Growing Herbs Under Oak Trees
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Marissa Heisel
Posted on: April 24, 2003

I have a question that I hope you might be able to answer. We’re moving this Saturday to a house that backs onto Cedarvale Ravine in Toronto, which we’re just thrilled about. All of the trees in our backyard are oak, and there is no grass growing beneath them. Someone suggested to us that oak changes the pH level of soil, and likely grass will be unable to grow there, even if we put down grass seed. I’m wondering if that is indeed the case or not. If it is true, then we’re hoping that we might be able to plant herbs as ground cover instead of grass, but don’t know what varieties do well with a fair amount of shade, beneath oak trees.

Your help would be much appreciated. We’re hoping to be able to drive out to Richters the weekend after we move to pick up whatever we need to start planting!

It is true that soil under oak trees will be more acidic than the soil in surrounding areas. Unfortunately there are not many ground cover herbs that are both acid tolerant and shade tolerant. Some to try are: periwinkle, clivers, wintergreen, squaw vine, and sweet woodruff. None of these can take a lot of foot traffic so do not expect them to thrive along pathways. If you don’t mind some taller herbs you can try sweet cicely, mints, black cohosh, bloodroot, aconite, lemon balm, and common marjoram.

This time of year (April) is a wonderful time to come out. The greenhouses are full of beautiful potted herbs ready for planting.

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