Sycamore trees are known for their fast growth, massive height, and huge leaves. This stately giant stands out all on its own, but a little landscaping beneath can make this tree the centerpiece of your yard!
The best plants to plant under your sycamore tree will be those that are both shade- and drought tolerant to some degree. Some of the best plants include jasmine, barrenwort, azalea, ferns, brunnera, Solomon’s seal, hellebores, and meadow rue.
Below, we’ll go over the BEST plants to plant under your sycamore tree. We’ll also give you some growing tips so you can be sure your plants will thrive beneath your sycamore tree.
Can You Grow Plants Under Your Sycamore Tree?
Before we get started, let’s answer one important question: is it even possible to grow something beneath your sycamore tree?
These giants are likely to throw a lot of shade and they prefer to grow in moist, organically rich soil. And such a large tree is going to use a lot of nutrients. Will there be any left for your smaller landscape plants?
Yes! It’s possible to grow plants under your sycamore tree. Your options will be slightly limited due to the growing conditions, but there is still plenty of variety to choose from.
However, you won’t be able to just choose any shade plant and throw it under your sycamore tree with fingers crossed. Careful selection is key, and we’ll be here to help you along the way!
How To Grow Plants Under Your Sycamore Tree
If you want to grow plants under your sycamore tree, you’re going to run into a few challenges associated with the conditions beneath the tree.
Shade is one thing, but you should also take into consideration the soil conditions, moisture level, and nutrient requirements before choosing a plant to put under your sycamore tree.
Choose The Right Location For Your Plants
Landscaping beneath sycamore trees isn’t as easy as landscaping beneath some of the smaller variety of trees.
There’s a lot of space under your sycamore tree! According to the University of Kentucky, American sycamore trees typically reach 70 to 100 feet in height with a spread of around 70 feet.
And it doesn’t take sycamores long to become large specimens. Under the right conditions, sycamores can reach 10 feet after their first year of growth.
So, where to put your landscape plants?
In general, landscaping beneath a tree occurs in a circle around the trunk. Sycamore trunks can grow very large in diameter. If your sycamore is young, be sure to place your plants far enough away that the trunk has room to grow.
Another issue with location is the amount of sun that gets through the canopy. Depending on the shade tolerance of your chosen plants, you may want to place them in a location that receives more or less sun.
If you ever need to OR are thinking about it, take a look at our guide on the reasons to cut down your sycamore tree here!
Choose A Plant With Similar Requirements
Sycamore trees may prefer moist organic soils, but we can’t always get what we want, right? Depending on where you live, your sycamore may be planted in sand, clay, loam, or who knows what!
Sycamores are tolerant of a variety of soil conditions.
In fact, according to an article in the Journal of Forests, sycamores are one of the first trees to reestablish disturbed soils such as reclaimed coal mines. Even in these poor conditions, sycamores grow fast!
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if your sycamore is growing in less-than-ideal conditions.
Wherever your sycamore is growing, it’s best to get an understanding of what type of soil it’s growing in so you can choose a good companion plant to place beneath it. If you’re not sure, go for a plant that can tolerate a variety of conditions just like your sycamore.
Another requirement you’ll want to pay attention to is the hardiness of your chosen plant. Sycamores are hardy to zone 4.
There are only a few places in the US where sycamores can’t grow such as the northern regions of Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, as well as the extreme northeast. The plant under your sycamore will need to be able to survive in whatever hardiness zone your sycamore is in.
Give Your Plants Enough Water And Nutrients
Sycamore trees require a lot of water to keep their foliage green, their branches growing, and the roots stable.
Planting something beneath your sycamore tree means that it now has to compete with those plants for water and nutrients.
Typically, when sycamore trees are mature they do not require watering and can get enough water from natural rain and what’s available in the water table. However, your landscape plants may struggle to find enough water and nutrients to thrive.
The good news is that this can easily be combatted by watering your newly planted landscape plants and providing them with fertilizer when necessary.
Watch for signs of water stress for both your chosen plants and your sycamore tree. For sycamores, yellowing leaves indicate a lack of water, which means your plants probably aren’t getting enough water either.
It is important that you choose the right plants to go under your sycamore however, as some can impede its growth or even cause damage.
In addition to water and nutrients, some plants also have specific pH requirements. Normally, trees like acidic soil for a few reasons, so you may want to look for plants with similar pH needs.
Don’t worry, we’ll go over the specific requirements of each plant below so you can be sure they’ll thrive beneath your stately giant sycamore tree.
The Best Plants To Plant Under Your Sycamore Tree
When it comes to planting under your sycamore tree, you’ll want a plant that requires minimal water and nutrients and doesn’t mind a bit of dappled shade.
You have plenty of plants to choose from, all with differing flowers, bloom times, and care requirements so you can find a plant that fits your specific situation.
Star jasmine, also known as Confederate jasmine, is well-known for having fragrant, star-shaped flowers. Despite the name, star jasmine is not a true jasmine plant.
These evergreens are considered vines and can be grown in two different ways:
- As groundcover
- As a vine
According to Clemson University, when grown as a vine, this beauty can reach up to 20 feet. As a groundcover plant, it will only reach 1 or 2 feet in height but will have a spread of up to 5 feet.
You can get creative with star jasmine if you want to grow it as a vine beneath your sycamore tree. Otherwise, it makes a great groundcover plant to help control weeds. Just be aware it is a fast grower and will need pruning if you want to keep it small.
Star jasmine is hardy only to zone 8, so this is a better companion plant for sycamores if you live in warmer climates.
Sun: The more sun star jasmine gets, the more flowers it will produce. However, star jasmine can grow in partial shade as well.
Water: Star jasmine is drought-tolerant but prefers to be watered once a week. This may need to increase if there is a drought or the weather is extremely hot.
Blooming: Star jasmine will bloom in early spring and summer.
Soil: Well-drained soils are best for star jasmine. Otherwise, they aren’t picky.
This easy-to-care-for perennial shrub is a great choice to plant under your sycamore tree. It’s deer resistant, non-invasive, and requires little maintenance. What’s not to love?!
Barrenwort thrives in hardiness zones 4 through 8, similar to sycamore trees. They can tolerate a variety of soil conditions. According to Cornell University, they can easily be planted where moisture competition is high, such as beneath a sycamore tree.
Depending on the variety, barrenwort will produce pink, purple, white, or yellow flowers. They only grow to 1-2 feet with a similar spread.
Barrenwort is a good choice if you want a smaller plant that won’t take over the entire space under your sycamore tree.
Sun: part to full shade.
Water: Water your barrenwort when the soil becomes dry.
Blooming: You can expect your barrenwort to flower in mid-spring
Soil: Barrenwort prefers well-drained soil with organic material. If you don’t feel your soil has enough organic material, consider adding something like Eden’s Best 100% Organic Earthworm Castings to the soil.
The good thing about sycamore trees is that they shed their giant leaves in the fall, providing the soil with plenty of organic material. However, if you rake your leaves and do not allow them to decompose, you’ll want to use a soil amendment like the worm castings listed above.
Another fragrant flowering plant, dwarf azaleas are the mini version of full-grown azaleas. They are sometimes referred to as coastal azaleas as well.
Dwarf azaleas reach a height of around 3 feet and are hardy from zones 3 through 9. The large, showy flowers of dwarf azalea come in many different colors depending on the variety. These flowers also attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.
Like sycamore trees, dwarf azaleas can tolerate various soil conditions and don’t mind being a little wet or a little dry. However, they do prefer acidic soils.
Sycamore trees can survive in acidic, alkaline, or neutral PH. If your azalea doesn’t seem to be blooming, it may be because the soil to too alkaline. Consider adding an acidic fertilizer such as Down To Earth’s All Natural Acid Mix Fertilizer.
This will help your azaleas thrive and won’t harm your sycamore tree.
Sun: Full sun to partial shade. Try to place your azaleas in an area under your sycamore that gets at least 2 hours of direct sun.
Water: Best practice is to water your dwarf azaleas about once a week unless your area has received heavy rainfall.
Blooming: spring or summer depending on the variety.
Soil: As previously mentioned, dwarf azaleas can tolerate various soil conditions but require acidic soil to bloom well.
Christmas ferns may not have showy, colorful flowers, but they provide you with evergreen foliage year-round.
This low-maintenance fern grows to a maximum of 1 ½ feet, making it a good choice if you want a smaller plant beneath your sycamore tree. Christmas ferns can grow in hardiness zones 3 through 9.
During the winter, don’t be surprised if the leaves of your fern appear droopy. According to a thesis paper from Appalachian State University, this is the plant’s way of surviving the winter so it can continue to photosynthesize on warm winter days.
Sun: They are happiest when grown in part to full shade, but will tolerate sun
Water: Water your Christmas fern once a week unless your area receives a heavy downpour.
Blooming: Christmas fern flowers are inconspicuous, so don’t expect a big show in the spring. These tiny flowers will bloom in late spring.
Soil: Like Barrenwort, Christmas ferns prefer soil that is high in organic material. Consider saving some of the fallen leaves of your sycamore tree, shredding them, and placing them around your Christmas fern for an organic (and free!) fertilizer.
Solomon’s seal refers to a large group of around 60 species of perennial flowers. They are part of the lily family. Only a few of the species are grown as ornamentals, the rest grow in the wild.
As an ornamental, Solomon’s seal produces green or cream-colored flowers. Depending on the variety, the flowers may droop or be egg-shaped.
According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Solomon’s Seal will thrive in challenging areas such as near tree roots or dry, shady areas. This makes them PERFECT for planting under your sycamore tree.
Solomon’s seal grows in hardiness zones 3 through 9. Depending on the variety, they may grow up to 7 feet tall or be as small as just 8 inches, so make sure you grab a variety that fits your intended plant height.
You can grow Solomon’s seal from seed, but it is easier to buy them in pots from a garden center. These pair great with ferns, so try planting Solomon’s Seal next to your Christmas fern!
Sun: Partial to full shade.
Water: Keep the soil of your Solomon’s seal moist but not soggy.
Blooming: Solomon’s seal is more often grown for its attractive foliage, but you can expect the small drooping flowers to show up in the spring.
Soil: Well-drained soils. This is another plant you can use the fallen leaves of your sycamore to fertilize to provide extra organic material.
Also known as false forget-me-nots, brunneras have attractive foliage and small, dainty blue flowers. The leaves range in color depending on the variety but can be green, gray, silver, or white.
These perennial plants are considered mounding and will typically reach a height of only 1 to 2 feet. As they grow, they will become ground cover plants but do not grow very fast.
Brunnera will grow in hardiness zones 3 through 8. It is low maintenance and requires almost nothing except a drink or two when conditions are dry.
Brunneras are a good choice if you want to plant a variety of flowers under your sycamore tree. They pair well with ferns and other shade-tolerant flowers that will explode with color in the spring.
They’re also a great choice for someone whose thumb isn’t so green. Brunnera is probably the easiest plant on our list to take care of.
Sun: partial shade
Water: Water only during dry conditions. Otherwise, natural rainwater will suffice. If you use a mulching material, watering is seldom necessary.
Blooming: Brunnera will bloom mid-spring. They produce a large amount of small, pale-blue flowers that last for about a month.
Soil: Brunnera prefers well-draining soil, but can grow in clay soils as well. Adding shredded sycamore leaves to the soil will improve the soil’s organic content, making your brunnera plant very happy.
If you’re looking for something that adds a splash of color early in the season, go for the hellebore plant! They are the earliest bloomers on our list and present a wide variety of spectacular colors.
Hellebores are evergreen perennials. Their hardiness depends on the variety, but most can survive to hardiness zone 4 or 5. You can expect your hellebore to reach about 2 feet at maximum height.
This is another plant that boasts very fragrant flowers. The flowers can range from whites and yellows to pinks and purples.
Hellebores do well when planted with other early-blooming perennials. But they can also be planted alone or with other hellebore plants.
Sun: Hellebore does best in partial shade.
Water: Once established, hellebores are semi-drought-tolerant. However, when first planting, be sure to provide enough water to keep the soil evenly moist.
Blooming: Later winter to early spring.
Soil: Hellebores aren’t too picky about the soil type as long as it is well-draining.
A member of the buttercup family, meadow rue is a perennial and has many variations within the species.
Meadow rue has small white, yellow, or purple flowers. These subtle plants will not WOW you with their blooms. The attractiveness comes from the foliage, not the flowers.
Meadow rue is a slow-growing flower that can take a few years to establish and begin flowering if grown from seed. Alternatively, you can buy them as potted plants from a garden center.
These hardy plants can be grown to hardiness zone 5 and prefer dappled shade. The size of meadow rue varies with the species, but you can expect them to grow anywhere from 1 to 6 feet.
If you decide to grow the taller varieties, try to plant at least two plants together. This way, they can support each other in their growth as taller varieties usually require stakes otherwise.
Sun: partial shade or dappled shade.
Water: Keep the soil of your meadow rue moist but not soggy.
Blooming: When your meadow rue blooms will depend on the variety. They typically bloom in either spring or summer.
Soil: Moist, rich soil that retains water. Like many of our other plants, meadow rue will benefit from your fallen sycamore leaves as this will add organic material to the soil.
There’s something so refreshing about seeing spring flowers blooming under a huge sentinel like a sycamore tree. The contrasting colors can breathe life into your landscape, making your centerpiece sycamore even more attractive.
The plants under your sycamore tree should require little nutrients and water and be able to tolerate some shade. Sycamores themselves aren’t very picky about their growing conditions, which opens up a lot of options for planting under them.
To recap, the 8 best plants to plant under your sycamore tree include:
- Star Jasmine
- Dwarf Azalea
- Christmas Fern
- Solomon’s Seal
- Meadow Rue
These plants come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, giving you plenty of options to fit your intended landscape theme.
You can also try planting multiple types of flowers under your sycamore tree for a blast of color in the spring and summer.
If you have questions about other types of trees, shrubs, or flowers, you can find all the information you need here at Tree Journey!
Eisner, T., Carrel, J. E., Tassel, E. V., Hoebeke, E. R., & Eisner, M. (2002, April 09). Construction of a Defensive Trash Packet From Sycamore Leaf Trichomes By a Chrysopid Larva (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae). Proceedings of The Entomological Society of Washington, 104(2), 437-446.
Jennifer, O., Aguilos, M., Morkoc, S., Heitman, J., & King, J. S. (2021, December 20). Root Biomass Distribution and Soil Physical Properties of Short-Rotation Coppice American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis L.) Grown at Different Planting Densities. Forests, 12(12), 1806.
Nielsen, D. C. (2017, August). Habitat Distribution and Frond Reorientation as Photoprotection and Drought-Avoidance Mechanisms in Christmas Fern (Polystichum Acrostichoides) In the Southern Appalachian Mountains [Thesis Paper]. Appalachian State University.
Sena, K., Agouridis, C., Miller, J., & Barton, C. (2018, December 18). Spoil Type Influences Soil Genesis and Forest Development on an Appalachian Surface Coal Mine Ten Years after Placement. Forests, 9(12), 780.