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Tree Talk - Metropolitan Forestry Services

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April 4, 2020

Landscaping Under and Around Trees

As we all know, trees are one of the best investments for the landscape. A mature tree can add aesthetic value and shade, reduce water runoff and even help lower your energy bills. While the canopy of the tree dominates overhead space, the empty area around their trunks shouldn’t be neglected. Here are some simple ideas you can use to create a finished overall look to the yard, while also protecting the tree’s trunk and roots. Giving the space around tree trunks a little bit of attention helps accentuate the natural beauty of the tree and turns it into a visual focal point in the landscape!

Add the Right Plants

For those of you lucky enough to already have large mature trees there are plenty of shade-loving plants that will appreciate a sheltered spot under a tree.

  • Try using colorful annuals like impatiens and coleus or flowering perennials like astilbe and heuchera.
  • Select plants in smaller-sized nursery containers rather than bigger ones. Not only will you save a little money, they also will be easier to plant without doing too much damage to the tree’s roots.
  • Spring bulbs like tulips, daffodils, crocus, and hyacinth are also a great way to add a pop of color. As the tree leafs out and blocks the sunlight, the bulbs below will be going dormant and disappearing anyway.
  • Be sure to keep plants far enough from the trees trunk to allow for airflow.  Root rot issues can occur in the tree if moisture is allowed to remain on the trunk

If you’re planting a new tree you have even more choices.

  • Because the tree’s roots won’t be as much of a problem at this point, your options can include shrubs and larger nursery material. Just note the planting distance from the tree – if planted too close they will compete for light, water, and nutrients.
  • Sun loving choices can also be used for many seasons until the tree matures and begins to provide a large amount of shade.
  • However, if the shrub ever needs to be removed in the future care must be taken not to damage the tree’s roots.

Layer on the Mulch

NO VOLCANOS!!!

Mulching around a tree is a must and can include more than just woodchips.  Shredded bark, pine needles, and even rock can work as well. Repetition of mulch in flower beds and around trees will give your landscape a cohesive and finished look, but besides just aesthetics mulch also provides other vital benefits.

  • The biggest benefit of mulching around trees is to protect the tree trunk and root flare from damage by lawnmowers and trimmers. Even small wounds to the base of a tree (young or old) can be catastrophic to its vascular system.
  • Adding mulch is also an important step to help protect the tree roots from heat and prevent water loss through evaporation. This is especially important with the delicate roots of young trees.  Mulch can also reduce soil erosion on slopes and help prevent weeds.
  • Be sure not to pile it against the trunk like a volcano! This creates a warm, moist environment against the lower trunk that is ideal for pests and diseases. Instead, create a ring of mulch 2-3” thick so it looks more like a donut around the trunk. The mulch layer should reach at least to the drip line of the tree.

Use Garden Accents

In addition to mulch and companion plants, try placing a few garden accents around the tree to fill empty spaces. Large decorative rocks add a natural element to the space, while statues or gazing balls can add a personal flair. The area under trees is also a great spot for decorative containers filled with colorful annuals.  Also, landscape lighting installed below trees can add a dramatic nighttime accent that creates silhouettes and shadows.

 

 

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