The Q&A Archives: Installing a New Garden

Question: I'm planning on installing a new island garden in my front yard around some trees that are already there. The grass around them is dead and I've been told by my local nursery that no grass will grow in such deep shade, so my only option is to put in these gardens. What I want to know is what steps to take when doing this. I already have the shape of the gardens and the plants picked out, I just need to know how to get started putting it all together.

Answer: Grass can have a difficult time growing under trees, not just because of the shade, but also because surface roots from the trees can compete for moisture and nutrients. Since the tree roots are larger than the grass roots, the trees usually win the battle. Even if the grass is dead, it should be removed, or at least slit every few inches to allow water to percolate down beneath the mass of dead roots, stems and blades. Otherwise the turf will create a barrier, keeping the roots of annuals or perennials from getting beyond the layer of dead material. Without deep roots, the plants will dry out in the warm weather, and their growth will be retarded. It will be hard to amend the soil under the trees without harming the roots, and your new plants may have a difficult time competing with tree roots that will invade the area and compete for moisture and nutrients. You may want to simply use a mulch material directly under the trees and construct your garden area beyond the dripline of the trees, away from the roots. If you decide to follow this plan, you should amend the planting bed with plenty of organic matter prior to planting your garden, and carefully chose your plants according to the amount of sunshine or shade the new bed will get. Hope this information helps!

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