Shade Gardening forum: planting under trees

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springfield MO area (Zone 6a)
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Frillylily
Jul 19, 2013 2:28 PM CST
How close can I plant under my trees? I have a sweet gum ( I think, those trees that get the little spiked balls on them, not a sycamore though), and a hemlock and some other tree I don't know what it is. They are planted kind of in a triangle, really too close to each other, maybe 15 foot apart. There is nice shade there and nothing is growing underneath, pretty dusty. I would like to circle the entire area with stones and fill it in with compost and plant hosta and then add some large accent rocks and maybe some azaleas. I am worried that adding compost over the roots will kill the trees. I am also concerned that the trees will just root right up into the new soil and choke out the new plants.
If I plant out toward the drip-line, there isn't any shade there. I though about planting larger shrubs and such that would better compete with the tree roots and then I wouldn't have to add soil, but could just pant them directly into what is there now. Can I plant hostas in pots and sink them under some mulch? I wonder if the potted hostas would survive the winter, zone 6a.
I just don't know anything about shade gardening much and working around trees. With my last house, we cut the trees down. But we just bought this place and moved and I don't want to cut the trees this time unless I have to. I do plan on living at this house long term though not just temporarily. I don't want to harm the trees, but I want a garden and I don't know how to do it!
Name: Tina
NW corner of PA zone 5
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plantinthings
Jul 20, 2013 6:12 AM CST
From experience (and I'm no professional) I'd stay alteast a foot away from base of trees. Digging into the existing soil is no fun with all those tree roots, bringing in some compost and topsoil would be your best bet.. (your back and arms will be thanking you later). But for the most part we ourselves dig into the existing soil, use a mattock to cut thru the roots.
We've planted a few shade/woodland gardens under existing trees, we love this look. Hostas in my opinion get along with the tree roots and grow fine. As for azaleas, I'm not sure of, but if I recall I've seen it done.
I've heard some trees roots will find their way up into the new soil, but I've personally haven't had any problems with this.
Hostas will survive in pots throughout the winter.....as I have a backyard nursery and most will survive, occasionally you'll have one that doesn't but hostas are hard to kill and I live in zone 5.
Hopefully others will chime in and give their opinions.
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
Name: virginiarose
Virginia
Money talks but Chocolate Sings!
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virginiarose
Jul 20, 2013 5:33 PM CST
I have two Birch Trees and I planted a small raised bed for baby hostas a couple of years ago and a few fibrous roots came up into the soil but did not hurt anything. These fibrous roots will suck all the water out of the soil so you just make sure there is plenty of water for every thing to be happy. I did a raised bed under the trees as a temporary place to over-winter the hostas which I had dug up from the front of the house where they had fried.
It looked so good in the spring that I left it there, I love the look of this and I do not believe it will harm the trees as long as you leave some spaces in-between the beds so the tree roots can still get some air.
I have the main bed in-between the trees, then I will eventually go around the trees and have smaller raised beds scattered around and large pots. I also would like to add river rocks. Green Grin!
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Susan

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.....Margaret Atwood
Name: Lucy
Hamilton, MA (Zone 6b)
irises
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irisarian
Jul 20, 2013 6:13 PM CST
lovely Hurray!
Name: Jewell
South Puget Sound (Zone 7a)
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Jewell
Jul 21, 2013 9:56 PM CST
Very nice variety of hostas, Susan. Hurray! Hurray! I tip my hat to you.
Name: virginiarose
Virginia
Money talks but Chocolate Sings!
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Level 1 Avid Green Pages Reviewer Hibiscus Dragonflies Daylilies
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virginiarose
Jul 21, 2013 10:12 PM CST
Thanks everyone! Green Grin!
Susan

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.....Margaret Atwood
Name: Lucy
Hamilton, MA (Zone 6b)
irises
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irisarian
Jul 22, 2013 9:41 PM CST
lily of the valey spreads quickly, but grows well in the shade. Are you too far south for them?
Name: virginiarose
Virginia
Money talks but Chocolate Sings!
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Level 1 Avid Green Pages Reviewer Hibiscus Dragonflies Daylilies
Bee Lover Dahlias Butterflies Hostas Birds Lilies
virginiarose
Jul 23, 2013 3:30 AM CST
I think so but I will double check. Thumbs up
Susan

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.....Margaret Atwood
Name: stone
near Macon Georgia (USA) (Zone 8a)
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stone
Aug 8, 2013 7:50 AM CST
Frillylily said:How close can I plant under my trees? I have a sweet gum ( I think, those trees that get the little spiked balls on them, not a sycamore though), and a hemlock and some other tree I don't know what it is. They are planted kind of in a triangle, really too close to each other, maybe 15 foot apart. There is nice shade there and nothing is growing underneath, pretty dusty. I would like to circle the entire area with stones and fill it in with compost and plant hosta and then add some large accent rocks and maybe some azaleas. I am worried that adding compost over the roots will kill the trees. I am also concerned that the trees will just root right up into the new soil and choke out the new plants.
If I plant out toward the drip-line, there isn't any shade there. I though about planting larger shrubs and such that would better compete with the tree roots and then I wouldn't have to add soil, but could just pant them directly into what is there now. Can I plant hostas in pots and sink them under some mulch? I wonder if the potted hostas would survive the winter, zone 6a.
I just don't know anything about shade gardening much and working around trees. With my last house, we cut the trees down. But we just bought this place and moved and I don't want to cut the trees this time unless I have to. I do plan on living at this house long term though not just temporarily. I don't want to harm the trees, but I want a garden and I don't know how to do it!


I'm very sorry to hear about yall cutting down the trees at the last house!
Those trees increase the value of the property... and as long as you have native trees, rather than invasive exotics... they're definitely worth protecting!

I plant a lot of shade gardens, and the most important thing I can tell you is... don't harm the roots, and don't bring in soil... which may suffocate the roots, and kill the tree.

Having said the above... You can bring in a bit of compost or manure, and some wood chips. Spread over the bed... compost first.

Then... get out the soil detector...

While you can plant things in pots... and leave the pots on top of the soil... there's really no need to do so.

Shade plants evolved in concert with trees... they are unlikely to be bothered by the tree roots.

Rather than trying to plant the common stuff sold at the big box stores... I would be taking walks through the forest...(and visiting arboretums), and observing the types of plants that grow in similar conditions. Take pictures, post the pics at the plant id thread... after we id them, you can attempt to locate the desirable natives at a specialty nursery. There are plenty!
You'll end up with a unique garden that should be self-sustaining, and be the envy of the neighborhood!

Name: Lucy
Hamilton, MA (Zone 6b)
irises
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irisarian
Aug 8, 2013 8:21 AM CST
great advice.
Name: virginiarose
Virginia
Money talks but Chocolate Sings!
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Level 1 Avid Green Pages Reviewer Hibiscus Dragonflies Daylilies
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virginiarose
Aug 8, 2013 4:39 PM CST
Thanks Stone!! Great inspiration. I love your baby, what is that in her mouth? (bless her little heart.)
Susan

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.....Margaret Atwood
Name: Tiffany
Opp, AL (Zone 8b)
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purpleinopp
Sep 4, 2013 11:37 AM CST
My Mom did this with the sandy spot in her yard under oak trees. If nothing is growing there now, great! Just put some organic matter (OM,) mulch, leaves, lawnmower bag contents (as long as you're sure your grass doesn't have seeds on it, although it sounds like it won't grow under there anyway, so not as much of a concern as if you were doing that on a sunny bed.) Some kind of outline, to keep the OM and lawn separate would help, bricks, landscape timbers, rocks (though the irregularity is tougher to maintain,) whatever you want to look at, can afford, find for free, etc... Like you said, the boundary was already drawn around the drip line. While she was gone one morning I was over there and decided the last of the brick pile *still* sitting there from when the house was built, would be better used as a border out there, and just sat them down along the already-drawn border. The shade has continued to kill more grass, but when I first did it, it looked like it had been a bed forever, just naked of any kind of mulch or leaf cover or any smaller plants.

At least yearly, you'll get a new layer of leaves to cover the area. Anything else you can add periodically will help. The tree roots will always be greedy about the moisture, but except for plants known to need a bog, shade plants are made to cope with that, and the layer of OM will keep things so much more moist, just like the forest floor, created pretty much the same way, by putting (and leaving that which falls there naturally) OM on the surface. The difference in digging a hole anywhere in the 'bed area' at her house now is AMAZING - usually a hand shovel will do, where the first few times we tried to dig the first year, we needed a maddock even where there were no roots. (And this is how I usually start a new bed by reclaiming a grassy spot also, smothering under OM.) As long as whatever you're putting on is fairly chunky, airy, it can be several inches thick. As it starts to hold more moisture, the decomposition will happen more quickly, so the first layer will seem like nothing is happening, then suddenly you might notice, it's almost all gone.

Decide where a path will be, larger shrubs if you want any, maybe a couple of chairs and small table for enjoying the fruits of your labors, or resting while at work. When you can see it in your minds' eye, you're ready to get going! Since there are a ton of roots, you can't dig big holes, so get small plants, let the tree roots dictate where you can/can't dig.

As long as you don't radically alter the depth of cover over the roots, or attempt to insist on digging through a ton of large roots, it should go well! Shade plants are made to go under trees, and the trees are probably ambivalent about the smaller entities, but likely greedily 'use' the added leaves they may drop in the area. Coddle plants as little as possible, they need to establish deep roots by seeking water, to be self-sufficient after the first year. Have patience, dry shade is the slowest gardening. But also the least weedy, except for your tree sprouts.

Pics of reclaiming an area from grass, and Mom's front bed. Hopefully you won't fill yours with weedy Vinca, but that's beside the point. (Mom finally agreed to let me pull the Vinca up, now that's it's an unimaginably nasty chore... but the payoff will be bringing it back to my house in a big tub to compost. If I pull it, trim it, mow it, rake it, it's my OM. Yay... although she's starting to catch on after watching it happen in her own front yard for years. I wouldn't be surprised if her yard waste piles started shrinking too. We rarely discard any. Small trimmings go directly on beds, branches devoid of tons of leaves make steaks and burgers taste GOOD.)

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Thumb of 2013-09-04/purpleinopp/2bcbe5

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☕👓 The only way to succeed is to try.
Name: virginiarose
Virginia
Money talks but Chocolate Sings!
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Level 1 Avid Green Pages Reviewer Hibiscus Dragonflies Daylilies
Bee Lover Dahlias Butterflies Hostas Birds Lilies
virginiarose
Sep 4, 2013 5:15 PM CST
Beautiful yard. Thumbs up
Susan

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.....Margaret Atwood
Name: Tiffany
Opp, AL (Zone 8b)
Houseplants Organic Gardener Composter Region: Gulf Coast Miniature Gardening Native Plants and Wildflowers
Bulbs Foliage Fan Tropicals Butterflies Garden Sages Cactus and Succulents
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purpleinopp
Sep 5, 2013 8:16 AM CST
Thanks, Susan! Just wish I had a better back to do more for Mom's yard. It's way too big for her but DH just got a chainsaw, so at least we can save her from having to hire a company to trim some trees. And we're going to whack some of the shrubs HARD - so sick of constantly wrestling to keep them looking like decent meatballs and lollipops, they're way too close to the house. Maybe she'll let us kill the privet someday.
👀😁😂 - SMILE! -☺😎☻☮👌✌∞☯🐣🐦🐔🐝🍯🐾
🍀👒☀🍄🍍🌱🌿🌴🎄👣🌵🌷⚘🌹🌻🌽🏡🍃🍂🌾🌿🍁❦❧ 🍃🍁🍂🌾🌻🌺🌸🌼🌹🌳🌲
☕👓 The only way to succeed is to try.
Name: virginiarose
Virginia
Money talks but Chocolate Sings!
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Level 1 Avid Green Pages Reviewer Hibiscus Dragonflies Daylilies
Bee Lover Dahlias Butterflies Hostas Birds Lilies
virginiarose
Sep 5, 2013 3:54 PM CST
I would love a yard like that, I would have Hostas all over. Green Grin! Good luck with the pruning!
Susan

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.....Margaret Atwood

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