Shaded Front Yard Fix

7 Materials
2 Weeks
When we bought our house 18 years ago, we planted shade trees. Now, the trees are so big - duh - grass won't grow under them. So I came up with this plan to keep the yard attractive without dealing with grass. The reason it took 2 weeks is I did it myself, without help. I was 57 at the time and I'm five foot tall woman - I know when it's quittin' time for the day!
In this pic you can see how the grass has died under the tree and either weeds or just a few blades are surviving. (We live in North Texas and this is Bermuda grass which need 8 hours of direct sun.)
The first thing I did was spray weed killer and till up the soil. Had to stop and treat several fire ant hills before moving on. Did I mention we live in Texas? - aka fire ant central.
Next, I covered it with landscape material. This is the tough kind, not that thin stuff that needs to be replaced every year. I also bought brown metal edging and pounded it in. A circle went around the Chinese Pistachio tree and a long side curved from the house to the driveway. You can see a pile of weeds I raked off after tilling.

Next, I decided to do a swirl pattern under the tree, just for fun. I used white rock for that.
Now, rock went over the plastic. Super easy. Just pour and spread around with the back of a sturdy rake. I added a few decorative plants to keep it from looking barren. A few weeds grow back near the driveway every spring - but they are rooted in the rocks and pull out with a slight tug. The brown thing behind the tree is a yard sculpture. Its a road runner - we're in Texas after all.

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Frequently asked questions

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  18 questions
  • N. G. Londonderry N. G. Londonderry on Apr 04, 2018

    Did you decide to eliminate the white stone “swirl pattern” under the tree?.... It looks like the same color as the rest of the stone in the final photo.

    • Jan Clark Jan Clark on Apr 04, 2018

      Actually, it's still there. The last pic is recent, March '18, and the tree had just dropped massive amounts of 'flowers' - some you can still see in the branches. I just haven't cleared that out yet. (waiting for the rest to fall.)

  • Suzannewaz Suzannewaz on Apr 04, 2018

    How do you deal with the leaves that fall off the tree? I have a hard time getting mine out of the rocks.

    • Kikine Suenishi Kikine Suenishi on Apr 04, 2018

      Use a leaf blower (it's cheap). I use it all the time for all kind of tasks - usuall on low or medium.

    • Jan Clark Jan Clark on Apr 05, 2018

      In North Texas we have wind power. All I do is rake them up from whatever wall, fence or corner the wind has blown them.

  • Melissa V Melissa V on Apr 04, 2018

    Is your pistachio tree still happy after being smothered by the rocks? It’s roots can’t get the air and water that it used to.

    • Pam LoCoco Pam LoCoco on Apr 04, 2018

      Landscaping material is permeable and the larger rocks are perfect for letting water through. I'm guessing there is little to no change in water and air flow to the tree.

    • Kc Kc on Apr 04, 2018

      Landscape fabric is designed to stop roots from penetrating to the soil but allows water and air to seep through. Rocks by nature let water and air pass around. The tree probably gets more water now because there is no grass sucking it up first.

    • Melissa V Melissa V on Apr 04, 2018

      Hmmm, I never looked at it that way. I would still like to hear from the poster. I think she also had some valid points.

      This may not work for every growing zone, but maybe it does 🤔!?!

    • P.S. love your solution!! I'm gonna copy, and as sole owner operator of this place, I appreciate the hard work, vision, follow thru, n creativity that went into this project! Rock on! (Still corny at 67!)

    • DORLIS DORLIS on Apr 04, 2018

      I agree. Rocks will not affect the flow of water and air as much as the cloth in my opinion.

    • Lori Duffin Bell Lori Duffin Bell on Apr 04, 2018

      Rocks don't inhibit rain but, they do retain heat. In Florida it's advised to keep rocks away from plants and trees and use mulch instead. I would assume with the Texas heat it would be the same. Mulch also provides some nutrients as it decomposes.

    • Jan Clark Jan Clark on Apr 05, 2018

      Jan here, and KC has it exactly right. The landscape fabric isn't solid, like a rubber sheet, but has millions of tiny holes that allow air and water to move through it. The rocks actually have a lot of air space between them because they're large and lumpy - behaving like mulch. Since our soil in North Texas is clay, I'm guessing that once the soil was tilled and covered, there is even more air and water transfer than before. The tree is certainly thriving.

  • Melissa V Melissa V on Apr 04, 2018

    Is your pistachio tree still happy after being smothered by the rocks? It’s roots can’t get the air and water that it used to.

    • 25593779 25593779 on Apr 04, 2018

      They are loose rocks, not concrete. Plenty of spaces in between for water and air.

    • Jan Clark Jan Clark on Apr 04, 2018

      Actually, this project is over a year old. And, actually, since there is a lot of space between the rocks, the roots probably get more air and water than they did when covered by our wonderful Texas clay. Great observation!

    • Melissa V Melissa V on Apr 05, 2018

      Thank you Jan, that was the answer I was waiting for and knowing that your tree is thriving now. Also some great responses and info from Hometalkers! 👍

  • Dar Dar on Apr 04, 2018

    Nice job for a problem area. We too in Alabama have a fire ant problem but not as bad as Texas. You're the winner there. What did you use to kill them? I have used Surrender in the past but it is no longer working like it was

    • Hullo. I'm in central FL, summer offices of Fire Ants Corp. ... Cancer, heart n lungs preclude pesticides of any kind. For many years now, I've been scooping one fire ant pile into another, back n forth. They destroy each other in short order, and the pups n I can still breathe. Good luck!

    • Dar Dar on Apr 04, 2018

      That's a great idea

    • Margaret Margaret on Apr 04, 2018

      that looks very nice. I have two large trees that shade my front lawn and I have to replace the grass each summer. No ants but still a pain

    • Carol Carol on Apr 04, 2018

      Love it! Native plants, rocks and a roadrunner. Doesn't get any better than that!

    • Jan Clark Jan Clark on Apr 04, 2018

      This was a while back, Mike, but depending on the size of the mound, I usually use either boiling water, diatomaceous earth or boric acid powder. I think these were small, so I probably used boiling water. I've heard of using the ants themselves to kill off invaders - just been too timid to try it.

    • Arlene Arlene on Apr 04, 2018

      I have had some luck using corn meal.

    • Sylvia Williams Sylvia Williams on Apr 20, 2018

      Corn meal works for me in Southern Louisiana!

    • Dar Dar on Apr 20, 2018

      Pelican Lake House...

      I tried your ant mixing fix and it is working.


    • Chameleon Chameleon on Apr 21, 2018

      I have used boiling water on carpenter ant nest, did this every day for about 5 days. Problem solved.

  • Michelle Michelle on Apr 04, 2018

    How do u get rid of the leave in the fall ? I use my blower and the rocks fly away

    • You have to develop a light touch with the leaf blower. I practiced just holding the stream of air just above the rocks and then just slightly tipping it down to blow the leaves. It’s actually kind of fun! What’s not fun is bagging up all the leaves afterwards.

    • Jan Clark Jan Clark on Apr 04, 2018

      Actually, where I live, I have an automatic weed blower called wind. In the fall, we get many days where the average wind speed is above 20 mph. So mostly, I just end up raking up the stuff along the bushes, dragging it to my garden and mowing it into mulch.

  • Joan Stanley Joan Stanley on Apr 05, 2018

    Very nice. I'm in San Antonio so we have the Live Oak trees sucking water and nutrients from the grass as well as too much shade. I've made 2 "beds" like that but with red mulch. I've been considering using rocks but the Live Oak leaves are so small and heavy and burrow down (I swear they actually burrow after they fall!) They get below grass and roots so badly that I fear getting them out of the rocks. Might larger rocks that would not blow away be a better choose here?

    • Becky Becky on Apr 05, 2018

      Yep, use larger stones and you'll be fine.

    • Jan Clark Jan Clark on Apr 05, 2018

      My experience with rocks that are palm-sized is that they don't fit together closely and let a lot of material fall through the cracks. That said, the stuff composts itself down there and eventually runs back into the soil. With an organic type mulch you'll get the same end result but you'll also have to deal with your live oak leaves. Plus rocks don't need to be replaced. : )

    • Joan Stanley Joan Stanley on Apr 22, 2018

      The red mulch is cheap enough to replace once the leaves have stopped falling.

  • Dana Dana on Apr 25, 2018

    I saw the white ricks in the ring, but then the next photo looks like all the same multi colored stones. What did i miss?

    • Jan Clark Jan Clark on Apr 26, 2018

      You didn't miss anything! The white ring (it's actually more like a yin-yang swirl) is still there. The larger stones are a just a similar color. But it really pops after a rain. Thanks for asking!

  • Larry Bloom Larry Bloom on Feb 23, 2019

    I have this same situation but I have tree roots in my way. What should I do since I can not till?

    • Jan Clark Jan Clark on Feb 23, 2019

      Hi, Larry! Depending on the number and size of the roots, you can cut them. Losing just one or two surface roots isn't going to hurt a large tree. If they're really big, though, don't wear yourself out, incorporate them into the design! (Tilling around the roots is okay, too.) Or, you don't have to till at all if you cut the weeds/grass super short and spray the area. (vinegar & salt or something stronger, your choice) Then cover it with the weed block plastic. It might be fun to slit holes in the plastic for the big roots to pop through and then use them in the landscape. Or, you can just cover them and mound up the stones to disguise the lumps. You can sort of see I did something similar - I used different sizes of stone to disguise elevations.

    • Dawn McGuire Dawn McGuire on Apr 10, 2019

      I did something similar in my back yard. I used mulch instead. I didn't bother the roots, I just built it up higher with the mulch. I got the mulch on sale for 1.99 a bag. Looks great!

  • Ally Ally on Apr 10, 2019

    Do the stones turn greenish with mold or mildew after a while?

    • Jan Clark Jan Clark on Apr 10, 2019

      Nope, this is a generally hot, dry climate.

    • Jeanine Alyse Jeanine Alyse on Apr 10, 2019

      I am in the So. Cal desert area and have had planting rock beds around my entire yard for about 16 years with no sign of any mold or mildew.

    • Binny Binny on Apr 10, 2019

      Spraying with vinegar helps if you get a little mold. Keep it away from plants!!!

  • JoJo JoJo on Apr 10, 2019

    Isn’t the rock hot in summer, thus causing more heat to the house?

    • Jan Clark Jan Clark on Apr 10, 2019

      Hi, Jojo. You can't really see it, but there's no rock next to the house. That area is older. There's a metal edging strip and cypress mulch around the Japanese Boxwood.

  • Kimberly Craig Kenyon Kimberly Craig Kenyon on Apr 10, 2019

    This looks awesome but what do you do when the tree sheds its leaves? Raking the rocks would be really hard. We have 5 large live oaks in our front yard and I am overrun by leaves.

    • Donna Jones Donna Jones on Apr 10, 2019

      If you use medium or larger size rocks (not small gravel) you can use a blower on low speed to just blow the leaves off the rocks.

    • Jennifer white Jennifer white on Apr 10, 2019

      I have several oaks and put all the leaves under them. I have planted azaleas which have thrived under all of them

    • Jan Clark Jan Clark on Apr 10, 2019

      My hubby got me a blower. Since the movement of air in our part of Texas is - a: windy or b: super windy - I just wait until it is going in a helpful direction and use my blower to direct the leaves to a place where they can be raked and collected for my mulch pile.

    • BoxersRule BoxersRule on Apr 10, 2019

      Buy or rent a leaf-blower. You will never enjoy clearing leaves SO much!!

    • Caw15280535 Caw15280535 on Apr 10, 2019

      Use a leaf blower to round up leaves.

    • Rita Rita on Apr 10, 2019


    • Rosamond B Rosamond B on Apr 10, 2019

      Use a blower !

    • JohnHW JohnHW on Apr 10, 2019

      Leaf blower on these rocks. As for the oak leaves in the yard, and we have several old oaks in our front yard, 1. mulch them with a mulching mower turning them into fertilizer for your grass. (If you have any under those oaks. lol) 2. If you have flower beds, especially azaleas, simply blow leaves under the plants. Raking mass down and spread until it is eye approvalable. No other fertilizer required. 3. Most leaf blowers come with a bag and large diameter tube that you attach to the blower. This setup allows you to vacuum the leaves and turn them into mulch. The leaves go thru the impeller of the blower which in most blowers is nylon, some are metal, either way try to vacuum only in areas where large nuts or rocks are not likely to be suctioned up, tearing up the impeller. Suggestion, blow leaves into a pile them vacuum.

    • Jeanne Martin Jeanne Martin on Apr 10, 2019

      Yep, invest in a leaf blower! I have an electric one and it really blows hard...I was quite surprised at how well it works. I didn't want to deal with the oil & gas and pulling a cord to start it (I'm in my sixties and live alone, no superman around to help me). I have lots of long, outdoor extension cords cuz I kinda overdo my Christmas lights. 😁

    • Lou Ann Lauer Lou Ann Lauer on Apr 11, 2019

      I don't rake the leaves on my backyard rocks, I use the blower/vac.

    • Carol Jackson Carol Jackson on Apr 11, 2019

      Blowers also work for a quick dusting around the house. They don't actually clean but just rearrange the dust .

    • C Crow C Crow on Apr 11, 2019

      We did the same to our entire front yard and love it. The few weeds that do grow between the barrier and rocks pull out very easily and a quick pass with a small electric blower removes the leaves from the eucalyptus grove across the street.

    • Cat Cat on Apr 17, 2019

      Use a leaf blower

    • Charlotte Charlotte on Apr 17, 2019

      Hi, I have alot a trees in my yard and rock gardens. I use a leaf blower to get them off the rocks

    • Diana Diana on Apr 18, 2019

      Leak blower

    • Tina Tina on May 02, 2019

      Use a leaf blower

  • Joanie Joanie on Apr 14, 2019

    Can you still dig down through and plant bushes that like shade? It looks really neat and I think some color with bushes might give it a finished look?

    • Jan Clark Jan Clark on Apr 14, 2019

      Absolutely! I just clear out the layer of stones and make a slice through the weed block material to dig the hole. Once the plants are in the ground, the weed block is gently placed back around their stems and the rocks back on top. A little water to get them going and ... Voila!

  • DJ DJ on Apr 17, 2019

    We have a huge old oak tree that I want to do a rock bed under. There are lots of roots and weeds growing all under it. There are also wild trumpet vines growing on it. I cut them off of it every year so they won't kill the tree. They have killed trees nearby that they've grown on. Will the weed poison get sucked up through the roots and damage or kill my beautiful old tree? Thank you.

    • Maria Maria on Apr 17, 2019

      Mix a little salt with straight cleaning vinegar in a gallon pump sprayer you can buy at Walmart and spray just the plant tops you want to kill. Don’t spray so much you have run off. .When the tops die then the roots start to die too. You may have to do this a couple times for it to work. Be sure and do it when it is sunny as the heat of the sun seems to help it work. I use about a half a cup of salt to a gallon of vinegar. You can leave the salt out and just the vinegar will work but it seems to work better with the salt.Be sure to wash your sprayer afterward or the rubber seals will ruin from this solution.

      It is the same with Roundup. Just spray enough to hit the tops of the plants you want to kill. No runoff. The roots of your beautiful old oak will not get enough to damage it.

    • Patty Patty on Apr 18, 2019

      Are you sure it its wild trumpet vines? It sounds like it could be bindweed!! Are they small white flowers with small arrow like leaves? If so bindweed is caused by poor soil condition. Do not pull them or they will just grow off into more vines. The best thing is to add lots of soil amendment and lots of mulch. Once the condition of your soil improves the bindweed will not survive. Also, do not put the mulch up next to the trunk of the Oak. The moisture retained from the mulch will rot the Oak. Please post a picture of the wild trumpet vine?

    • DJ DJ on Apr 18, 2019

      Patty...yes it is trumpet vine. Very pretty orange flowers. My father in law planted it for his mother probably 40 or more years ago because she thought it was beautiful. The house sat empty for years after she passed away. The vines just grew out of control.

    • DJ DJ on Apr 18, 2019

      Maria, the weeds under the tree never see the sun. Will the vinegar still work without direct sunlight?

    • Jan Clark Jan Clark on Apr 18, 2019

      So, DJ, what you're looking for is called a systemic weed killer. You apply it to the foliage and it will get into the plant and kill it (and only it) from the inside out. There are a LOT of new products out there, so I'm not going to list them. Check them out on Amazon to get the information before you go shopping. Look for non-glyphosate containing products. (glyphosate is BAD stuff) I had trumpet vine syndrome - so I know what you're talking about. The main thing is to keep after them - and look for new shoots FAR away from the main vine. Treat them when you see them. It may take an entire year, but you can do it!

    • DJ DJ on Apr 18, 2019

      Thanks Jan. This is a very rural location. There are several vine covered dead trees along the roadside near the yard. I don't actually know which one is the main vine. Should I just spray the heck out of all of those too since they aren't actually on anyone's property? It's county owned land.

    • Pam Galicki Pam Galicki on Jun 02, 2021

      we also have huge live oak trees, and they drop a BAZILLION leaves every year.

  • Susann J. Kilmer Susann J. Kilmer on Jun 01, 2021

    How much was two ton of rock.

    • Ida9464 Ida9464 on Jun 02, 2021

      Google it

    • Jan Clark Jan Clark on Jun 02, 2021

      That all depends on your local supplier and the kind of rock you choose. The rock I chose (2 different kinds) was about $500 delivered. Shopping on the lot is the best way to choose the product. The price per ton will be posted. You'll need to do a little math to figure out how much you need for your space. The rock dealer can help with that. Good luck!

  • Susann J. Kilmer Susann J. Kilmer on Jun 01, 2021

    What does two tons of rock cost.

  • Pam Galicki Pam Galicki on Jun 02, 2021

    do you actually get a pistachio harvest from this tree?

    • Jan Clark Jan Clark on Jun 03, 2021

      This tree doesn't produce nuts. It's just called Chinese Pistachio. I would have LOVED it if it did, tho. We harvest pecans every year from our pecan tree.

  • Ben27899473 Ben27899473 on Jun 02, 2021

    What is the final cost? Looks beautiful

    • Jan Clark Jan Clark on Jun 03, 2021

      It cost about $700 with no labor, just supplies. I own my tiller - but you can rent them. That was about 3 years ago -- 2018.


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5 of 85 comments
  • Carol Harris Carol Harris on Jun 02, 2021

    looks good.. You could have planted some hosta's they do great in the shade and come back every year, since you live in Texas they may not even die down in the winter, would look lovely with the rocks. Just a thought.

    • Jan Clark Jan Clark on Jun 03, 2021

      Thanks! I thought that, too. But I have killed MANY hostas in my time, lol. Better just with rocks that can't die and a few super-hearty focal plants.

  • Dani Hyde Dani Hyde on Jun 02, 2021

    I personally can’t see the swirl. Just the ring thing around the tree.

    but yep. Cute. Can put more non sun plants under it in bright pots to help liven it up

    • See 1 previous
    • Ellis Ellis on Jun 04, 2021

      Another poster here on Hometalk this week showed a project with bricks and pavers around her tree, and mentioned getting a product that you spray on the rocks so they always look wet. I'm afraid I can't find it now, but that always-wet look might be great for your project, since your "swirl" is obvious when the stones are wet.

      No matter what, your project turned out great, and I really like the way it looks.