Whether you have a tree that provides so much shade that grass won’t grow under it, a tree with exposed roots sticking out of the ground, or you just want want to beautify the ground beneath your trees, I have the solution! I planted a gorgeous, flowering ground cover under my cherry blossom and it not only covers the huge, ugly exposed tree roots, it also adds color and interest under the tree and in my yard. Today, I’m sharing my tips on how to plant ground cover under a tree with prep and planting tips, plus the best no-fail ground covers to plant.
BEFORE – EXPOSED TREE ROOTS
What an eyesore! I was tired of looking at patches of grass and dirt around this cherry blossom tree.
DURING – PREPARING THE BED
Tree Root Care
Most of a trees critical roots are the very fine, fibrous roots lying especially close to the surface and if these roots are buried by more than a few inches, the tree could die due to a lack of oxygen.
But there are ways to successfully plant ground cover plants under the tree just make sure not to add more than a couple of inches of soil and compost around the base of the tree.
Be careful about putting a large amount of soil over tree roots. Tree roots need oxygen, and dumping a thick layer of dirt on them can suffocate them.
How do you prepare a ground cover around a tree? Good question … and I’ve got the answers below.
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Ground cover will thrive when you follow these tips.
Preparing the Site
Ground cover can be planted any time of the year but early spring or late spring, and fall are always the best times to plant.
1) You want to make the bed the same size as the tree canopy. I eyeballed it but you can lay a hose or spray paint the area to figure out the right size before you start.
2) Use a flat head shovel (I like one like this with a handle) to create a border all the way around the tree. Digging is much easier if the ground is soft so try to do this after a rainstorm or a good soaking with a hose.
A flat head shovel is perfect for creating garden beds
3. I used the same flat head shovel to lift away the top layer of grass. My husband preferred doing this part with a spear head spade. Pluck out any patches of grass around tree roots by hand.
Tip: Removing grass by hand is the best way since chemicals can harm the tree.
4. Add topsoil if your bed needs it but be careful about putting a large amount of soil over tree roots since they need oxygen to breathe.
5. With plants in their pots, lay them out in the bed so you can space them evenly. Don’t plant anything too close to the large roots closest to the tree.
Choose the location of plants carefully to avoid the need to chop out larger tree roots but you can cut through a few of the smaller, fibrous roots without damaging the tree.
Tip: Choose plants with shallow roots if you have lots of exposed tree roots.
6. Using a small, sharp hand shovel or a bulb planter (what I used), dig holes deep enough to fit the ground cover and plant each so that the top of the soil in the pot is even with the top layer of earth.
Tip: Watering the potted ground cover before planting makes the job easier.
7. Add a 2 inch layer of mulch to suppress weeds and control erosion then give the bed a good soak.
The ground cover will spread quickly and cover the entire bed! I’ll just have to trim it occasionally it to keep it from spreading out of the bed and into the grass.
Vinca Minor Ground Cover
I planted 51 vinca minor that came in 3 1/2″ pots (almost three full flats) around my tree. Also known as creeping myrtle, common periwinkle, dwarf periwinkle, this is a tough, low-maintenance semi-evergreen, flowering ground cover that is pest resistant and simple to grow. The bonus is that butterflies and hummingbirds love the cone shaped blooms!
These hardy perennials ground cover spreads quickly and will soon cover the mulch and be a spectacular bed of green foliage. It is considered invasive so it needs to be cut back if it starts growing outside of the bed.
Vinca minor grows well in zones 7, 8 and 9 so be sure to check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to see if vinca will grow in your area. If not, there are lots of other ground covers to choose one so pick one best suited for your area and sun exposure.
I love that this perennial can be planted in full sun to full shade making it a great option for many landscapes and once established, they are drought-tolerant.
Here are some groundcovers that usually perform well under trees. Choose the one that will perform best in your planting zone and light conditions.
Good Ground Cover for Under Trees
- Vinca minor
- Lily of the Valley
- Wild ginger
- Wild violets
You can also plant bulbs such as tulips and daffodils under trees.
Let’s take one more look at the before and after.
From eyesore to focal point!
The entire project was a weekend project done at a leisurely pace and what a difference it makes.
Don’t mind all the clutter on the patio … I’m in spring spruce up mode!
I’ve got lots more planting, cleaning and sprucing up to do out here and can’t wait to get my hands dirty.