Answer: Generally speaking, it is unwise to drastically alter the grade beneath an established tree, since tree roots need both air and water. It is also better not to disturb an undue amount of tree roots. In addition, your flowers may have difficulty in competing with the tree's roots for both water and fertility, as well as with the canopy for light. (The larger and more established the tree, the more of a problem this is.) Having said that, you may find that it is easiest to locate planting pockets between major roots and amend the soil in each pocket by adding organic matter such as compost or well aged stable manure and bedding or rotted leaves. Then, plant your flowers and be careful to water them until they are well established. Finally, a layer of a few inches of mulch is fine for both the tree and the flowers, so simply push it aside to dig your holes and then replace it when done. If it is somewhat rotted, add a bit of fresh mulch on top. Be careful that it does not touch either the trunk or the flower base/stems. Good luck with your project!
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