Gardeners who are blessed with enough property to allow for a very long driveway are presented with new possibilities for adding color and interest to their outdoor space.

In the South, if you are able to purchase land with very old Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) draped in Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides), you are off to a perfect start. Of course, this assumes you are able to construct the driveway under the oaks. Barring this, planting the drive to create an enchanting entry will take a little thought and some hard work. The end result will add a pleasing portal to your property that will bring happiness to the homeowner and a smile to many travelers as they pass by.

Live Oaks
Live Oak in authors back yard along old driveway
Photo by author.

The Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda), also known as the Southern Yellow Pine, can be found growing all over the southern US. This tree makes a nice border tree for the driveway. In the South, underplanting pines with azaleas is an unspoken rule. The acidic soil and dappled shade create perfect conditions for this shrub to grow happy and healthy.

Oak and pine trees are not the only choices for bordering the driveway. Before finalizing your choices, there are a few things to consider. Gather up a pad and pencil, clip the tape measure to your belt and head outside to have a look at the space you plan to border.


Things to consider before running out to the nursery to purchase plants:

  • How much space do you need to fill?
  • How tall/broad do you need the plants to be?
  • Do you want blooming plants?
  • Is there a particular color scheme you like best?
  • When and for how long will the plants bloom?
  • Do you need the area to fill in quickly or are you willing to wait several years to see noticeable results?
  • Research growing conditions for each plant.
  • Be realistic about how much time and care you can devote to this newly planted area.
  • Consider the cost of filling such a large area.

Using the tape measure, measure the length and depth of each side of the lane. Once you calculate the space you need to fill, it will be easier to decide how tall and broad the largest plants (i.e., trees) need to be. Remember, the trees you bring home from the nursery will grow much larger in just a few short years.

You may choose to grow trees that do not bloom, underplanted with shrubs that do. Another choice would be to grow both, blooming trees and shrubs. Whether you decide on all blooming plants or just a few, you will first have to settle on bloom colors. Do your research to find out the color, size, bloom season and length of time the plant blooms. Will your color choices be pleasing to the eye? Will they flow into the gardens near the home?

Many trees will grow several feet tall in a few short years. For example, Hybrid Poplar (Populus deltoides) trees are known to grow up to ten feet per year. Keep in mind, the faster a tree grows, the weaker its root system is.

Planting slow growing trees means the wait for a perfect, shaded canopy may try your patience. However, the trees will be stronger and live many years longer than faster growing trees.

Research growing conditions for each plant, from the tallest tree in the line, to the tiniest bulb below. You should invest in plants that have the same general needs when it comes to amount of water, soil and fertilizer. Light requirements will be a bit different due to the fact that plants will be set in 'layers'. The trees will shade the shrubs and the shrubs will shade the flowering plants below. Researching each plant will eliminate problems later.

Be realistic about how much time you are willing to devote to the newly planted lane. This will be most helpful when choosing which plants to purchase. If you are a hands-on gardener and regularly spend several hours each week outside in your gardens, then the choices are limitless. However, if you have less time to work in your gardens, you will need to choose plants that need little care. While researching each plant for growing conditions, make a note about how much care it will need over time.

Finally, the cost of planting trees alone can be shocking. For instance, we will look at a driveway that is one hundred feet long with trees spaced ten feet apart. That would mean you would need to purchase twenty trees, ten for each side. Now, if the trees were to cost $20.00 each, the cost for trees alone is $500.00. This does not take into account all of the shrubs, perennials, annuals and bulbs you will plant at the base of the trees.


Some good combinations for the southern gardener are listed below. There is no end to the combinations you can come up with. Why not try pink and white dogwoods together or redbuds mixed with white dogwoods?



Crepe/Crape Myrtle
(Lagerstroemia indica)

Reeves Spirea
(Spiraea cantoniensis)

Eastern Redbud
(Cercis canadensis)

(Rhododendron 'White Peter')
Grancey Grey-beard
(Chionanthus virginica)
Glossy Abelia
(Abelia x grandiflora)

Japanese Cherry
(Prunus serrulata)

Plumleaf Azalea
(Rhododendron prunifolium)

Pink Dogwood
(Cornus florida f. rubra)

Alabama Azalea
(Rhododendron alabamense)

Southern Sugar Maple
(Acer barbatum)

(Clethra alnifolia)

White Dogwood
(Cornus florida)

Florida Azalea
(Rhododendron austrinum)

Crepe (or Crape, if you prefer) myrtles, dogwoods, and redbuds--although small trees--look great in border gardens, especially flanking a walking path or driveway. All three trees can be pruned into lovely umbrella shapes and are easy to grow.

Underplanting this area is the most fun of the entire project. Let your imagination run wild. Choose plants that do well in shade, as well as plants that will bloom through the seasons. Keep in mind that you will see this area every day as you come and go, so make it pleasant to travel through.

Happy Gardening~

All photographs courtesy of Morgue File, unless credited otherwise.