Answer: Oaks are majestic trees that need their space. It's never a good idea to plant within 10' of the trunk of the tree, or use plants that require lots of water. Doing so will compromise the root system of the tree. When landscaping, be careful not to plant, irrigate, or disturb the soil beneath the tree to avoid injuring the roots. With that said, there are numerous shrubs, groundcovers and perennials that can be planted outside of the dripline of your oaks. Those that require little water, tolerate filtered light, and do not have invasive (and competitive) root systems include Berberis darwinii (barberry), Carpenteria californica (bush anemone), Ceanothus (wild lilac), Holodiscus discolor (ocean spray), Nerium olenader (oleander), Plumbago auriculata (cape plumago), Cistus (rockrose), Cotoneaser, Juniper, and Rosemary. The above shrubs can be watered through a drip system to concentrate moisture immediately around the plants. Perennials include Achillea (yarrow), Aloe, Artemisia, Erigeron karvinskinanus (Santa Barbara Daisy), Hemerocallis (daylily), Heuchera (coral bells), Romneya coulteri (Matillija poppy) and Salvia.
Deer will eat most anything if they're hungry enough, but the above plants are not as attractive to them as anything with a soft, tender leaf might be.
A reflecting pond would be lovely. As long as it is kept a good distance away, it shouldn't compromise the health of your oak trees.
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