Planting under Live Oak Tree

chgoemeraldMay 20, 2010

I hate my front yard. When our house was originally built, they decided to plant 3 live oak trees on the patch of lawn right outside the front door. We don't have a lot of land, so it's defiantly not practical! But, with 3 we had a lot of shade and the state of the lawn didn't much matter.

In 2004, when the hurricane's came through 2 of the 3 trees were totally knocked down. Now we only have one left standing. The lawn looks terrible!!! And now that you can see it, we get HOA letters all the time that we need to do something about it. Every year we try something new....sod, seed...nothing ever works or grows evenly. The roots of the oak are quite close to the surface and are out of control!

We've put a large circle of landscaping stones around the base of the tree and filled it in with mulch, but we still have a bit of bare lawn (or should I say sandy dirt) up to the sidewalk and driveway.

Any suggestions on whats best to plant in this area??? I've recently put in some weed type ground cover plants...and out of 6 plants I only have 3 left....I'm extremely frustrated! HELP!

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Sounds like you are well on the way to killing the last tree standing .
Oaks do not like to have their roots covered up with stone and mulch .
In a few years or less , you will find oak shoots growing up through it all
trying to get some air .
Mulch and stone are fine and have their place in a yard,
just not near the base of any tree .
Sorry to start off with a strong negative response .
There is hope so don't give up !!
There are some brilliant GWs here who will offer you positive help .

    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 7:22PM
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I have recently hired a landscaper and have issues with two live oaks. We don't have them planted yet, but her recommendation is Ornamental Peanut as a ground cover. We intend on trying it. Hope this helps!!! Christy

    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 9:47PM
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annafl(z9b/10a Sarasota)

Things that will work well with your oak tree roots:

Macho fern- lush, 2-3 foot high groundcover that grows quickly. After a year or two will need thinning every year. Here it is not phased by cold, but I don't know where you are. Looks pretty all year and tolerates lots of shade.

Fishtail fern- not quite as vigorous as above. More lacy, and pretty. Also a 2-3 foot tall ground cover. Will cover ground and need to be thinned, but not as much. Pretty cold tolerant here. Looked a little ratty after this winter, but still looked surprisingly good.

Holly fern- Deep green. Stays put and does not travel, so you will need to buy more. Very pretty 2 foot ground cover. Very cold hardy. Grows more slowly.

Bromeliads. Choose large, landscape types, or fast-growing ones like Mend, Martin, Aechmea Blanchetiana. Again, don't know how these would do in your zone, so you'd need to research it.

Cast Iron Plant- Common variety is deep green, 2 foot tall ground cover. Grows slowly into large clumps. Tolerates oak roots and very dry conditions beautifully. Variegated and spotted ones are a bit more fussy, but still work well and are pretty. Not phased by Florida winters.

Split leaf philodendron can do well under oaks if they get some water. Maybe the occassional variegated ginger. Ask at your local nursery (not big box store) where people will be familiar with your climate. Good luck!


You can use mulch, but use a thin layer. A coating of oak leaves makes a nice natural mulch.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 10:14PM
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We had a similar situation in our previous front yard. We were fighting shade and tree roots, grass just wouldn't grow. The tree roots wouldn't allow us to dig holes big enough for shrubs. So our local nurseryman suggested Minima Jasmine as a ground cover. It worked beautifully. We bought small plants so that it wasn't so hard to plant in minimal soil. It did take about a year for it to really take off, but after that if filled in everywhere we wanted it to. It didn't mind the shade, either. And you can use the lawn mower set high to mow it occasionally to keep it pruned. You can weedwack it also.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2010 at 6:22AM
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tomncath(St Pete Z10a Heat 10)

Anna and Rita are correct.

I have tri-colored Asiatic jasmine growing under my live oaks and both are thriving.

My neighbor across the street had his concrete driveway pulled out and replaced with pavers. In the process they destroyed many of the roots of his live oak and it started a rapid decline. The professionals came in, blasted the soil surface with a pressure cleaner to aerate the soil and then planted ferns under the's looking much better now.

I'll shoot some pictures tonight when I get home.


    Bookmark   May 21, 2010 at 7:27AM
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olyagrove(z9 Tampa, FL)

I have a huge live oak in the back, and honestly, under the oak is one of my most favorite places to "jungle" is right under it From Backyard Spring 2009

Near the trunk, since it is hard to plant anything, I grow plants with shallow roots that like shade/filtered light and are happy with a nice layer of decaying leaves:
Ferns - there are so many different ferns out there!!1
Begonias - same, so many :)
Impatients, lots of color for shady spots
Yellow walking iris
Caladiums and elephant ears

Under the oak, but not right next to the truck, I have:
two big treeferns,
lots of amaryllis plants,
more begonias,
hydrangeas and azaleas - both love acidic soil so oak leaves are a plus,
orchids - in pots and in the ground

So plenty of possibilities :) Ferns would probably be the easiest route

A few pictures, taken over the years - all plants growing under the oak From Backyard Fall 2007 From Backyard Summer 2007 From Backyard Summer 2007

    Bookmark   May 21, 2010 at 9:08AM
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bigpaulie1972(9B Melbourne FL)

I would highly recommend the azaleas under the oaks. I really think that is a timeless look that has become terribly underused in recent years. It's hard to find a better match especially if you are in northern Florida. If you have irrigation for the azaleas then so much the better.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2010 at 9:15AM
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We had 4- 30' at least Oaks across the back of our house, and Charley took down 3, thank goodness this one remained as it falls in the middle of our 13' wide window, and we get the hot afternoon sun there or did... lol
to reward our tree and ourselves this is what we did underneath it!

    Bookmark   May 21, 2010 at 6:21PM
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Just to add to what others have already suggested. When I ripped out all of the original plants under one of our Oak trees I first replaced them with Azaleas. I had to poke around the ground under the Oak until I could find big enough gaps between the roots. I then dug the holes, added some peat moss and planted the Azaleas. The leaves from the Oak acted as an excellent mulch and the Azaleas have thrived for years with minimal care. Since the Oak was right on the corner of the property, I also added some Impatiens for color. I had to add some soil on top of the roots to accommodate the Impatiens. Normally you should not cover Oak roots, but this was a small area and it had no lasting impact on the tree. The one problem was that the Oak roots quickly grew up into the new soil, competed with the Impatiens and deprived them of water. Six months later when I replaced the Impatiens I removed the new soil and laid down root barrier fabric. While the Oak roots still found ways to get into the soil, the barrier at least allowed the Oak and the Impatiens to co-exist. I've attached a picture (it was taken before Christmas, hence the balls hanging from the tree).

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 5:17PM
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I live about 20 miles south west of Gainesville, I planted hostas under my oak trees and azeleas also. After 2 years they are doing fine. I did not mulch but water frequently and let the oak leaves remain under the trees.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2011 at 5:01PM
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jwahlton(9B Kisimee)

bsewall that is a beautiful photo. I too have an oak tree in my front yard with no grass underneath! It is all sandy stuff. I was doing a search on Impatiens because that was recommended for my yard. This weekend they are .49 at HD so I'm going to pick up a bunch and try them.

This is the front of my house

This is the corner of the front yard with a sago. I'm going to put a bunch of impatients there and cross my fingers!

    Bookmark   March 17, 2011 at 9:34AM
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