Answer: The shade is probably contributing to your difficulty in getting things to grow. That's not unusual, though. Think of a dense woody area--often there is little growing underneath the trees in the shade, except maybe some ferns. I hesitate to recommend you do anything underneath the tree. Maples have lots of shallow roots, so you don't want to disturb that area too much. If you damage roots, you leave an open wound that invites pest and disease. If you really want something growing under that tree, how about a shade-loving ground cover, like bugleweed (Ajuga) or lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria)? If you choose to try a ground cover--I would be very gentle when planting, and add no more than an inch or so of material to the ground underneath the tree. Be sure not to put soil up against the trunk, as this creates a condition that also promotes fungal disease. I hope this info helps.
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