The Q&A Archives: Planting Under Maples

Question: I just bought a house with 4 huge maple trees in the sloping back yard. The house was vacant for some time, and the leaf cover is very thick. Raking reveals a thick mat of wet leaves over mud - no grass to be seen. Should I have the trees trimmed to open up the yard for more light, and see if any grass will grow, or should I plant something else that will thrive under the canopy? Thanks for your suggestions!

Answer: I wish I had a whole list of plants that would successfully grow under maple trees, but I'm afraid there are only a handful of plants which will thrive. Maples cast deep shade, they divert rainfall and drink up any moisture that's in the soil, and the roots are shallow so digging under the tree could damage the roots and compromise the tree's health. Although you could have the branches thinned, the tree will quickly recover and new growth will fill in the canopy. So, don't expect to grow grass under your maples; some groundcovers such as pachysandra and vinca minor seem to do well under maples. Aside from simply leaving the ground beneath the trees bare (or leave the leaf litter alone and allow it to decompose and feed the roots), you might try planting one of the above groundcovers. Wish I had better news for you!

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