Planting under oak tree

misslemonverbena(z8 Portland,Or.)September 30, 2004

Hello fellow gardeners,

I am not new to gardening, but I am new to Oregon, and new to my particular garden site. Just bought my first home & want to do this right. I could really use some help. My yard is almost entirely within the canopy of a very magnificent old oak tree. I have been told by a landscaper and a couple of arborists that itÂs a pin oak, a scarlet oak, a white oak, and on & on. From my own research I think itÂs probably a northern red oak, quite common in Portland I hear. I called the University of Oregon Master Gardeners line in Clackamas County for advice and was told that oak trees are allelopathic in nature and that it will be a struggle to plant anything beneath it. I asked for suggestions on compatible plants and he just pretty much said nothing will do well. I have never felt so shot down or discouraged in my gardening life. I have heard of walnut trees being toxic to other plants but not oaks. From what I could learn on the internet oaks give off a chemical substance called coumarin that discourages herbs and grasses. Does this mean herbaceous perennials? I would love to hear from any others who garden under oak trees in Portland. My understanding of allelopathy is that itÂs a way that a plant "protects" it territory, meaning making it difficult for other plants to compete for nutrients by exuding a chemical through roots and fallen leaves... There has got to be a way around this. I was hoping to create a dry shade garden that encouraged bird and butterfly habitat. Do you think I should post this in any other forums? (I am also new to the gardening forums). Are all Master Gardeners that darn mean? Thanks for your help. Oh! By the way Master Gardener also told me not use the fallen oak leaves in my compost. This advice seems totally bizarre to me, but then IÂm from California so IÂm more than willing to look stupid. Sorry this is so long.

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cantstopgardening(Zone 4/5 WI)

I grow under my pine trees, which the last owner limbed up, in large wooden crates so the plants don't have to compete with tree roots for moisture. Not too many crates, so I don't suffocate the tree roots. It's a nice place for bedding annuals and frost tender perennials, and the raised height of the crates makes it easy for planting and un-planting each year. Just took in my begonis, impatiens cuttings, to overwinter them.

Whenever I see oak trees in nature, there are plants under them. I'd suggest trying a few things, to see what works. Make notes, you'll figure out what works. ;-) Maybe Master Gardener was having a bad week. Happy gardening.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2004 at 11:38AM
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misslemonverbena(z8 Portland,Or.)

Thank you for your reply cantstopgardening.Just the fact that you are growing begonias in wisconsin makes me smile. I just realized I foolishly posted this in Northern Gardening instead of Northwest gardening. My aplogies folks.
I will try reposting in Nothwest to see if someone has a similar situation.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2004 at 2:37PM
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casper1(5/6- -10F Ont)

I go out of my way to procure "OAK LEAVES". I ask my friends to please save them for me in plastic garbage bags. I use these bags as insulation for my "banana trees". In the spring, when the insulation is no longer needed, the leaves are shredded,put into the compost, or used as a mulch on my "Rhodo bed". I would suggest to you to enquire about Rhodos, Azaleas, kalmias, and other ericaceae plants. You have the type of situ that a lot of us envy. RAI.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2004 at 4:19PM
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cantstopgardening(Zone 4/5 WI)

Now, now, misslemonverbena, don't rub it in, I know you probably get to grow begonias like they really should be grown. ;-) Who wants five foot tall begonias and all that warm weather anyway? I like freezing my tucuss off. Really!!

(just in case you didn't hear the teasing in my voice, it's there. Oregon is soo beautiful. And you probably don't own a snowshovel.)

Happy gardening.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2004 at 5:28PM
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julie_mn(z4 MN Henn)

Hey there Misselmonverbena!
I know I live in MN, but I wanted to share with you that my favotite gardens in my yard are under huge oak canopies! I even have sun loving roses blooming just under the edges on the south side. The oaks do not "steal" as much moisture as pines or lilacs. Their roots go deep and do not hinder even shrubs! Many shade to partial shade plants reside under my oaks, even in zone 4!!
The leaves do not break down fast like many other leaves. So to some folks, that is a bad thing. Not so to many others. They add friability to the soil's compostion even if they take a little more nitrogen to break down. As mulch and path liners, they work very well also.
Do not hesitate to try anything shade tolerant under the canopy of your oaks. I have added sky chairs to my larger oak's branches as well and have created a "room" to relax and enjoy.
Best of luck to you!

    Bookmark   October 15, 2004 at 4:59PM
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ofpill(5a - Ottawa)

My garden is partially covered by an oak Canopy and I have noticed no problem! My dad did give me dire predictions but I went ahead and put my veggie garden there anyhow (lettuce, spinach, onions) under the shady bit and they grew beautifully! It is a red oak, I believe.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2005 at 10:24PM
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mkirkwag(Puget Sound)

Sunset has a section on what grows well under oaks. Needs to be drought tolerants, as you shouldn't water around oaks.

I've heard that thing about oak leaves too. I know there's a good deal of concern over sudden oak death syndrome (which comes from leaving your oak lying on its back); some people may feel that this is a way to spread the fungus. More likely it comes from the chemicals released by maple and oak leaves in the rotting process that inhibit seedling growth for a few months. If it's completely rotted, there shouldn't be an issue. The other thing is that oak leaves go into the compost as nitrogen rather than carbon, at least when they're fresh. Not sure about brown ones. Most leaves go in as carbon whatever their color, which always puts me off. It doesn't seem fair.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2005 at 9:10PM
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sheryl_ontario(Muncho Lake, BC z2)

You may have to raise the bed under the tree a bit, to get the new plants off the ground where the tree roots steal all the nutrients and water, at least until they get established. I'd feed them a lot more than your regular garden, too, because the tree roots take so much from the soil.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2005 at 3:41PM
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I live in Fl. any suggestions on what kind of flower or ground cover under my Oaks?
Thank you,

    Bookmark   May 5, 2005 at 8:08AM
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20 years ago, when I moved to my home in Southern Oregon, I didn't know better, and being the home of Jackson & Perkins Roses, bought 20+ orphan roses at .99 each. I planted most under my large oak tree. My roses are huge now, in a variety of color, though the ones farther from the trunk are larger, some reaching 10 feet! I have an English garden in the front and my oak is the center of my garden. People always comment on my roses in their walks up the street. Also, I am horrible about leaving the leaves on the ground in the fall. I usually just rake them lightly in the spring and cultivate the rest into the soil with bags of manure. Though there are many things I can't grow under my oak tree overs are wonderful. Bleeding hearts, strawberries as ground cover, (I fight English ivy and it has won many a battle) daisies, marshmallow plants, four-oclocks and on the edge of the oak shade, smaller varieties of sunflowers. I grow pumpkins that I train through my white picket fence to trail on the outside of the fence to decorate for fall. I don't know why, but they grow beautifully under the oak tree.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2005 at 12:39PM
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shapiro(5a Ontario)

We are in Eastern Canada and have something called a burr oak on our property. It is probably 25 to 30 feet tall now and we are very proud to say we grew it from a tiny plant found in our yard, as big as a pencil (with acorn still attached in the soil). That was maybe 16 years ago. Directly under our magnificent burr oak, some plants have naturally taken residence: an elderberry shrub and lots of blackberries, which we figure got there in bird droppings. At blackberry time, we pick a huge soup-bowl full each day. Moral of the story: learn from Mother Nature, go with the flow of what plants are happy in your neighbourhood.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2005 at 6:25PM
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wpooh(z6a Mo.)

This is my second year for these hostas under my great Oak

    Bookmark   May 12, 2009 at 12:50AM
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I found this website to be extremely helpful in deciding what to plant under Oaks. Check out the dos and don'ts at the end!

Here is a link that might be useful: Las Pilitas oak info

    Bookmark   April 14, 2010 at 1:22PM
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I don't seem to have any kind of problem planting things under my oaks (pin and burr). I believe it's more of a sunlight availability issue than anything else. Amy

    Bookmark   May 9, 2010 at 3:19AM
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I have huge pin oaks, about 65 yrs old. Nothing will grow under them, including any kind of shade grass or ground covers. Now the roots have gotten under my flower beds in front of our porch. We also had horrible drought last summer in Okla. I have huge patches in my front yard where there is just ugly red dirt! Please help.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 5:45PM
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