The ground underneath and surrounding a tree is often neglected, resulting in bare dirt, exposed tree roots, and a few volunteer plants that aren't necessarily welcome. Discover ways to landscape a forgotten area that will make the tree and what it shades much more appealing.
Finding a solution isn't a one-size-fits-all scenario. There's a concern for damaging the tree's roots, dealing with dry soil, irrigation (too much or too little), shade, limited space (those roots!), and dappled light. Keep in mind that not all landscaping requires plants: hardscape in the form of decks, gravel, or mulch might be just the right fix.
The traditional way of landscaping beneath or around a tree was to edge it in brick, stone, or rubber. If you wanted to get creative, you'd plant impatiens, begonias, and maybe a few shade-tolerant bulbs—until the area became overrun with weeds, the snails and slugs invaded, or it started to look just plain bad. The results are often surprising: you don't expect something to be planted in these spaces, but once they are, you realize that it's unused real estate that is just waiting to be beautified.
Get inspired by these smart and beautiful ways to landscape under and around a tree.
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Tree With Hanging Chair
This massive, 80-year-old coral tree (Erythrina) in Orange County, California, had been neglected before the current owners bought the property. To retain its beauty, the tree requires quarterly shaping and lacing by an arborist. Easy-care ferns are planted underneath. The real attraction of the yard, designed by Halo Interior Design, is the hanging chair, which draws attention to those sculptural branches. Irregular slate pavers and grass are underneath the chair and branches.
Coral trees are primarily found in Southern California and Hawaii and are admired for their beautiful flowers that grow in colors ranging from greenish white to yellow to vivid shades of orange and red.Continue to 2 of 15 below.
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Calming Cohesive Garden
A brilliant lime green Japanese maple tree, Koto No Ito, is surrounded by a labyrinth of boxwood hedges, heuchera, and Korean no-mow grass. Designed by Zeterre Landscape Architecture, this garden in Oakland, California, was created over a 15-year time period. The goal: to create five distinct gardens within the property that are tied by a common taste and materials that complement the home's architecture. The low wall was constructed with New Haveli limestone in aqua from Rhodes Architectural Stone.
Japanese maple trees are valued for their small-to-medium size, making them ideal for raised beds, large containers, and patios. Their leaves provide year-round interest and can be found in assorted colors, like orange, scarlet, yellow, and bright green.
Heucheras (coral bells) are compact perennials with roundish leaves that have scalloped edges. Grown for their colorful foliage, Heucheras are striking in rock gardens, in front of shrubs, as masses in borders, and in containers. Colors include light and medium green, deep red, orange, and variegated varieties.Continue to 3 of 15 below.
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A Tree With a Deck
What do you do with a mature tree in the backyard with wide-spreading limbs? Instead of leaving the area below the tree bare, Tim Davies Landscaping built a deck around it. That gives the homeowners of this property in Floreat, Australia, more space to enjoy their yard and provides a stunning showcase for the architectural branches of the tree.
Is It Healthy for the Tree?
Building a patio or deck around a tree can actually help it, according to Austin Tree Experts. Among the benefits of a wood deck surround:
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- Reduced soil compaction to the tree's root zone. Years of compaction by foot traffic can be a stressor. A deck provides a buffer or completely eliminates compaction.
- Elevated wood decks get rid of foot traffic on soil under trees.
- Small gaps between planks allow water and oxygen to easily access the soil and roots.
- Leaves will still be able to slip through the board cracks, recycling nutrients back into the soil.
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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
In a corner of a cut-stone paved yard in Brooklyn, a mature plum tree provides shade and seasonal color. Flo's Gardens designed a low stacked stone raised bed contains the tree, which is underplanted with shade-tolerant hostas and firecracker plant 'St. Elmo's Fire'.
Deciduous flowering plum trees produce stunning floral displays in winter or spring. Some also produce fall color, like deep, smoky purples.Continue to 5 of 15 below.
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Oaks and Nettles
A sandstone cobble border makes a planer for these coast live oaks at a home near Santa Barbara, California. Created by Donna Lynn Landscape Design, the space was underplanted with silvery spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) and edged with spreading bugleweed (Ajuga reptans).
Despite the name, dead nettles are very much alive. Natives of Europe and Western Asia, these vigorous growers have tooth-edged leaves and produce flower clusters in white, pink, or yellow.Continue to 6 of 15 below.
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Under the Aloe Tree
A heat-loving South African tree aloe (Aloe bainesii) is surrounded by large stones, rocks, and gravel, along with golden barrel cactus in this garden designed by Succulent Designs LA. Aloes and other succulents create a natural, beautiful setting. This multi-branched tree has a massive trunk and performs well in Mediterranean gardens. While it's a fast grower and is drought tolerant, the tree aloe likes water and good-draining soil, along with compost.Continue to 7 of 15 below.
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A silk floss tree (Chorisia speciosa) is underplanted with foxtail ferns and a no-mow, grasslike, ground cover. Created by EPT Design, a low concrete bench acts as a retaining wall for this tree. Its rectangular shape is repeated in the long pavers that stretch on a sea of river rocks. Plants behind the ferns are tropical cannas; to the right are drought-tolerant Agave attenuata.Continue to 8 of 15 below.
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Olive trees at a California vineyard home are underplanted with sesleria 'Greenlee', olea 'Little Ollie', Westringia fruticosa 'Smokey', and artemisia 'David's Choice'. Designed by Carson Douglas Landscape Architecture, this driveway area was mulched with a native redwood. Santa Barbara sandstone boulders add textural interest.
The olive trees, Olea europaea, are Mediterranean natives that grow well in California and parts of southern Arizona. They were introduced to mission gardens hundreds of years ago and prized for the oil that the fruit produces. These slow growers are most attractive when grown in deep, rich soil. If bothered by the sometimes-messy fruit crop, olive trees can be thinned each year, which also displays their striking branch patterns.Continue to 9 of 15 below.
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Rustic Corten steel planter edging holds a raised bed that includes this central multi-trunk olive tree along with assorted local stones and rocks. Other plants include carex and Sedum spectabile 'Autumn Joy'. along with native grasses. Designed by Carson Douglas Landscape Architecture, the property is in Alpine, California, inland to San Diego.Continue to 10 of 15 below.
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The beds of this formal, tree-lined path are livened up with lime green hostas and white-blooming shrubs. Hively Landscape Design of Dover, Pennsylvania, added shade-lovers like hostas and rhododendrons that always do well under the canopies of trees, especially if they are pruned and maintained.Continue to 11 of 15 below.
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London Back Garden
A small outdoor roof terrace in Central London's new section of Swiss Cottage was given a contemporary look by John Davies Landscape Design. Inspired by New York's High Line, Davies envisioned the spaces as gardens in the sky that provide private and luxurious spaces for relaxation. Trees are planted in basalt terraces and include Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) and Osmanthus burkwoodii. The Osmanthus is pruned and trained into an umbrella form for a neat, manicured look.Continue to 12 of 15 below.
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A mature tree in the corner of this peaceful yard in Sherman Oaks, California, became part of a raised flagstone patio. Designed by SCA-LARC, the space is also used for a portable barbecue and keeps the space from getting soggy or neglected. Tying it all together are paths of flagstone pavers that edge the garden borders and direct the flow of traffic throughout the yard.Continue to 13 of 15 below.
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Building a deck to incorporate two serpentine oak trees gave this house near Oakland, California, more privacy. Instead of removing the oaks, ODS Architecture created a seamless indoor/outdoor experience and added more living space.Continue to 14 of 15 below.
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Mature Olive Trees
Mature olive trees in this Los Angeles backyard are surrounded by gravel and a thick carpet of lawn and more pea gravel for excellent drainage. Designed by Garden of Eva, the yard is filled with drought-tolerant plants and hardscape. Trees are affected by drought and owners often fail to water them, thinking that established specimens will survive. Young trees should be watered twice per week, while established trees should be watered directly beneath the foliage and canopy. Also, apply mulch to retain much-needed moisture.Continue to 15 of 15 below.
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A whimsical cottage garden in Orange, California, includes lots of details in its landscape design. Every free space of dirt is used for planting carefully chosen perennials, vines, and bulbs, along with garden statuary and ornaments. Soil is amended and rich for the variety of specimens in each bed.