What Plants Will Grow Under Magnolia Trees?

Updated July 19, 2017

Full of southern charm, magnolias add shade to the landscape as well as beautiful creamy white or pink flowers in the summer. Magnolias typically grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 7 through 10. Because of the dense shade, plants that grow under magnolia trees should be shade-tolerant with a shallow root system so they don't compete for moisture with the magnolia.


Plant sun-loving bulbs under deciduous magnolia trees or at the edge of an evergreen magnolia's treeline to take advantage of early spring sunshine. Daffodils blooms occur at the same time the magnolia flowers, creating a spring explosion of colour. Shade-tolerant bulbs such as trillium thrives in the shade of the magnolia tree in damp, but not wet soil. Frittilarias (Fritillaria) and violets (viola missouriensis) are other choices for under a magnolia tree. With their dainty, nodding flowers, frittilarias brighten up the shade garden. Sweet violets create a carpet of heart-shaped leaves under the tree and produce pink white or purple flowers in the spring.


Ferns are nonflowering plants that thrive in partial to full shade, such as that found under a magnolia tree. Most ferns require moist, well-drained organic rich soil, which a magnolia tree also thrives in. Lady fern's (Athyrium filix-femina) arching green fronds grow to 3 feet long with greenish-yellow stems. This fern is deciduous, dying back in the winter to return in the spring.


Perennials are the backbone of many gardens. These plants return year after year, some staying green all winter long. Phlox (Phlox divaricata) is an evergreen perennial that grows to 12 inches tall. Delicate purple, white, red or pink flowers bloom in the spring under a magnolia tree. Clusters of white flowers bloom throughout the summer and into fall on Money-plant (Hydrocotyle umbellate), but it's the round leaves that draw the eye. Money-plant is an herbaceous perennial that grows from full sun to full shade and prefers moist soils. Reaching 12 inches tall, this plant forms a ground cover under magnolia trees. Rhododendrons (Rhododendron), flowering shrubs with a shallow root system, thrive under magnolia trees. These shrubs produce flowers in a wide range of colours in the spring and summer. Rhododendrons require moist, but well-drained soil and the filtered light found under the edges of the tree's canopy.

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About the Author

Shawna Kennedy has been writing and editing professionally since 2004. She's published numerous articles online and two of her edited manuscripts have been contracted and published by Random House.