What to plant under Live Oak?

dallas_designSeptember 5, 2008

I've been trying to figure out what to plant under our live oak in the backyard. As you can see in the pic below, the previous homeowner covered this area with mulch. I've since removed all the mulch, and it's now just dirt, and the bushes at the back are gone as well.

The easiest solution would just to get the St. Augustine to fill it in. Can you buy St. Augustine sod this time of year?

If I were to plant something, it'd need to be able to cover the whole area, and take well to raking when the live oak drops its leaves. That's originally why all the mulch got pulled up.

Any ideas?

Here's the pic:



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I'll be honest with you....with the size of the tree and the fence right there...you won't get enough sun or be able to supply the water St. Augustine will require to look nice.

Mondo grass won't mind there....depending on how much shade you have, ferns won't either (I have a large amount of ferns in my back yard in the corner under a huge ash where nothing else will grow...I don't rake, the leaves provide nutrients as they break down that the ferns like.).

Surely someone else will happen along that will know what applies to Dallas exactly. I live south of Houston, so I'm a lot more limited in my choices.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2008 at 1:58PM
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That is a nice old tree. I recommend a wide area of mulch under a large live oak. Otherwise it is competing with grass or other plants for nutrients and water.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2008 at 2:05PM
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shebear(z8 NCentralTex)

Check out this site:

Personally I wouldn't plant under an oak. I know it's done often but I wonder why most of the really old ones seem to be out there on their own with nothing growing under them.

Instead of planting under it, why don't you put a table and swing or portable hamock under it. Maybe a small movable deck and some pots with shade plants. It's a great shady spot to sit and read or grab a nap. I'd be napping out there after a weed pulling session.

Here is a link that might be useful: Info on oaks

    Bookmark   September 5, 2008 at 2:43PM
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We've actually got a hammock under it now. Thought about putting down flagstone, but that would likely cost a bit too much.

What else would be a good barrier for weeds and such, as well as not being too maintenance heavy when the tree drops leaves?

    Bookmark   September 6, 2008 at 11:40AM
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Have you thought about Horse Herb (Calyptocarpus vialis)? It is native to our area and fills in nicely. It can be mowed just like grass. The nice thing about it is that it stays bright green even with little watering. Go to:


to see a photo.

You can purchase it at any of the native plant nuseries -- Weston Gardens would probably be your best bet.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2008 at 1:43PM
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Everything I've read about horse herb makes me think it'd be too invasive.

Perhaps the deck is the best solution.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2008 at 3:03PM
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mikeandbarb(z8 D/FW)

A round deck with a round bench going around the tree would look nice.

Then you could plant ferns, cast iron, caladiums, texas columbine around the border. You could also do hosta's in pots.

St. Augustine does not like live oak leafs so you'd have to rake it in the spring, with the plants the leafs would be a great mulch.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2008 at 6:29PM
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freshair2townsquare(z7/8, D/FW)

a) Have you left the area alone to determine what kind of weed battle you'll have? If you just recently removed the mulch, you might want to watch it for a while - might find out you don't need a weedblock.

b) We've left our live oak mostly bare underneath - a few Liriope, a very small azalea and mulch.

c) I know you said you've have decided against horseherb, but I found it at Strong's on I-35E between Sandy Lake and Beltline in Carrollton.

~ Amy

    Bookmark   September 6, 2008 at 8:17PM
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having lived on a lot with 9 huge live oaks, i can tell you the only things i would plant would be mulch, a brick patio or a deck

i spent a fortune and suffered defeat trying to convince myself otherwise!

sigh they were/are beautiful!!

    Bookmark   September 7, 2008 at 4:10PM
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That must be why the former owners of our house built a playhouse with an attached timber swing set under the old oak tree. I like it for my daughter but, of course, st. augustine doesn't grow there. There is a tiny weed groundcover which makes the area look green but it's not thick so playing under the oak is a muddy affair. I was hoping to create a crushed granite path from the patio edged in mondo or some other liriope and maybe layer some moonlight caladium and azalea beyond that but i'm researching now to see what's really practical to avoid wasting money on mistakes. Love oaks/hate oaks. They're root systems are shallow, soak up to 50 gals of water daily so st. augustine can't compete but other shrubs and ground covers can. That's what I've got so far to work with.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 9:51AM
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Don't forget that you can mulch the area with a material of your choice and then use various pots of colored annuals or whatever to brighten up the area. Planting under oaks is a trial in itself unless you use hardy shade type groundcovers of which there are a few. Even then, you'll probably have to use a leaf blower to clean up after the leaves start falling.
If you choose to go with mulches, I prefer the natural types such as wood chips or unfinished compost rather than gravel, rocks, etc., that tend to migrate all over the surrounding area no matter how careful you are.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2014 at 11:01AM
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Not many options, if you need something suitable for kids to romp on. Otherwise, you can easily create a very attractive area. I use a ground cover form of ruellia commonly known as Blue Shade. It forms a thick, dark green mat, and blooms after rainfall. It can get over a foot tall, but is easily controlled with a weedeater. It's usually evergreen in 8b. Mine froze back this year, but is quickly returning. I water it perhaps once a year. It conceals narrow live oak leaves nicely. Then there's mondo, purple heart, ardesia, aspidistra, ivy, holly fern, etc.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2014 at 11:44AM
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bostedo(8a tx-bp-dfw)

You might give 'Palmetto' St. Augustine a try if you'd prefer grass. It is probably the most shade tolerant SA cold hardy enough for Dallas. I've found it will often fill in surprisingly well where the 'Raleigh' has thinned out under the increasing shade of developing trees.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2014 at 10:17PM
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daninthedirt(Cent TX; HZ10, Sunset z30, USDA z8a)

Asian jasmine will do very nicely, if you're willing to do groundcover, rather than lawn. Nice and thick deep green. I have it covering much of my backyard under live oak and cedar elm, with caliche not far below. Drought tolerant and low/zero maintenance. Not very tolerant of footsteps or kids, but it makes it easy to make paths. Where you walk will turn into a path. It'll cover the whole area in a few years. That being the case, it's kind of invasive, but you can just mow the edges to keep it well behaved.

Live Oak dropping leaves? It shouldn't drop very many of them. St. Augustine won't do that well there, BTW.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 6:53PM
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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

I grow lots of plants under live oaks. wood sorel combined with wandering Jew. One grows and blooms when the other is below ground. One is a winter grower and one is a summer grower. I grow salvia lyrata, Salvia romeriiana, phlox pilosa, Ajuga repens, columbine (with drainage) greek pattern plant, salvia coccinea, turks cap penstemon tennis. I guess I never heard that thing not to plant under trees. I always had mulch in foot traffic areas. I do not like to water grass. I was on a hill facing East so we did have morning sun under the deep shade and some very late afternoon sun on the other side.

Oak trees in the wild have all sorts of things growing under them from agarita , evergreen sumac,

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 11:07PM
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