Landscaping under a shady oak

KoolkatTampaMay 17, 2013

I live in Tampa and have a shady area under an oak tree on the north side of my house that I would like to landscape. It gets full morning sun, but is mostly shady during the day. As you can see from the picture, most of the grass has died off and the soil sometimes erodes onto the sidewalk during heavy rains. Not attractive at all. I was looking for suggestions for some low maintenance ground cover or shrubs that I could plant in the yard in place of grass.

I was thinking of just putting a circle of mulch around the tree that extends out a couple of feet since it's so difficult to plant there with all the roots. Then perhaps have various shrubs/perrenials along the front and side of the house in planting beds. I was also thinking of planting asiatic jasmine to cover the other areas as a general ground cover, leaving a space for a walking pathway next to the planting beds using pea gravel or mulch.

Thanks for your help!

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Azaleas and camelias are happy in the shade of an oak tree. The asiatic jasmine will do very well, too, but I wouldn't call that "low maintenance."

    Bookmark   May 17, 2013 at 11:43AM
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alys_esmond(9b Orlando)

Oyster plant...
Low maintenance, will spread quickly but growth is limited to the shade.

Looks fantastic, IMHO

    Bookmark   May 17, 2013 at 8:59PM
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Variegated ginger, Persian Shield, Justicia, Florida Anise, Bromeliads, and Ferns. I have shade from oaks, too. I also have dwarf gardenia and hydrangea with some coleus and fuschia. Sounds like you already have a good plan, too.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2013 at 9:49PM
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Plants, plants, plants. Why is it always plants? This is the perfect setting for a rock garden.

1. Your tree's root system is going to suck up all the available water and nutrition. Any plants you put in MUST be willing to tolerate that environment.

2. Things fall out of large trees on a regular basis. Anything you plant under the tree is going to get damaged when that happens.

Spray the entire area with RoundUp. Two days later, cover the area with river rock. Use three different sizes - extra large, medium, very small. You'll need at least 60 bags (40 are medium) to do the job right. Big expense, but you'll never need to water or fertilize them.

Buy three very large boulders. You want them to be different sizes and shapes. Two close to the house, one closer to the street. Place them artistically.

For plants - bromeliads, barrel cactus, various succulents, maybe an agave. Plant them in the sunny spots, as well as around one or two of the boulders.

This should cost you a couple of grand but it will be low maintenance, work well with the setting, and your ongoing cost is nearly zero.

This post was edited by fawnridge on Sat, May 18, 13 at 7:39

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 7:31AM
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carolb_w_fl(zone 9/10)

I have purple & green bromeliads, ferns & purple lady under my live oak, all seem happy to coexist.
I also have some large ceramic pots w/ 'houseplants' : snake plants, Chinese evergreen, dracaena, & something trailing I do not know the name of.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 11:15AM
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Definitely could use a bit of landscaping. I think caladiums under oaks work well.

Grass should be able to grow better than that under there, but that's some seriously sandy soil. I don't think it retains enough moisture or has enough nutrients to support grass, especially not a hungry variety like st. Augustine. You might start spreading compost frequently and in a year or so you might have enough nutrients to support grass.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 8:39PM
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The river rocks sound attractive but costly. I have lovely kalanchoe under the shade of a live oak, also ferns seem to do well. Just planted some oyster plants and know they do well, transplant easily and provide that cool green and purple combo.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 10:01PM
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You have to cut that tree down completly, then start to think about landscape or garden.

NOTHING!!!!! Will grow under this oak. I can't understand what a point to keep it? It cause only mess all year around and ugliness.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 2:19PM
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coffeemom(Broward z10)

This is my back yard. I posted a photo of the front yard in a separate post. Bromeliads work well for me.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 2:28PM
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Michael AKA Leekle2ManE - Zone 9a - Lady Lake, F

Avgusta, your ugliness is another person's treasure. Oaks are great shade trees that, if in the right place, can really drop your utility bills as they keep the sun from baking a section of your house. Also, the leaves that the live oaks, as well as others, constantly drop are a nuisance for some, but 'free mulch' to others. I can appreciate that you don't care for having an oak, I really can. My mother had one in the yard of her last home and it seemed she always had leaves inside her van... and she's one of those people who likes to keep the interior of her vehicle meticulously clean. But at the same time, I would hope that you can appreciate that not everyone wants to get rid of their oaks. Oaks can present some interesting landscape challenges, but they are not challenges that can not be overcome. To prove my point, check out the Hoe and Shovel blog. Much of her yard/garden is under the boughs of oaks, yet she has created a very lush and enviable landscape.

This post was edited by Leekle2ManE on Wed, May 22, 13 at 8:30

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 6:00PM
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love_the_yard(z9A Jax FL)


Here is a link that might be useful: Troll (Internet)

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 8:57PM
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Thanks for the advice everyone.

@fawnridge: A rock garden has its advantages, but it's costly and I prefer the look of plants. I may incorporate some hardscaping if I'm unable to get plants to grow.

@slopfrog: Yes, this area has very sandy soil. Unfortunately, growing grass under the oak is a losing battle as there's just not enough light. I would have to resod every year.

@avgusta: Cutting down the tree isn't an option. Oaks are considered a protected species and it's against the law to remove healthy trees in our area.

@coffeemom: Great job on your front and back yard! Definitely an inspiration.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 10:45AM
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A poster's advice to cut down a healthy oak tree is shocking. The benefits of trees in the landscape is well documented. Trees add value to your home and reduce pollutants in the air. Almost all cities in South Florida encourage the planting of trees, and most will levy fines against homeowners who remove mature trees without a valid reason. Visit this website to learn more about trees in residential landscapes

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 6:59AM
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Michael AKA Leekle2ManE - Zone 9a - Lady Lake, F

I think Love the Yard had it when he/she called 'Troll'. I've only been on these forums for a year and I've been amazed at how Troll-free these forums are. But that's two possible trolls in two weeks. Does this happen a lot this time of year? Spring brings forth the flowers, new gardeners and trolls?

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 8:32AM
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love_the_yard(z9A Jax FL)

Not too often - at least not in such an obvious way - in the 10+ years I have been here.


    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 10:21AM
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Well I'm certainly not a troll, and I have to agree with her. I don't care for them at all. They make a mess everywhere, they make it darn near impossible to grow anything that needs sunlight (which is most everything I'm interested in), they take up far too much space, and while they might lower power bills, they're also great for ensuring your home stays wet and moist all the time - resulting in rot and insect infestation. Plus, they take all the sunlight away from the windows and make your house feel like a dark cave. Oh, and let's not forget about all the squirrels that will come and eat every bit of fruit you do manage to grow in whatever speck of sunlight you might find.

I grew up in a house with huge magnolias and oaks and suffered terribly as a teenager cleaning up after the damn things. If it were me, I'd cut it down ordinance or not. If they fine me, I'd pay the fine. There's a limit to how much a city can fine someone for ordinance violations. I think it's a $1000 or something like that. Worth it to me.

I have a general rule, and that is that I keep trees that work for me instead of me working for the tree. If I have to work for the tree in order for it to provide for me, then I'm okay with that too. But there's a quid pro quo - I expect fruit , flowers, or some other useful product.

The only time I like oaks is when they are in other peoples' yards, provided they aren't my neighbors. Flame away! :)

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 11:40PM
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Oaks ARE messy (especially when the catkins are dropping), but I love them anyway.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2013 at 8:17AM
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Michael AKA Leekle2ManE - Zone 9a - Lady Lake, F

I quite like them and often wish I had two on the west side of my house. There are a few in my neighborhood that have grown up to shade the homes they are near and of those homes, only one is showing signs of deteriorating conditions and I've noticed a marked difference between this house and the others. The other homes in the area with oaks growing near them have had the oaks trimmed back so that no branch comes within 5 ft or so of the roof, walls or eaves of the house. Being that I rarely see anyone on these roofs blowing off leaves, I'm actually surprised that the roofs are as clean as they are. But in the case of the one house that is indeed starting to rot and mildew (oddly enough, the same next-door house that has the cat smell permeating around it), none of the branches have been trimmed back. Every time the wind picks up, I can hear the branches scratching and scraping across their siding and roof. A few of the branches (thin ones) are actually resting on the roof and catching any run-off of water or leaves making for huge mounds on their house. This causes a near-constant trickle of water down the north side of their house which keeps turning green with algae growth. And I take back the bit about the 'none of the branches have been trimmed back.' Near the beginning of last summer some of the branches from this tree started scraping against the edge of my lanai and I asked them, politely, to trim it back. But by September the branches had not been trimmed back and they were starting to pull at the guttering along the eaves, so the Park Owner came over and trimmed the tree away from my house.

So yeah, I can see how oaks can lead to increased home maintenance, but I've also seen that with proper care, they don't seem to do as much damage.

Also, as a side note. I have seen squirrels make that 5 ft leap from the trees to two of those houses, but it's not very often. I haven't seen one leap back to the tree though. They end up looking for other ways down. My neighbor's house though... Squirrel City. Squirrels are crafty little buggers, but I think the more difficult you make things for them, the more likely they are to seek easier venues.

There is one thing I do not like about Oaks though, and that's the acorns. Come October/November, I'm always very thankful that I don't have an Oak over my house as I hear half the neighborhood 'clang-clanging' and 'bonk-bonking' from the rain of acorns.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2013 at 8:56AM
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I learned years ago that we don't plant trees for our generation, we plant them for the next generation. Trees benefit us all, not just the property owner. I have several trees on my property that don't produce fruit or flowers for me. But I am proud that I am doing my part to clean the air and provide a habitat for animals.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2013 at 9:58AM
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judyk_2008(9 DeLeon Sprs)

I love oaks. I've bought three houses in the past because of the oaks. My property now has dozens of oak trees. I have lots of free mulch each year. But I don't like the acorns getting into my crocs. Anyway, I don't think anyone has mentioned cast iron plants. Especially the varigated ones look great in the shade and are low maintenance. All kinds of ferns, too. I like holly ferns the best. And Azaleas. They go great with oaks.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2013 at 10:24AM
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love_the_yard(z9A Jax FL)

Some people are dog people. Some people are cat people. I am dog people.


    Bookmark   May 23, 2013 at 12:28PM
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Michael AKA Leekle2ManE - Zone 9a - Lady Lake, F

What about those of us who like dogs and cats? :)

    Bookmark   May 23, 2013 at 12:54PM
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I have similar issues in my yard. The oaks stays 1) because it shades the front of my home. 2) it is providing me free mulch for the bed I'm creating under its boughs. and last 3) I'm trying to create a 'Florida Friendly Yard' with what I have to work with. I am from Ohio and am still learning the growing seasons and what should grow where and what was already in my yard. (not much). I just started my planning this spring. The caladium I planted under the tree when I first moved here are still sparce but so far all bulbs have come back for a second year and have flowered. :) still working on filling in the rest on the bed???. Research and what you like iswhat will work for you. Good Luck with what ever you decide.


    Bookmark   May 29, 2013 at 2:25PM
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I've pulled up all my front lawn and put divided it into sections, some with river rock, some with mulch and native plants. The river rock is much more work! I have to leaf blow it almost every night to keep it looking neat. I've got lots of plants in attractive planters on the river rock (and filling in thin spots where it's mulched till the bushes get bigger). I have a huge live oak in the back yard (one of the reasons I fell in love with the house). It self-mulches, I amend it occasionally. The squirrels have planted queen palms around the base. I'll let them stay till they get too big. When they're young, they're similar to areca palms.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2013 at 2:57PM
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Few mature trees welcome grass as they are in competition. Asian Jasmine has been successful under our North Texas Live Oaks. It takes several years and a fair amount of water to get a firm hold and then it will attempt to take over. A dilute spray of Roundup can be used on it in late Spring to kill the weeds that pop up while it is getting established. Iris get along with oaks. I have had luck with autumn sage, artemesia, lantana and, contrary to expectations, rosemary on the sunnier perimeter about 4 - 6 ft trom the trunk. You may consider a simple drip water system for those plants at least until they are well established.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2013 at 11:49PM
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shavedmonkey (Harvey in South Fl.)Z10b

I commune with my maker among trees. They are my church or temple. There is a swamp west of town called Barley Barber Swamp. I go there to be with the grand daddy cypress. 500 to 1000 years old. I make furniture from sustainable stands. I'm reverent to the lumber. Only clear finishes to see and celebrate the beauty of the wood. The trees make life sustaining oxygen.

But I have issues with ficus trees. I do like them but they need to be in the right place. Just like an elephant. I like them but I don't have the room. And the ficus can be overwhelmingly destructive. Their roots seek water and will harm septics and swimming pools.

Save the oak please!

    Bookmark   October 5, 2013 at 4:59AM
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I have 3 mature Laurel Oaks in my 1/3 acre yard (one with a diameter of 3ft). One provides a lot of shade but the others do not because the lower limbs have been cut and the crowns are very high. Plenty of sun gets to the ground. I even have a some veggies growing under one and they are doing fine. The leaves make great mulch, but those pesky acorns are a pain.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2013 at 8:48PM
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