Easy Tree/Shrub Combos

Trees don’t like to be alone! Give them some companions and provide nesting sites for birds at all levels. For best results, plant them at around the same time so they can grow up together and interlock their roots. One tall tree and a couple each of understory trees and shrubs would be ideal. Add a native groundcover to protect them from lawnmowers.


(Learn about ‘mini-forests’ on this page.)

Find details here:  

Native Trees     Native Shrubs

Photos, planting conditions, etc.

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  • Winter Interest

    • Tall tree - American Holly or Sycamore

    • Understory tree - Green Hawthorn, River Birch, Eastern Redbud

    • Shrub - Winterberry, Smooth Hydrangea

    • Groundcover - Woodland Phlox

    • Small space combo: Green Hawthorn, Winterberry

  • Birding Bonanza

    • Tall tree - White Oak, Mockernut Hickory

    • Understory tree - Eastern Redbud or Flowering Dogwood

    • Shrub - Arrowwood Viburnum (two needed for berries), Pinxter Azalea

    • Groundcover -  Wild Strawberry

    • Small space combo: Eastern Redbud, Maple-leaf Viburnum

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Empty lawns

Almost any native canopy tree will do well in a typical lawn, assuming it’s not soggy wet.

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  • Fall color

    • Tall tree - Black Gum or Shumard Oak

    • Understory Tree - Sassafras or Winged Sumac

    • Shrub - Red Chokeberry, Black Chokeberry

    • Groundcover - Hay-scented fern

    • Small space combo: Sassafras, Maple-leaf Viburnum

  • Wet areas

    • Tall tree - Sweetgum, Red Maple, River Birch

    • Understory tree: American Hornbeam, Sweetbay Magnolia

    • Shrub - Silky Dogwood, Smooth Hydrangea

    • Groundcover - Rosy Sedge, Golden Ragwort

    • Small space combo: Common Witch Hazel, Virginia Sweetspire

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  • Area already in full shade (2 hours or less direct sun per day)

    • Tall tree - American Beech, Black Gum, American Holly, Red Maple

    • Understory tree - Bladdernut, Paw Paw

    • Shrub - Witch Hazel, Mapleleaf Viburnum

    • Groundcover - Eastern Star Sedge

    • Small space combo - Bladdernut, Mapleleaf Viburnum

Special situations

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  • Adjacent to woods

    • Tall tree - Virginia Pine, Eastern Red Cedar

    • Understory tree - Sassafras, Paw Paw

    • Shrub - Possumhaw Viburnum, Ninebark

    • Groundcover - Wild Geranium

    • Small space combo: Eastern Redbud, Ninebark

  • Near streams and ponds

    • Tall tree - River Birch, American Persimmon

    • Understory tree - American Hornbeam, Sweetbay Magnolia

    • Shrub - Spicebush, Winterberry

    • Groundcover - Golden Ragwort, White Turtlehead

    • Small space combo - Sweetbay Magnolia, Winterberry

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  • Screening

    • Tall Tree - Eastern Red Cedar or American Holly

    • Understory tree - Sweetbay Magnolia

    • Shrub - Southern Bayberry, Rosebay Rhododendron

    • Groundcover - Christmas Fern, Marginal Woodfern

    • Small space combo - Sweetbay Magnolia, Southern Bayberry

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  • Urban conditions - compacted soil, pollution and road salt (but only within reason! Truly harsh conditions may require other choices)

    • Tall tree - Swamp White Oak, Red Oak

    • Understory tree - Fringe Tree or Serviceberry

    • Shrub - New Jersey Tea, Common Witch Hazel

    • Groundcover - Common Wood Sedge

    • Small space combo - Serviceberry, Shrubby St. John’s Wort

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