Asked on May 24, 2013

Planting around trees

JossiLa MacBetter Outdoor Living at Home


I have an old tree in my back yard, the big roots are showing in the ground around the tree. How can I make a bed around the tree trunk with the roots showing? Can I build up the bottom with soil and cover the roots? I would like to plant hosta's or impatients. thank you
9 answers
  • Melanie N
    on May 24, 2013

    I had a huge sugar maple at my old house with a similar dilemma - grass wouldn't grow well under it but the roots protruded and the ground was too hard to plant anything. I made a raised bed around it out of retaining wall blocks - only 2 rows high (about 9-10 inches). I was warned that doing something like this could suffocate the tree, so I didn't go too deep with it, but took the was great for hostas, lily of the valley, and a couple coral bells. Four years later the sugar maple is as healthy as ever...however I DO recommend getting more advice so you don't harm the tree!

  • La Mac
    on May 27, 2013

    Thank you for your response. Any advise is great.

  • A plant with shallow roots would be a good choice like perennials and/or a groundcover - shrubs would not likely do well. You could create a landscape bed without adding soil (unless soil has been eroded away), just plant the hosta and impatiens around the surfaced roots.The roots of the tree would be inside the bed area, and would be partially hidden by the plants, and even mulch - if parts of the roots are visible after you install your plants, it may give your garden more of a 'woodland' look. Candytuft may be a good perennial groundcover for you, if the area gets a little sun. Its evergreen, and easy to maintain.

  • La Mac
    on May 28, 2013

    Thank you for the suggestion. It would get full shade, and the roots are protruding thru the ground around the base. So from the suggestions, I could create a bed with soil around the tree and plant shallow root plants. So you don't thing adding soil / potting soil mix would smother the roots of the tree? I don't want it do die. The tree shades my Okla back yard well in the summer and is old. I love candytuft but it would not get the sun it needs.. So maybe hosta, impatients, groundcover?

  • I would not add any soil. The protruding roots would be inside the plant bed, and be hidden by the plants and mulch that you use. Hosta would be great because it's a perennial and it will come back every year. As for a groundcover, I'd use something like pachysandra, because it doesn't grow as aggressively as English ivy. Also, keeping ivy from climbing and growing on the trunk of the tree is a big headache. Pachysandra doesn't climb.

  • La Mac
    on Jun 18, 2013

    This is the tree I was asking about planting around. The roots are on top of the ground. There are some areas in between the roots that one could plant shallow root plants. I don't want something that will take over the yard. Thank u.

  • Jossi
    on Jun 18, 2013

    Ahhh, the photo of your tree helps. As there is fence behind it, i'd add a few wheelbarrows of good garden soil around it all, not too deep, and plant Hosta, Lilly of the Valley, etc in the pockets between the protruding roots. Plant IN FRONT of roots/tree, not up against trunk. Hosta will grow high enough to obscure tree roots. Mulch around entire garden and it will look great !

  • La Mac
    on Jun 18, 2013

    thank you sooooo much Jossi. I know the fence needs replacing, ( working on that :)).. This helps so much. It is an eye sore, and no matter what grass seed I plant there, it will not grow. So pretty plants will do the trick...

  • Jossi
    on Jun 20, 2013

    :) No need to replace the fence if it's sturdy. If not, tighten it up good, rent a power sprayer to clean it, let it dry well and roll on a couple coats of solid or semi-solid stain, any color, water based. It will make the fence look like new and be a great backdrop for your new tree garden.

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