The Bay Area is blessed with many beautiful redwood trees, and the challenge of how best to create a garden under and around these majestic giants is one faced by more than a few lucky gardeners (myself included).
Redwood trees only grow in one area of the world – the west coast of northern California and southern Oregon. In California, there are two different species of redwood. The coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is what you find in Muir Woods as well as many other parts of the Bay area. Though most old-growth coast redwoods were logged many years ago, some are protected and you can view them in Redwood National and State Parks throughout Oregon and California. The forest at Muir Woods was spared because access was difficult for the logging companies.
Northern California urban gardeners are not contending with old growth trees, but second growth redwoods are no less extraordinary a presence in an urban garden space. They grow in fog belt areas, where they can utilize summer fog to fulfill their moisture needs. Redwoods create an environment of dappled to deep shade and damp acidic soil, and their dense shallow root systems present specific challenges for garden creation.
Despite the challenges, there are a number of plants, both native and not, that can be grown successfully under and coexist with redwoods. When planning your redwood garden, there are a few thing to keep in mind: you will need to select plants that can tolerate shade, acidic soil, and also can tolerate some drought due to the redwood sucking moisture out of the soil.
Rather than creating beds, it is best to locate individual plants under redwoods to create an informal, naturalistic woodland garden. Planting holes should be dug carefully so as not to damage the tree’s root system.
Rhododendrons are one large flowering shrub that grows well under redwoods. Rhododendrons love acidic soil and do well in partial to deep shade. Combining rhododendrons with native and other ferns creates a lush natural looking garden space. Here is a list of plants that I have grown successfully under redwoods:
• Lenten Rose (Hellborus)
• Pink Flowering Currant (Ribes)
• Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
• Redwood Sorrel (Oxalis oregana)
• Coral Bells (Heuchera)
• Western sword fern (Polystichum munitum)
• Tree fern (Cyathea cooperi)
• Giant chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata)
• western bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa)
• manzanita (Arctostaphylos species)
For a full list of native plants that will grow under redwoods, check out this website: