Tree Base Flower Box

7 Materials
2 Hours

We have a cute little Japanese Maple tree on our front lawn. I love the tree – but do not love playing twister with it, while I’m mowing the grass around it. LOL

Note: In order to give the tree plenty of oxygen, I kept the soil level very low (3/4") and didn't pack it in around the trunk. If you want to try this idea, make sure to take these precautions to keep your tree healthy.

So I decided to make a shallow planter box around it. I picked up two 8-foot 3.5 x 3.5” pressure treated garden ties.  

Garden ties

Then I cut them both in half, to make a 4 x 4’ box.

I laid the four pieces of wood around the tree and measured from the tree trunk to the box on all four sides to make sure the box was centered. Then I dug up all the weeds and trimmed the grass as short as possible inside the box.  

Then I screwed the wood together using 5" deck screws - two screws on each corner.

I placed cardboard on the ground to kill the grass. I removed all the tape, stickers and labels from the boxes to make sure I wasn’t burying anything environmentally unfriendly. The cardboard will break down fairly quickly.

I filled the box with soil. I kept is shallow and fluffy because I didn’t want it to be too deep or heavy over the tree roots.  

Update: After receiving feedback from an experienced horticulturist in the "questions" section below I removed some of the soil - down to 3/4". I also pulled the soil away from the tree trunk - there's basically just a sprinkle near the trunk now - enough to cover the cardboard.

The two cut ends of wood that were visible (the other two were inside and not visible) I stained with provincial gel stain, applied with a cloth.

Then I added a few flowers to the box. I decided to just plant a few things this year, so the cardboard boxes will get lots of moisture and break down faster. But I’ll add a few more perennials next summer. 

I will keep a close eye on the tree to make sure there are no ill effects. But the local garden center staff assures me this shallow bed will not damage my cute little tree. 

And here it is! It will be so nice not having to get into pretzel positions while I’m cutting the grass!

After learning that I shouldn't put soil too close to the trunk I relocated the sweet william flowers that I had planted up against the trunk. I love the way it looked - but I love the tree more and want to ensure it remains healthy!

Sweet William perennials

And this is how it looked after I removed some of the soil and relocated the flowers I had planted up against the trunk. I think it still looks very pretty. And it still serves the exact same purpose I built it for - easier mowing around the tree. :)

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Frequently asked questions

Have a question about this project?

3 of 25 questions
  • Cynthia Cynthia on Apr 06, 2021

    What type of dirt did you use?

  • Cat's Whisker Cat's Whisker on Jun 19, 2021

    Gardening is always a learning experience ... So glad you got good info and shared it here

  • Can you plant a Japanese Maple in a large pot? Had to move from my home of 31 years to an apartment. I’d like a touch of me! Maybe a dogwood also?


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6 of 265 comments
  • Com34241014 Com34241014 on Apr 06, 2021

    as far as the perennials go, i would advise you to plant in the warmest part of fall or in late summer, so that the plants will be well established by winter and then they'll bloom tremendously during next spring and summer. and your will need more soil than you have put in, but the good thing is that since your soil will be so shallow the tree will send up roots to obtain what air, water and light that it wants. you even my have trouble planting the flowers because the roots are already so close to the surface. annuals might be a better choice for there - think pansies, marigolds, dwarf zinnias, and geraniums - there are lots of cute things you can plant by see, making the plantings easy and cost effective. thanks for posting this project - it's well thought out and well done.

    • See 2 previous
    • Valerie Burge Valerie Burge on Sep 05, 2021

      Thank you so much for the ideas! ❤️. There's a lady who lives nearby and sells flowers from her garden (her garden is magical) and I asked her to come by and give me some ideas of what would do well there and stay small. I ended up going with blood roots, grape hyacinths and a shorter variety of daylily. It doesn't look like much right now, but I'm hoping it will be beautiful in the spring. I also added composted sheep manure to fertilize the tree and made sure nothing is anywhere near the trunk. I built that box last summer and my tree has never looked healthier. I love your idea of solar lights, I didn't even think of that!! Maybe some that point upwards so the light filters out through the red leaves. 😍

  • How long does the cardboard keep the grass away? I have trouble with grass invading my flowers.

    • Valerie Burge Valerie Burge on May 17, 2021

      When I removed the cardboard in the spring, there was just grass circling the tree trunk (because there was no cardboard up against the trunk). I was able to pull that little patch of grass out by hand and now there is no grass at all inside the box. But I think the trick with open soil is you need to put something else there or weeds will take over. I planted lamium and I'm just waiting for it to spread out. Everything is starting to bloom, so won't be long now. :)