Landscaping Around a Tree

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This photo shows a good example of landscaping under a tree. Notice the wide, thin mulch rings.

The winter is a great time to start thinking about spring gardens. One of the gardens you might think about for improvement or development is around trees. There are things you can do around trees to help improve the overall look of your landscape, but be careful, some things may be harmful.

Exposed Tree Roots

Exposed tree roots are often a problem in landscapes. Some trees will pop their roots up and out of the ground which makes it difficult to mow around and can be a trip hazard. Unfortunately, there is not a good fix for this problem. If you were to cut the root to remove it from above the ground, you would severely injure the tree and possibly kill it, depending on the size of the root. Adding more soil around the root to try to cover it up is also a bad idea. Adding more soil to the existing grade of a tree can suffocate the roots and kill the tree.

Raised Beds around Trees

One idea many people want to use around their trees is to add a raised bed around an existing tree. Adding the soil necessary to make a raised bed around a tree can kill the tree. If the tree is correctly planted into an established raised bed after the raise in soil grade is complete, that would be fine. However, adding this bed around an existing tree will severely damage the tree and could lead to tree death. Trees are slow to react to these things, so your tree may live just fine for 5-10 years, but then the damage will begin to show up as the canopy starts to thin or die.

Turf under Trees

Thin turf, J. Fech 3
Thin turf under a tree, photo from John Fech, Nebraska Extension Educator

Another issue around trees that many people ask about would be thin turf growth or constantly bare soils under a tree. Turf is a sun plant and it will not grow well in shade. There are shade mixes in the market, but those are designed for light shade. Underneath a full grown, healthy tree is often too much shade for the turf to grow in.

A better option instead of thin turf for underneath the tree would be to just mulch the area. Mulch helps to keep the weeds down, retains moisture, keeps the roots cool, and keeps the lawn mower and weed trimmer back away from the tree trunk to reduce the incidence of damage from this machinery. Keep the mulch at a flat layer of 2-3 inches deep and don’t create a volcano of mulch around the tree. The mulch ring should be at least a 3 foot diameter around the tree, but it can be as wide as the dripline.

You can mimic mother nature and provide a nice growing environment for your tree by utilizing mulch and shade plants under the tree. You can plant shade plants into the area around your tree as long as you don’t add soil to put them in. In nature, trees grow great on their own with little input from humans. A big part of that is the growing conditions they are placed in. Trees in nature grow with leaf litter and smaller plants growing all around them. The leaf litter acts as a mulch and the shade plants thrive in the shade of the large trees.

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