preparing for woodland garden under giant redwood

seangarrett(9)December 30, 2002

i am planning to install a woodland type garden under a giant redwood in my back yard in the san francisco bay area this coming spring. the tree is about 80 years old and there are about 2 or 3 inches of needles under it. should i till the needles into the heavy clay soil or should i clear them off and enrich it with nursery bought soil ammendments? i'm also concerned that tilling or preparing the bed might possibly damage the roots of the tree.

what steps should i go through to ensure a successful woodland garden and preserve the health of my giant redwood?

many thanks,


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I'd be inclined to think about just digging little holes here and there under the trees and putting plants in the holes. The redwoods need the needles to maintain acidity, and you should plant things that can benefit from that acidity. My recollection of visiting a redwood forest in Ca. some years ago is that there were many interesting plants - ferns, small flowers, etc. If you visit one of those areas, go to the library, or look on the internet for sites that dicuss redwood forests, then you will have some plants that will do well under the trees, and you won't have to baby them along.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2002 at 1:28PM
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Read a book called "Forest Gardening". It should help!

    Bookmark   January 3, 2003 at 3:35PM
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I believe I saw a lovely oxalis (pink wood sorrel) growing under redwood in the state park.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2003 at 12:35AM
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Lynn9(z9/z15 NorthCa.)

I'm doing a simular thing. I have a huge redwood in my small yard, and others nearby and I'm in the process of transplanting native sword, cliff and chain ferns to my small shadey yard. I also have a small garden bed dug out about 6 feet away from the tree.

The garden bed was dug carefully, leaving the tree root that ran through it undisturbed. Redwoods have very shallow and small root systems for their size. Not only do you not want to hurt the tree, you don't want to damage the root system because in a high wind- the tree could fall and hurt *you*.

If you damage some of the smaller "hairy" roots that shoot off from the main root- that's OK. But you don't want to dig anything but smaller shallow holes within 4 - 6 feet.

Native ferns should do very well under redwoods if they have enough drainage, water and loose soil. And plenty of leaf mold or needle mold ("duff"). I think watering them occasionally throughout the first summer would help. I'm also going to try toad lillies and rain lillies. And oriental and asiatic lillies further away from the tree in partial shade.

Oxalis does very well, but can be invasive. You might also consider plants with shallow root systems or potted plants closer to the tree. There are a few native ca irises that will grow near redwoods. I think about any acid loving woodlands plant would do OK, particularly the ones used to our dry summers and wet winters. Any native perenial though, I'd water occasionally the first summer to help it "set".

If your soil is clay- you will need to make sure water can drain from the bottom of any small holes you dig for plants. Otherwise you get a "bowl" effect, and the clay holds all the water in the hole and the plants will drownd in the winter. You can dig little trenches and either fill them in or put in a little pvc pipeing with holes drilled into it into the trench first for a permanant bed.

I would leave the needles there. They are the perfect fertilizer for anything that would grow there. Most woodland plants don't like ammended soil. If it is compacted of clay, you can carefully dig in a little leaf mold or duff by hand with a small trowl. Then be sure there is a covering of needles on top. The needles will also keep the soil from compacting.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2003 at 1:45AM
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qattales(z9 calif)

i found this thread from earlier in the year and wanted to know how the garden came out for you.. i just recently put in a small bog by my redwood to give it a source of water.. i am here in the central valley and it is hot...trying to give my tree some care and enjoy the spot

    Bookmark   August 1, 2003 at 11:04PM
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TamJP(z7 PA)

I just happened to read about Vancouveria planipetala - inside out flower. I was familiar with Vancouveria hexandra, which I have in my garden (and I LOVE). Planipetala is specificly native to the redwood forests and was described as "one of the few plants that can survive in the deep shade and toxic mulch of the giant coast Redwoods". I'm quoting from "Growing and Propagating Wildflowers" by William Cullina; a book which I highly recommend.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2003 at 1:51PM
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I just read your post concerning your Redwood garden while looking for the exact same information. I too have two very large Redwoods under which I would like to plant a garden but have read about the toxic mulch but also read that the trees need this mulch to protect their root system. I am wondering how it has gone for you and what you have done? Did you use any compost? What plants did you use? I am hoping it has been highly successful for you so I can just do what you did ;-) thanks!

    Bookmark   March 30, 2004 at 2:25PM
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lukifell(zone5 NH)

I love Redwoods ! If I was you I would plant more Redwoods all over my property. Give them a hug to make sure they are happy. Hmm. How well do Coast Redwoods spread by seed ? Do they spring up all over the place ?

    Bookmark   May 8, 2004 at 7:43PM
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Does anyone know how best to manage the little shoots that grow from the base of my Redwood tree? I assume my tree was damaged (probably when 'topped' years ago by some previous owner of my home), as it has a wide area surrounding the base. We do the periodic chopping as far back to the base as possible, but we always seem to let the base shoots grow too long in the winter and spring, as some reach over 5' tall! And now there's a very dense, 1ft tall root system that extends about 2 feet from the tree base. Anyone have suggestions on how to manage? How can I stop the shoots from growing? Make a tall mound of mulch around the base? Please help! Thanks!

    Bookmark   June 7, 2004 at 4:10PM
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I have a redwood tree and recently planted ferns and groundcover underneath it which gets regular watering. The soil is also heavy clay. Lately, I have noticed that the leaves are yellowing. Is this a sign of overwatering? There seems to be new growth, but the older growth is yellowing.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2004 at 5:22PM
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kendal(8 PNW)

The best way to know what, if anything to plant under your redwoods would be to go to a redwood forest and see what mother nature has under her trees.


    Bookmark   January 25, 2005 at 8:53PM
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