Spruce trees are typically tall trees that cast dense shade around the landscape and take up needed resources in the soil like water. Just because they create shade doesn’t mean you can’t create a striking garden. Find hardy, low maintenance, "unthirsty" plants that tolerate living under a tree without sacrificing their beauty. To tie the tree garden with the rest of the landscape, think about including similar colors or species of plants that are grown in nearby flower beds.
Spruce trees have low growing branches that hog sunlight, so planting a shade-loving ground cover works for this type of environment. Ground covers are low maintenance plants that, once established, spread around the landscape to create a natural design. Hardy ground covers like thyme grow in shade and tolerate less fertile, clay soils. Their leaves are evergreen, meaning they remain with color all year long, even in the gray winter months. In the spring, creeping thyme is covered in lilac flowers that contrast with the spruce tree for a striking garden design. Creeping thyme is also drought tolerant with a moderate growth rate.
Another hardy ground cover to plant under the spruce tree is spreading wintergreen, also called teaberry. Teaberry is also an evergreen ground cover that has a creeping mat form. It prefers light to moderate shade--ideal nestled under a spruce tree. Teaberry also tolerates a wide range of soil types, including sandy and acid soils, making it adaptable. The dark green leaves on the teaberry turn purple in the fall for a bright burst of color. Their white, urn-shaped flowers emerge in spring to light up the shaded environment around the spruce tree.
Around the spruce tree, create a rock garden to house trailing and shade-loving plants. For a classic rock garden design, create a circular or square shape around the tree. Extend the rocks as far out as desired for a visually appealing design. Inside the rock garden grow low maintenance plants. Stonecrop, a deciduous plant, tolerates both sun and shade and prefers a wide range of soils types, including sandy, gravelly and acidic, making this plant very versatile. Their low growing, thick stems are bright green with golden yellow flowers that emerge in the spring. Stonecrop is a striking plant, creeping over and around the rocks.
Another hardy rock garden plant is the Cooper’s hardy ice plant. The ice plant has a rapid growth rate and low mat form. It tolerates shade and sun as well as a range of soil types. The dark green leaves glisten against the mass of pink flowers that emerge in summer to last through the fall. Ice plants are also drought tolerant.
Around the spruce tree, plants perennials for a long-lasting design. Extend the perennial flower bed out and around the spruce tree to create a commanding presence to the landscape. Hardy perennial flowers like coneflowers and black-eyed Susans are heat and drought-tolerant and require little water to thrive. They are tough blooms that are ideal skirting the perennial border with their showy flowers. Around the inside of the border, and directly under the spruce tree, plant shade-loving hellebore plants. Hellebores are perennial flowers that naturally spread around the landscape with their low-growing form. Their bloom colors include white, pink and lavender to contrast with their shiny, dark green leaves.