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What will grow well among tree roots ...

Posted by roselee z8 SW Texas (My Page) on
Mon, Mar 24, 08 at 10:21

We built a simi-circular brick planter that stands alone in the front yard. It was planted with miniature roses, Sweet alyssum (the alyssum smells so sweet!) and various other small plants that did wonderfully well.

After a few years they began to decline in spite of good care, plenty of water, compost, etc. In digging around them I found a mass of tree roots from the Cedar elm tree we planted about 15 feet away. There is no way to keep the tree roots out. Besides I love the tree. It grows tall rather than spreading so does not cast too much shade.

The roses were removed, and I tried a few other things there such as Shubby pink skullcap and Blue plumbago. The skullcap looked good for awhile, but needs full all day hot sun to do its best and this spot does not provide it, but the plumbago, which stays in continual bloom all summer, has spread itself and taken over the spot. Black foot daisies are planted along the edges and spill over.

I am so impressed that the plumbago is able to grow and bloom so well with minimal water among the tree roots that I wanted to tell you all about it.

What have y'all found that will grow among thick tree roots?

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: What will grow well among tree roots ...

It's good to hear about the plumbago doing well under those conditions! I, too, have a bed with many tree roots and the only thing that has survived (not thrived) are my daylilies. I believe I will try the plumbago, especially since I don't believe the deer will devour those as they do the daylilies. Thanks for sharing you experience.

RE: What will grow well among tree roots ...

I have deer browsing in the neighborhood too, and though they occasionally take a nibble or two of the plumbagos, presumably to try them, they are not their favorite dish.

RE: What will grow well among tree roots ...

Hey Roselee! Funny you should mention that, as I just created that problem for myself. I've got a ratty old lop-sided live oak in my backyard that's a bit of an eye-sore. I've even considered cutting it down. But in my yard, all plants are either kept alive, moved or given away. It's a shelter of sorts. Sometimes it looks like "Santa's shop of broken toys". But there's plenty of good karma in the yard, and the plants seems to thrive, even under my less than ideal care.

But I just built a square, brick, elevated bed around the oak. It doesn't have large surface roots, but there are plenty of big ones just below the soil line. So the bed's been raised about five inches above the soil line, with good quality soil and mixed in compost.

Inside the bed I'll grow President canna and underplant mondo grass to keep it nice in the winter.

But I'm no tree expert. Seems like the live oaks are pretty tough. I don't imagine that a couple inches of extra soil around the base will affect it much. In addition to that, the tree is gonna get more water and nutrients than it has probably ever had. Now on the surface that sounds like a good thing. But who knows?

Either way I'll be watching it. The bricks and all the plants can be readily moved if needed.

RE: What will grow well among tree roots ...

I don't have any direct experience with it, but the plant gurus always warn not to raise the soil level around a tree trunk.

When some houses were removed by the city in a neighborhood because of flooding I noticed that city crews came out and spent a couple of days just going around with a hoe and pulling any soil away from the trees trunks; so I imagine it must be pretty important if the city took the time and expense to do this.

A couple of inches does not seem like much. Perhaps you could just rake it away from the tree in a foot wide circle around the trunk just to be sure.

RE: What will grow well among tree roots ...

I just visited with (another) landscaper a few days ago in my never ending quest to landscape my front yard and he commented on the bed that surrounds my red oak tree. He said that the soil shouldn't come up around the trunk, not even a couple of inches, and then he made a trench with the heel of his boot to demonstrate what I should do. However, this landscaper is guilty of crepe myrtle abuse, i.e. "topping," so I don't have much confidence in him. I will be interested to see what others have to say about this. I have to have a raised bed to get anything to grow under this particular tree.

RE: What will grow well among tree roots ...

Roselee, thanks for that excellent suggestion. I'll dig a trench around the trunk and bring it back to the regular level. I guess in retrospect, the trunk is not the root, and it's probably not prepared to deal with constant moisture and pests that are found in the ground.

Thanks again.


RE: What will grow well among tree roots ...

We have a red oak in our yard that was planted high to start with 24 years ago. I built a raised bed around it, and even tho I added about 6" of fill, it does not cover the root flare of the oak. I have been told not to raise the soil level around trees with soil, but it's ok to use organic matter, compost, etc., as it still allows air to get to the roots so does not smother them. Anyway, my bed around the oak is about 12 years old, I do have to add organic matter every couple of years as it decomposes, but the tree and planting around it are great. I think my biggest concern is as the trunk expands, my bed gets smaller. I just love trees that are a part of a plan rather than just coming up out of grass. To me, they looks more natural with plants around them.

RE: What will grow well among tree roots ...

I have a similar problem but the culprit is queen palm roots which fill the soil and suck up any moisture. My solution is salvia coccinea. I had this planted elsewhere and had a bounty of self-seeded plantlets. While the plantlets were small, I used a teaspoon and gently re-located them between the tree roots. They were babied with daily water for a week until they had taken hold.

There is drip irrigation in this area because the plants need a drink every other day when the temps are 90 degrees plus and the sun is blazing. The salvia have since self-seeded on their own in this location.

If you don't like salvia, think of some other plant that readily self-seeds and give it a try. I think the key is to start with very small plants that you can "fit" between the roots without a lot of trauma.

Think of the stray flower you have seen happily blooming in the crack of a driveway

RE: What will grow well among tree roots ...

The following are growing in my shaded dry big tree bed with drip irrigation: Azaleas, planted up high in their very own spaces, boxwood hedge, ligustrum treed up, begonias, ferns, coral bells, oxalis, dianthus, agapanthus, hostas, sweet olive, hydrangeas. Only the shrubs and ferns and baby oak trees are doing OK w/ lots of water and fertilizer. The lower stuff is petering out. i am thinking of trying Barb's idea of putting the hostas and agapanthus in nursery pots.

RE: What will grow well among tree roots ...

We found that ferns do well... the thick leather leaf one, can't think of the name at the moment.

RE: What will grow well among tree roots ...

I have lots of tree roots and plant many different plants.
I agree that self seeders are great.

Turks cap does nicely, the becky Hirta grows and returns for me in a part sun area. Sedums are really nice. Anything that doesn't need much fertilizer because trees are greedy buggers. If you have enough sun, maybe zinnias!

I had the worst luck with reblooming iris, the Magnolia gobbled up all the nutrients!

calendua are happy there, small bulbs are too like crocus, and small daffodils.

I had two moderate sized moss covered stones delivered and they anchor the back of one rooty garden.

RE: What will grow well among tree roots ...

I have a bunch of stuff growing under the canopy of my trees. It seems that this year my live oak is really competing for nutrients. My boxwoods,ligustrum, liriope are very clorotic. Even my columbine is struggling. I chalk it up to the drought.

I planted Suspensum Viburnums two years ago and they seem to be doing very well, almost no chlorosis. They are more attractive and have a bolder foliage than most of the traditional foundation shrubs.

My plumbago is also doing well.

Sago Palms perform well in dry shade. Cast Iron plant does well in deep shade.

Last year, I bought this really neat plant called a Beschornia. False Red Agave. I spotted them at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens, in the succulent exhibit. And it was like, "What's That??!!"
It's beautiful. I've got three of them. They look very tropical..Like a giant evergreen spider lily. Extremely drought tolerant. They're from the Sierra Madre.

I managed to get mine from Rainbow Gardens. However, I don't know if it is something that they normally stock. They got their's from the person that supplied the Botanical Garden's.

Beschorneria prefers shade.

Yuccado is selling Beschornia seedlings. Here is a link: x 'Ding Dong' seedlings

Beschorneria is very popular in Europe, but for some reason hasn't caught on here.

Here is a picture of one in my yard. It's newly planted in the right hand corner. To the left is also a newly planted Mediteranean Fan Palm.

In the very far right corner of the photo, near the house, I have one that is blooming.


The link photo shows one in bloom.

Here is a link that might be useful: Beschnorerias in an Irish Garden

RE: What will grow well among tree roots ...

Pricklypear, I love evergreen architectural type plants and I'm intrigued by your Beschorneria. I had not been aware of this plant, but I'll be watching for it locally before ordering from Yuccado. If your blooming plant sets seed save some for me. Thank you for your picture and the link.

I have some small offsets of the 'octopus' agave that I'll be bringing to the plant swap. The offsets seems to be slow growing. Perhaps I separated them too soon from the mother plant. This picture was taken at the botanical gardens.

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