The Three Best Reasons for Landscaping Under a Tree

Three things to keep in mind when landscaping under a tree. How landscaping beneath trees can make maintaining your yard easier. What’s shade got to do with understory landscape planning?

This photo, taken at Dunlawton Sugar Mill Garden in Central Florida, depicts all three of the most compelling reasons for installing plants beneath a tree.

Colorful bromeiads and dwarf ornamental grasses cover the surface roots of this massive Live Oak tree.  These tender perennials thrive in the dense shade of the oak, and serve to keep lawn equipment from damaging its beautiful trunks.

To make this evergreen tree even more of an ornament, groups of bromeliads have been set into its crotches and along its branches.  In time, their roots will attach themselves to the rough bark.

The 3 Most Common Reasons for Landscaping Under a Tree

  1. To protect the tree’s trunk and any surface roots from lawn mowers and weed whackers.
  2. To save on maintenance chores.  It is darn hard to weed close to tree trunks without harming them.  If you grow lawn right up to the tree, the mower won’t be able to get close enough to trim it neatly.  A weed whacker will, but the string will most likely strike the trunk repeatedly in the process. 

    Over time, this can kill a tree.

    You cannot trust landscapers not to run their equipment up against your trees’ trunks when maintaining your yard.

    You must either hand trim the weeds yourself, or landscape under your trees to protect them.
  3. To cover the ground where it would be impossible for grass to grow or be maintained.
A shag rug of ornamental asparagus completely covers this tree’s surface roots.This is the best way to grow A. densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’.  The fern will protect the tree from the string trimmer, and the mower will keep the fern in check.Dwarf Liriope spicata covers the feet of this tree like a pair of fuzzy, green bedroom slippers.

Here, bromeliads congregate beneath crape myrtles, keeping this corner of the garden colorful while the trees are out of bloom.

During the winter, southern gardeners will often top this landscape favorite to induce heavier flowering in the next bloom season.  Meanwhile, the trees look like chopped off sticks.  Landscaping beneath them draws the eye toward the earth and away from their missing heads.

Landscaping with Trees that Cast Dense Shade

Aechmeas massed beneath an oak tree.Azaleas thrive in the protective shade of a large tree.

Lawn grasses struggle beneath trees which cast a heavy shade.  A beautiful solution to this common landscape dilemma is to mass shade tolerant plants in the tree’s shadow.

Here are a few plants to consider:

HydrangeasColorful CrotonsBrunfelsiaVariegated GingerImpatiensThe Speckeled Gold Dust BushArabian JasmineConfederate Jasmine

Landscaping Under Palm Trees

‘Louise Philippe’ heritage roses massed beneath dwarf date palms.

Palm tree trunks are especially sensitive to wounding.  Once injured, they seldom heal properly. Insects and disease organisms see the damaged tissue as an open door and quickly invade.  Ground cover roses and other low-growing shrubs can be grouped beneath them as a hedge of defense.

The small beds these Mexican Fan palms are standing in would render mowing impossible.Flax lilies and peach Hibiscus plants make a more interesting ground cover than grass, anyway.The evergreen tree in the background is a Ligustrum.

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