas. Hemlocks are also a little aggressive and can kill some plant varieties. For this reason, strong hardy plants like Hostas, Sweet Woodruffs, Lily of the Valley, or Ivory Sedge, among other choices. 

We know that there are quite a number of choices that you can plant with your hemlock trees and it is a bit hard to decide on one. Fortunately, we have some great suggestions on the best kinds of plants you can put under your hemlock tree, as well as other companion plants you can add. Keep reading to learn more about them!

Western Hemlock trees growing close together - What To Plant Under Hemlock Trees

What To Plant Under Hemlock Trees

Virgin stand of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) in Rickett's Glen State Park in Pennsylvania. This park contains one of the largest stands of healthy ancient hemlocks.

Traveling around the American Northwest, you might have seen large trees shaped like a pyramid, with gentle drooping branches. They have dark green leaves that are quite delicate, with the tops looking shiny and the underside has a silvery white color. These trees are hemlock trees, four of which are native to the United States.

If you have a hemlock tree in your backyard, you might find that there are very few plants that thrive underneath them. This is because hemlock trees are very big and tall which causes them to shade the area. Most plants need a healthy amount of sun, but with the hemlock trees blocking a lot of this precious light, these plants tend to die.

Since hemlock trees are evergreens, you will find that planting other plants close to them is a struggle. Aside from blocking most of the light, the soil where evergreen trees thrive is quite acidic. This limits the choices of plants that you can grow in this soil. The plants will also be fighting each other for water because evergreens suck a lot of moisture from the ground.

Despite these challenges, there are some hardy plants that can withstand all these conditions. Most of them are groundcover plants that do well in partial shade, although some of them can survive under a fully shaded area. 


Green bush Hosta. Hosta leaves. Beautiful Hosta leaves background. Hosta - an ornamental plant for landscaping park and garden design

Hostas or sometimes called plantain lilies are hardy perennials that thrive in places that do not get a lot of sun. You will often see these plants covering the ground beneath different evergreen trees because they like the shade. These plants are also quite forgiving when it comes to the soil's pH levels, as hostas like the acidic soil where hemlock trees thrive.

They can also be generally left alone and the hostas will still grow fairly well. Hostas come in different varieties, with leaves ranging from lime green, variegated white, or blue-green, all with different shapes. They also bloom beautifully during early summer to early fall, with pretty white, baby blue, light pink, or lavender flowers.

Get hostas root starts on Amazon.

Sweet Woodruff

Virgin stand of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) in Rickett's Glen State Park in Pennsylvania. This park contains one of the largest stands of healthy ancient hemlocks.

If you are looking for ground covers that add fragrance to your yard, then Sweet Woodruffs would be a perfect choice. This ground cover plant has fresh-smelling leaves that have a fragrance that lingers. They also have pretty white flowers nestled in between whorls of star-shaped leaves.

Sweet Woodruff plants love the shade and are pretty hardy because they can survive in dry soil. If you allow them to grow in moist soil, it tends to spread fairly quickly. Since it has invasive tendencies, it would be best to plant sweet woodruffs in areas where you don't mind them taking over the ground completely.

Grab these Sweet Woodruff seeds on Amazon.

Lily of the Valley

Another sweet-smelling plant, Lily of the Valley is a shade-loving ground cover that can survive the ground beneath a hemlock tree. This plant has medium green leaves with small, white flowers that are very fragrant and grow on stems. In the fall, small orange-red berries appear which can be cross-pollinated with other varieties.

While the Lily of the Valley looks delicate, these plants can become dense after some time. While they are nice to plant around hemlock trees, it would be wise to steer clear of them if you have young children or pets who can ingest any part of the plant. It is very poisonous and can lead to death when ingested, so look for alternatives to prevent fatal incidents. 

Ivory Sedge

ivory sedge

A small, slender sedge that is native to North America, the Ivory Sedge is a clump-forming ground cover that spreads gradually from rhizomes. This plant has small, narrow leaves that create spherical-shaped clusters that can grow in dense proportions. 

In the early spring, this plant grows ivory-green flower tufts that sit on top of the clumps. In the wild, the Ivory Sedge grows in conifer and mixed forests, which is why they grow very well beneath the shade of hemlock trees.

Jacob's Ladder 

Polemonium caeruleum, known as Jacob s-ladder or Greek valerian

Jacob's Ladder, otherwise called Polemonium is a low-maintenance plant that thrives well and only needs a bit of trimming. This plant is popular because of its foliage—a dense clump of stems with tiny leaves that make them look like ferns. It has loose clusters of flowers that hang like bells and they come in different colors like white, pink, yellow, or blue shades.

These plants come from the woodland, so they love sitting underneath the shade. When planted with a hemlock tree, the soil should be moist to allow the plant to naturally spread out its cover. Jacob's ladder doesn't require too much maintenance—you can generally leave them alone and trim them from time to time so they don't look overgrown. 

Check out these Jacob's Ladder seeds on Amazon.

What Are The Kinds Of Hemlock Trees?

Western Hemlock trees growing close together and covered with spikemoss in the Hoh Rainforest, part of Olympic National Park on the peninsula of western Washington State, United States.

Some hemlock trees are found in different parts of the U.S. They grow in both the eastern and western parts of the U.S., and they dominate forests and can sometimes be used as a landscape tree. Depending on the location, these evergreen trees grow big and beautiful as they tower over the area where they are.

The western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) can be seen in the Pacific Northwest. You will most likely see them in coastal temperate rainforests and they can thrive even in the densest shades. This particular hemlock tree can also be turned into lumber, and the wood often turns into panelings, floorings, and furniture.

On the other side of the United States, the eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) or Canadian hemlock is the only conifer tree native to the area. They grow big like their relative western hemlocks and they are sometimes used as landscape trees in homes that have very big spaces. It has very beautiful foliage and they look very majestic, making them one of the prettiest conifers in the U.S.

Are There Companion Plants For Hemlock Trees?

While you can plant groundcover plants beneath your hemlock trees, they can also do well with other companion plants. These plants look great as they grow close to the hemlock trees, so your landscape does not look too bare with just the trees out there.

In this particular list, these companion plants grow well with the eastern hemlock as this tree is the one that is commonly seen in many homes.

  • Mountain laurel
  • Sugar maple
  • Canada mayflower
  • Sweet birch
  • Virginian witch hazel
  • Mapleleaf viburnum

How To Care For Hemlock Trees

evergreen coniferous tree hemlock colorful natural background in backlit

Generally speaking, if you want a hemlock tree in your home, you will most likely get Canadian hemlock planted. Landscapers highly suggest that you should get a professional if you want them in your yard because these trees are big. As they continue growing, they can cause problems in your home.

Canadian hemlocks are easy to care for. They are moderate-growing trees that prefer cool, moist, well-draining soil to grow. They like their soil loamy and acidic, a preference for most evergreen trees. Since they have a shallow root system, these hemlock trees would fare better if they have ample wind protection. 

These trees prefer full or part shade, but in the Northern climates where it is cold, hemlocks can thrive in full sun. They only need a fair amount of watering once a week, and the addition of fertilizer once a year.

In Conclusion

Hemlock trees can be beautiful in many backyards with or without plants covering the ground beneath them. These trees can grow pretty big and these evergreen trees look beautiful because of their graceful look. The addition of plants to cover the ground beneath them will make them extra pretty, but the trees themselves look majestic enough as the background to your home.

Are you looking to add evergreen trees to your garden? We have the perfect articles for you:

22 Small Evergreen Trees For Landscaping

When To Transplant Evergreen Trees [And How To]