Lawn covered by GIANT pine tree... help!

klgpdxApril 21, 2009

Hi all,

I am totally new to gardening, and am completely lost by what to do with my yard. Both my front yard and back yard are covered with GIANT pine trees. Of course, I bought the house last June when there was grass, so I was really excited to have a lawn (been living in cities for a while). By July, the grass was dead. I am told this is because of the pine needles dropping. Also, apparently grass and pine trees need different soil types. So if I try to remedy the soil for grass, it will kill the tree.

I still want a lawn I can enjoy... step on, lay down on, let me dog run around, etc. I HATE bark mulch, and rocks would be terrible because I could never rake up the pine needles.

Any suggestions? I am aware of Stepables ground cover... but that can get expensive when you're looking at a front and back yard.


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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

Mature conifers and lawns don't mix. The former owner likely seeded the lawn to stage the house for sale.

When the rain stops in July, the tree roots take all the moisture even if you water. My back lawn turns brown pretty much over night when this happens. My neighbors have mature Doug firs. The roots and branches are 20 ft onto my property. The flower bed along the fence doesn't fare much better even with soaker hoses. Gardening under conifers is best confined to plants that are native to that sort of habitat.

Sorry, not what you wanted to hear.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2009 at 8:09PM
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..and be aware that to remove any tree over 20 feet tall or having a 12-inch trunk or larger requires a City permit--this would only be enforced if a neighbor complains, and there would be complaints--people like big trees, especially ones not on their lot (big trees easier to view from a distance)!

    Bookmark   April 21, 2009 at 11:17PM
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The real rain already stopped. The light mist doesn't get down into the rootballs of the trees. Grass already turning brown in neighbor yards here. I'm already deep-watering. Sprinklers and by hand with hose.

There was something very soft and light and fluffy used in the 90s to cover walking paths. Walked on it barefoot in Tryon Creek Park. No splinters, just the downiest duff. It let water pass through to roots and prevented mud. At the edges of the path it did not inhibit the ferns and other plants. Maybe somebody knows what it is?

Parts of my yard no longer will grow grass. It is an area under a lot of willows. Even the creeklet banks there won't grow grass anymore. Whether it is shade or water suckage I don't know but I'm putting miniature ivy there and moss, painting moss on the ground.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2009 at 11:56PM
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bboy(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Yes: The lawn went brown in July because that is when it got dry enough to shut down for the summer.

Ivy is a serious weed in this region and should no longer be planted. That includes small-leaved kinds. Any cultivar may have potential to develop a more vigorous habit, pass into a mature, flowering and fruiting phase.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2009 at 1:43AM
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Sometimes ivy is the only thing that will grow. In parts of my yard, only ivy or moss will grow at all on the ground. The benefit with miniature ivy is that, after it establishes, it is moderately fast and will climb up cement retaining walls. AFAIK the only other plant that will climb UP is euonymus fortunei. And the miniature ivy is very easy to prune, can tolerate standing water and shade.

The ivy society says the miniatures are not invasive. I've read they can revert though so one has to watch for that.

It is almost impossible to find even miniature ivy for sale anymore. Found one nursery with a cultivar of Algerian ivy that's beautiful. That isn't supposed to be hardy enough but it survived last winter. Next weekend I'll buy the rest of her 1 gallon containers. Searching high and low for more miniature ivies.

Found one nursery with one mass of miniature ivy growing up a pole but it's such a mess of tangled vines that it wouldn't be worth buying. May have to learn to grow it from cuttings.

Area is small enough to manage responsibly, totally hemmed walled multiple fenced in.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2009 at 8:29AM
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jwr6404(8B Wa)

I had 43 large Fir trees in my yard most over 12 inches and 1 over 36 inches. I legally took them all down,prior to my town becoming a City as I felt that they were dangerous and ugly in a yard. I've replaced most of them with heavy bearing fruit trees. The home owners association complained to me but knew I wasn't concerned about their opinion. I had the great pleasure last year telling one of them how nice their Fir tree looked after it fell through their roof. Fortunately no one was hurt.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2009 at 11:55AM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

Ivy is a noxious weed in Oregon no matter what cultivar.

Have you seen what it has done to Forest Park? or along Hwy 43? or in the Gorge? It smothers everything in it's path. Changes forest into an ivy patch. It is horrible.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2009 at 1:13PM
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American Ivy Society Questions and Answers

Not talking about English Ivy. Miniature ivies which are slower and small and easy to manage. And extraordinarily beautiful.
Ivy Photo Gallery


Here is a link that might be useful: American Ivy Society Q & As

    Bookmark   April 22, 2009 at 2:44PM
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George Three LLC

i had a lil' 36x100 lot with two big mature fir trees on it. you can manage along pretty well, even grow SOME grass here and there.

first of all, i would get an arborist in to trim them up a bit and clear out some branches to let in some light. i use integrity tree care cause they beat out all the other bids. good guys!

second, big conifers tend to create a ZONE OF DEATH underneath them with well defined borders. i would venture about 5 feet into the zone of death with traditional garden plants. with a fair amount of watering and a nice shade mix of seeds (protime has 2 lb. bags of shade grass that should do well) you can get a decent lawn going in that 5 foot zone.

heading into the tree zone, woodland specific plants, especially natives should do fine or trive. wood roses, snowberry, wild ginger, native bleeding heart, huckleberry, sword ferns, and so on.

i guess the point is: create a battle against those trees that you can win.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2009 at 5:47PM
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Zone of death. Wow. I think that's is my entire yard... front and back. There is one good area in the front where I plan to grow vegetables... but as far as groundcovers that can be used as a lawn substitute is there really nothing? I'm not thinking Ivy, since it is considered a nuisance. I was looking at using Irish Moss, but I can't find any information about whether it would grow/spread under a pine tree.

It's already trimmed pretty high up, at least the one in the front. So the soil does get moist, and some sun gets in. There's no way it's getting torn down. If I went to the city for a permit, I'm pretty sure it would be declared a Heritage tree.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2009 at 10:30PM
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bboy(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

The two main nuisance plants on public lands in Seattle are ivy and Himalayan blackberry. Some of the most Hellacious infestations of ivy I have seen were in Portland.

Baltic, English, Irish or miniature - it's all Hedera helix.

Irish moss needs good moist soil. Even there you have to lift, divide and replant periodically to maintain an even coverage.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2009 at 11:35PM
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I tried Irish & Scottish moss. They disappeared. A tiny bit of vinca and creeping jenny survived around edges of raised beds. Something is now disallowing anything to grow on ground. I water a lot so doubt tree suckage is that strong, but don't know.

Will try ProTime before painting on moss.

The giant pine tree sounds like a beautiful tree.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 6:35PM
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It is a beautiful tree! After consulting an arborist, I've given in to the fact that it would be way too much work to try and plant something that will either die, or harm the trees. So I'm covering my lawn with hazelnut shells! Not exactly what I was going for when I bought my house, but it could be pretty cool.

Thanks for all of your advice!

    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 11:05PM
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George Three LLC

i think you might have given up too easily! what kind of tree is it exactly?

    Bookmark   April 24, 2009 at 11:57AM
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Yes, you are probably right, But I priced out a bunch of groundcovers and to plant enough to cover my lawn it would have been thousands of dollars. I think i'm still going to do wild strawberry for right around the tree, and I'm doing a flower bed in the front of my lawn, which will require some maintenance... but at least it's not my whole yard!

I think it's a Scot's pine, based on other images... but I'm not sure.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2009 at 11:32PM
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George Three LLC


there is a great local resource for you. leach gardens is MOSTLY full shade under-conifer.

Here is a link that might be useful: visit the garden and steal their ideas!

    Bookmark   April 26, 2009 at 1:06PM
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I, too, have two huge fir trees in my small front yard in N. Seattle and they were huge in June 1972 when we bought the house. At one time there was a nice little lawn under the trees that my ex-husband was tending, but I have never been much of a gardener so now it's all dandilions and bare dirt. I have a German Shepherd and would like to have a little patch of grass for her, with the rest of the yard being covered with woodchips. She spends most of her time in the house, so the yard is not her main focus. I am tired of it looking so ratty and have planted some bulbs in pots, and they are coming up. I also have two big rhodys that continue to do well. I have thought of buying a little patch of sod and rolling it out for an instant lawn, but first the prepwork must be done. After reading all these exchanges about fir trees and vegetation, I suspect I should be thankful that there are dandilions growing well under my trees! I will never cut them down! Maybe putting some steppables out there in the middle would be almost as good as a little patch of lawn. Any thoughts are welcome.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2009 at 6:13PM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

Native sword ferns will grow under Douglas firs, so will Oregon grape and many Rhodies. I've got native bleeding heart growing so well that I have to weed it. It isn't as brightly colored as some of the hybrids but it spreads nicely and doesn't need summer water.

Irish and Scotch moss aren't moss and need full sun.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2009 at 1:07PM
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laurell(8 - Washington)

Nancy - I have/had vinca minor that was happy as a clam under a large fir tree. I still have a large mat in my yard waste bin, as well as probably another 10-15 square feet that you're welcome to come dig up if you'd like to try it. My dog loved to roll around in it before I dug it up. I'm located in Bothell.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2009 at 4:33PM
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George Three LLC

just came across a mention of koeleria macrantha- junegrass- at a native nursery website. in the pacNW it grows in open pine forests, which is essentially what you have.

its a good looking 1 foot tall clumper.

looks pretty near perfect for you!

(caveat: i've never grown it or even seen it-knowingly- in real live)

    Bookmark   May 10, 2009 at 10:36AM
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kendal(8 PNW)

There isn't anything more beautiful then a yard full of conifers! I have 5 huge rhodies I gave away and the man is in the middle of digging them up to put in his yard and I will replace them with cryptomeria radicans. they grow about 3-5 feet a year. The lawn when we moved here was more weed and moss then lawn, so I wish it would just die off. We already have 2 15 foot blue spruces in back, and I've got a couple 2 foot Austrian pines, one leyland cypress and a douglas fur. I'm hoping to be surrounded by a forest of green in 10 years *G*

    Bookmark   May 21, 2009 at 10:56AM
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Wild geraniums (crane's bill), or hardy geraniums can survive under large conifers. In my case I have a wild geraniums bed with its inner edge the bark of my spruce tree and its outer edge, my lawn. It is completely shaded, but does not seem to mind.

This type of geranium has several advantages:

- it will survive dry conditions (as in summer months with competition from the conifer's roots)
- it will bloom for two to four weeks in May-June
- leaves smell nice
- it stays green even in winter

the only disadvantages I can think of:
- it is not suitable for walking over (it gets crushed easily

    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 9:04AM
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Agh! I only WISH I had your problem. Pine trees are almost always native in my state (GA) and they support a wide variety of wildlife including native birds like Mourning Doves, Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers and Pine Warblers. Yet here too, a lot of people seem to want to chop pines down and replace them with sterile lawns and non-native plants (here it's mostly Chinese and Japanese ornamentals) that support no bird or butterfly life, and really do a number on native ecosystems. Please rethink chopping down your pines. I'm actually in the process of purchasing and planting some and it's expensive. I wish the person who owned my property before me had left the natural trees that were in place alone. One man's trash is another man's (and bird's!) treasure.

This post was edited by SClevelandm on Tue, Jun 10, 14 at 21:56

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 9:53PM
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