Return to the Rocky Mountain Gardening Forum | Post a Follow-Up

What to plant under aspen trees

Posted by lktaku Idaho-Zone3-5 (My Page) on
Mon, May 10, 10 at 19:59

Hi all,

I have a fairly small backyard with lots of trees in it, especially aspen trees. There is a water fountain and small pond in one corner, with two dry streambeds (think cobble and then 2" river rock) that we just put in to wind through it...this was to get rid of most the lawn and it looks wonderful. Now, my struggle is what to plant under the aspens. They are older- say 20 years and doing well. There are two other trees there that create a deeper shade in parts of the yard. In that space I have some hostas and ferns, gallium and Solomon seal which look lovely. Now I need to figure out the aspens. I am torn between an English garden style and something that mimics the natural habitat. We do want something lower maintenance and somewhat dog resistant(although I am trying little barriers now). I can go the route of Annabelle hydrangea with astilbe, bleeding hearts, heucehera, pulmonaria, etc....OR well, I don't know what shrubs would look right there. In the yard elsewhere is a burning bush (which my dog likes to chew on),currants and a couple low growing junipers. I just don't know what I can do to make it look more like a natural woodland habitat...and/or can I combine them? thanks! Lisa

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: What to plant under aspen trees

I love the fall color combination of aspen and sumac. It just says fall in the Rockies to me. Just make sure you get a non-poisonous variety. The sumacs are the orange shrubs in the lower right corner of the pic, sorry it's not bigger.

Here is a link that might be useful: Sumac with Aspen

RE: What to plant under aspen trees

Oops, wrong link above. Please use this one.

Here is a link that might be useful: Sumac with Aspen

RE: What to plant under aspen trees

I'm not to good at getting an idea of what a garden looks like without pictures but...

Along the stream bed, I think Anemone sylvestris would mimic what I see out here (though, I've never been to Idaho except for driving through!). I can picture bleeding hearts and shooting stars looking very nice alongside the galium and solomon's. I'd like a little more of a woodland look than an English garden look even though I adore an English garden! The suggestion of sumac is right on with what I picture. My neighbor has sumac at the base of trees and she has a dry creek too. Fall is a lovely sight next door!

Hmm, you could almost do both...instead of lavender, you could plant catmint, instead of David Austin roses, you could plant wild and nearly wild roses. Oooh, you could plant lots of flowering herbs!

Sounds like fun!

RE: What to plant under aspen trees

If you want to add a native looking evergreen ground cover to the mix, arctostaphylos is an option.

There are a couple of related varieties listed at Plant Select.

Here is a link that might be useful: arctostaphylos at Plant Select

RE: What to plant under aspen trees

Ribes odoratum 'Crandall' for spring fls, fall color and occasional bird food, plus Rhus aromatica 'Grow Low', and Douglas maple for fall color contrast to aspens,

kinnikinnick, Rubus arcticus (nagoonberry, yummy!), sprinkle daffodils early season and red tulips mid-season, potentilla, one Saskatoon to mix with the aspen trunks at the verge of the aspen dripline, Physocarpus malvaceus over the 'Grow Low', Shepherdia canadensis for ice cream, of course some blueberries if you can water them.


RE: What to plant under aspen trees

  • Posted by skybird z5, Denver, CO (My Page) on
    Tue, May 11, 10 at 18:40

Hi Iktaku,

Welcome to RMG!

Ok! Youre getting lots of recommendations for shrubby stuff, but Im a FLOWER person, so Im gonna recommend some flowers that would work! I dont know if these are "English garden" flowers or not! Every time I hear somebody talking about an English garden, or showing pictures of one, theyre always different, so Ive come to the conclusion that everybody has their own idea of what an English garden should look like! To me, most of these are flowers that would look good in a "woodland" type of setting. Just my opinion, guys! I know everybody has a different idea about that too!

So here are some suggestions from a Flower Personwhatever you decide to call the garden!

I second the Anemone sylvestris! They look wonderfully "natural" and are also great cut flowers!
(Ill post thumbnails, and you can click to enlarge any you want to see!)

I also second putting in a variety of spring bulbs. Daffodils, grape hyacinths, species tulips and the really early smaller onesGalanthus/snowdrops, Chionodoxa/glory-of-the-snow, and more! And the species crocus have a very native/natural look.

I think patches of lily-of-the-valley would look good along with forget-me-nots and some Saxifraga/saxifrage. Forget-me-nots reseed freely and wind up "very" natural looking. After they start producing seed, I just pull out the current years batch, and the following year there are even more! And little violas or Johnny-jump-upswhich also reseed freely, would add color. All in this pic except the lily-of-the-valley.

Theres also false forget-me-not, Brunnera macrophylla. And theres a variety called Looking Glass that has white leaves, which is wonderful to lighten up shade. I got one at last years fall swap, and its not big enough yet to have a decent picture, but I LOVE it! Its blooming for the first time now!

Hardy cyclamen also have a great woodsy look. The first one, Cyclamen hederifolium is summer dormant, so theres no foliage over summer, but it blooms in late summer, and then gets wonderful two-tone green leaves right after it starts bloomingand keeps them all winter! The pink one is Cyclamen purpurascens, which keeps its leaves all summer!

For some brighter color theres coral bells, Heuchera sanguineabloom most of the summer if you keep them deadheaded. Firefly is the reddest one that I know of.

And Geranium sanguinea would work in any of your light conditions, and with the right conditions the leaves turn red in fall. My sanguineafrom a swapisnt big enough yet for a picture, but I also have Geranium dalmaticum Compact Rose, and there are lots of other species of geraniums. A somewhat unusual one is Geranium renardii, which has a real thick, leathery looking leaf.

Then theres the blue Rocky Mountain columbine, Aquilegia caerulea, and lupines come in a variety of colors and heights, and in the sunnier spots, Iceland poppies would add some bright color.

Theres pasque flowersPulsatilla vulgaris is the most common, but theres also P. patens, Rocky Mountain Pasque flower (just one of its common names), and some other species. They get pretty, silvery seed heads when theyre done bloomingmine looks great this year, but I havent had time to download the seed head pics yet!

There are a bunch of different species of primrosesthe most common is Primula vulgaris, but there are lots of others that have a more "wild" look. I also have drumstick primrose, Primula denticulata. (This is a "first year" pic. Theyre bigger and better this year!)

And there are a bunch of short species of campanula/bell flowers. Campanula rotundifolia is just one of them, but it has a VERY woodsy look. (Also a first year picture, and its big and beautiful this yearbut not blooming yet!)

You could also put in some alpine strawberries, Fragaria vesca. Theyd need at least some intermittent sun, but mine are right against the north side of the house on the east end, and they do well with not a whole lot of direct sun. F. vesca doesnt get runners, so they stay where you put them! They get very small berrieswith the most intense strawberry flavor youll ever find!

And then.......

For shrubby stuff, Id second the kinnikinnick, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi suggestion, or the PlantSelect one thats linked, Arctostaphylos x coloradoensis. Theyd definitely give you a "mountain woods" look.

Another possibility that grows wild out in the hills would be Mahonia repens, creeping barberry/creeping Oregon grape holly, but you wouldnt want it in areas where you work a lot, cause the leaves are "poky" just like real holly. It also would spread a lot if not kept pruned back, but if you just want to cover ground, it would work for that, and the leaves turn reddish/purplish over winterdependant on the weather.

ButI like flowers!

Post some pics when you have time,

RE: What to plant under aspen trees

THANK YOU, THANK YOU ALL! I apologize for not responding sooner..I was thinking that the responses would be emailed to me, but I guess they aren't ;)

I was totally thinking about planting a bunch of bulbs so that is absolutely wonderful...I appreciate the suggestions on those and the flowers...I adore them. AND I just bought 3 kinnickkinnick at a local nursery to try yesterday! It says it wants gravel soil so we will see how it will do here., as my soil is a bit more clay-ey with rocks in it...although I am amending it with compost.

Your photos are so inspiring. I saw the sumac the local garden center and was drawn to them, but worried about how big they would get. I will double check.

And I LOVE the look of arctostaphylos, the flowers remind me of KK and I would like an evergreen option.

So - my only concern with the flowers is the dogs...they will walk through them unless I fence the yard, but I may just have to deal with that.

Also, many of the shrubs listed are BIG...and my property is small. The back bed is probably 60 feet long by about 6 six at its widest...and usually no more than 3 feet. I have a huge red twig dogwood I've let go crazy as I like the structure in winter there. Too bad, there was also one in the corner that my husband hacked out before I found out ;(. I was thinking maybe a lilac back there - or a viburnum?

Then there is the other kind of L shaped bed under the aspens. But again, it is only about 20 feet long by 13 at the longest legs. More like 5 feet winding down to the ends.

So, with some of these I would really have to trim them back pretty hard...Is that okay for the plants?

I am also thinking about adding some grasses - like Idaho Boulder Blue fescue - for interest. And of course, a simple wood mulch.

To help, I went ahead and put up some photos...

I LOVE the flowers, but am worried about them with my one of the photos you can see a makeshift fence around the bed - just trying to train my 2 80# Chesapeake Bay Retrievers about where the new paths are.

In this first photo - the bed is along the back fence up to the streambed. The second photo gives you another view. In that far corner is a small fountain and pond. The third and fourth photos have the main bed ringed in makeshift fences. And you can't see it now, but again that back fence there that is gray with metal (That big dog likes to break through the fence there and we have to fence over it with a second cedar fence!) will be yet another bed about 5 feet by 20 feet..No aspen there, just one tree and I am waiting to plant that unless I figure out a great idea.

And sorry for the construction mess...we just put up that new fence last weekend ;)

Again, thank you all for your wonderful help and kindness...I can see where this native woodland look can be lower maintenance and easier with dogs...And then will try to add some flowers where they can get most protected and the biggest view of keep any suggestions coming!

Take care, Lisa

Here is a link that might be useful: Backyard pictures

 o Post a Follow-Up

Please Note: Only registered members are able to post messages to this forum.

    If you are a member, please log in.

    If you aren't yet a member, join now!

Return to the Rocky Mountain Gardening Forum

Information about Posting

  • You must be logged in to post a message. Once you are logged in, a posting window will appear at the bottom of the messages. If you are not a member, please register for an account.
  • Please review our Rules of Play before posting.
  • Posting is a two-step process. Once you have composed your message, you will be taken to the preview page. You will then have a chance to review your post, make changes and upload photos.
  • After posting your message, you may need to refresh the forum page in order to see it.
  • Before posting copyrighted material, please read about Copyright and Fair Use.
  • We have a strict no-advertising policy!
  • If you would like to practice posting or uploading photos, please visit our Test forum.
  • If you need assistance, please Contact Us and we will be happy to help.

Learn more about in-text links on this page here