Planting under shady tree with roots

Rebecca Guillen
by Rebecca Guillen
I have a jacaranda tree in my front yard with roots growing above ground. The tree has fern-like leaves that have prevented little growth of grass underneath. What can I plant around the tree to create a garden effect in this area?
Need some ideas on how to make this brown area pop!
  27 answers
  • Debbie B Debbie B on Feb 17, 2014
    I think I might try some turf grass. They have some nice turf now that really lloks like real grass. Just a thought...
  • Debbie B Debbie B on Feb 17, 2014
    I think that I might try some turf grass in your smallish area. They have some new turfs that look like real grass! Just a thought....
  • Vicki K Vicki K on Feb 17, 2014
    No grass, it won't grow. Same problem! Ground cover is the answer. What zone are you? I am zone 7b in Dallas, so I plan to use mondo grass, liriope, "monkey grass", ajuga, English ivy (I haven't decided yet), any ground cover for your zone that you like. You can make a big circle around the tree with big natural rocks or buy those wedge stones from Lowe's and stack a couple of courses around the tree and don't add dirt! Just plant something tall, like artemesia, or coneflower, or coreopsis, or shrubs that r colorful like aucuba (gold dust), japanese barberry (red), lorapetalum (red), variegated eunonymous (gold n green), dusty miller (light gray white), or a combo of flowers and shrubs that you like, that grow in your zone. Just because they sell them at the store doesn't mean they grow in your zone, found out the hard way, Research first. That gives you layers: 1, 2, 3. Please keep the tree.
  • Jeanette S Jeanette S on Feb 17, 2014
    I would kill off the grass and put down either pine straw or mulch. Perhaps leave a small band of grass next to the concrete for effect. I would suggest small gravel, but it is hard to keep clean from tree debris. I would then put in a few large rocks, some large and small pots with flowers and some small shrubs....just play with it.
  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Feb 17, 2014
    I don't think there's a turf grass on the planet that will grow under a large tree. A ground cover is the way to go. I don't know what your exposure is there, but Yerba Buena Nursery has a long list of possibilities here, which you can sort by sun, shade, etc.:
  • Cheryl Batula Cheryl Batula on Feb 17, 2014
    English ivy will grow like mad anywhere. Once it has established itself it will take over. It will grow up the tree (not good) and you will be forever trimming it back to prevent it from taking over the world. I love periwinkle, vinca minor. You can buy them in flats. Around here (NJ) it costs about $22 dollars. I read that it will grow up to zone 9. I know how hard it is to dig holes around a tree like that, but it can be done! It will be worth it. It is invasive, but much easier to control than english ivy and I think it is prettier. Plus, periwinkle flowers! Eventually, it will cover the entire area. While you are at it, you can plant some bulbs, they don't mind living in the middle of periwinkle. Good luck and have fun!
  • Whatever you find to plant make sure it is not invasive and many groundcovers are invasive and are not a good idea unless you want to constantly fight it. Ivy, vinca, and periwinkle to name three are on the top of the list here in zone 7 and I imagine in your zone too. You should look on the link Douglas sent you and also ask about some native species that will grow under your tree. Nurseries will gladly talk to you about what you could use to make this a beautiful and inviting spot. I would actually think about putting your seating area under the tree with some flagstone and/or rock and maybe mix in some native shade plants like ferns which would give an airy feeling. Mix in some large pots mixed with elephant ears, impatiens, ferns, columbines, etc for color too. To line the driveway, liriope is a good thing and can become invasive if not thinned every 2-3 years. I love liriope to line beds and keep mulch in under my 60'Oak trees. good luck and happy gardening!
  • W e have a lot of large pine trees and nothing grows underneath them. Instead of fighting them I've added a few very large decorative containers and mulch and add my flower power in them.
  • Allison B Allison B on Feb 17, 2014
    Bromeliads around the base in whatever shape bed that you find attractive, accented with a few nice blooming plants for extra color! The bromeliads will multiply and fill in over time and are very low maintenance!
  • Rachel Rachel on Feb 17, 2014
    Maybe try a raised type bed around the tree that is framed with large stones or pavers. Pick shade friendly plants like hostas.
  • Dorothy Ricci Dorothy Ricci on Feb 17, 2014
    place one of those curved benches around the tree for a garden park look.
  • Vicki K Vicki K on Feb 17, 2014
    @Rachel, if you put dirt up a tree trunk for a raised bed, you will kill the tree.
  • Columbine Landscaping Columbine Landscaping on Feb 17, 2014
    I would plant Manzanita ground cover. The botanical name is Arctostaphylos Uva ursi. It is drought tolerant, can withstand some shade, and is a native California plant.
    • See 3 previous
    • Columbine Landscaping Columbine Landscaping on Feb 18, 2014
      @Crescendo OfpeaceFarm Thanks, no tree benches!!
  • Joan Joan on Feb 18, 2014
    i would remove the turf, and put down a layer of compost/mulch. if your tree is mature, put a round bench of recycled plastic lumber around the base. you can put in some raised beds along walkway or potted plants. Ask your local nursery for shade loving plants that grow well in shade and in your area. Do not plant ivy! it is invasive and will hurt your tree, native to Brazil. Looks like it gets beautiful blue flowers.
  • Liliana D'Angeli Liliana D'Angeli on Feb 18, 2014
    My suggestion is to remove all grass, lay down some weed barrier in that entire area. Then expand the cement or place large pavers to extend the walkway area where your chairs and table is in order to make the tree work area smaller. Shop for mulch color that goes with your outside home color at HD or Lowes. Place an inch of mulch all around that tree area (which you will need to freshen yearly yet saves water & mowing). Buy some large decorative pots and place them around the tree with seasonal greenery or flowers. You could add a nice standing birdbath between the pots and the tree for the birdies as an eye catcher. If you like to see my pictures of what I have done email me or find me on facebook.
    • Crescendo OfpeaceFarm Crescendo OfpeaceFarm on Feb 18, 2014
      @Liliana D'Angeli Colored mulch has numerous problems, not least of which is that it exudes petrochemical toxins into the soil. Ditto with artificial turf, rubber mulch and the like. Cypress mulches of any sort have the additional issue that waterways are being degraded by property owners who are clearcutting their properties of cypress for a quick profit, without a thought to the consequences to the streams and rivers, not to mention the whole host of animal and bird species that depend upon them. Pine needle mulch is much more environmentally friendly, does not kill the trees, and as jacarandas grow great in acidic soils, not contraindicated for this situation.
  • Kaytee Kaytee on Feb 18, 2014
    Replace the grass with mulch, and if you want more greenery/flowers there, use potted plants.
  • Asha Ravada Asha Ravada on Feb 18, 2014
    Try this . It is very pretty in spring with blue flowers.
  • Cyndi Moore Tippett Cyndi Moore Tippett on Feb 18, 2014
    I would use mulch to make the flower bed and then arrange several pots in the area. I have a lot of pine trees in my yard and like another person said you will have a hard time getting anything to grow because it competes with the tree for water etc. and it borders concrete which can make it hard for anything to grow.
  • Columbine Landscaping Columbine Landscaping on Feb 18, 2014
    Who ever sits on one of those benches around a tree?
  • Michelle Eliker Michelle Eliker on Feb 18, 2014
    Vinca isn't a good choice for SoCal. It would take a lot of water to stay pretty in your area. Check out Sunset's plant finder on their web page to find a ground cover that would work best for your area. Sunset is great because the zoning they use is specific for the west and takes into consideration not only the temperature, but also the annual rainfall, humidity and other environmental conditions that affect plants' health. Their "Western Garden Book" should be on every western gardener's bookshelf! (and, no, I don't work for Sunset. :)
  • MaryAnn B MaryAnn B on Feb 18, 2014
    I have a similar situation. This spring I'm going to plant several colored baskets with hostas to add some pizzazz.
  • Buster Evans Buster Evans on Feb 18, 2014
    I have hosta around the base of magnolia trees as well as a tulip magnolia.. they do well here in tennessee.. I have recently come across a plant that I like (but some don't) called oxalis which does spread by reproducing small tubers but can be controlled and looks good over rocks and rased beds.. blooms a light purple flower pretty much all thru warm weather... the leaves if the plant are shaped like shamrocks.. I like it a lot but others consider it too difficult here again its a matter of taste
  • Vicki K Vicki K on Feb 18, 2014
    Thank you Douglas Hunt! I shall see what I come up with! :-))
  • Concrete Creations Concrete Creations on Feb 18, 2014
    Had the same situation and just added a lot of dirt around it, made like a hill, used border to create a round area around it and just planted some flowers around it. Every few years I have to add some more soil, but it looks pretty.
  • Envy Lawn Envy Lawn on Feb 18, 2014
    I would say using non-plant materials that look like real landscaping in that area would be the best option for you. If you use artificial turf or rubber mulch, you can easily customize your look and create great curb appeal with a pathway or a unique tree surrounding design!
  • Agnes Chrzanowska Agnes Chrzanowska on Oct 31, 2021

    I think that I might try some turf grass in your smallish area. They have some new turfs that look like real grass! Just a thought

  • Johnavallance82 Johnavallance82 on Mar 01, 2022

    Either, Lay Large Rocks and fill the crevices with soil and grow rockery plants, or put a wall or fence around your tree and back fill it with soil and then plant it up.