Shallow raised bed here?

TuchinaFebruary 27, 2012

Hey all,

I'm new to this forum so I hope I'm posting in the correct place.

Some back info: My backyard was severely neglected for years before I moved into the home. I've been here now for about three years and I've spent a lot of time cleaning it up. I would like to do a little bit of landscaping as well but I'm pretty new at it.

The pics below are of an area around mature tree with exposed roots that I don't know what to do with, if anything at all. In addition, there is a long metal pipe stuck in the middle of the tree that it has grown around.

Is there anything I can do to improve the look of this area? I was thinking about maybe building a shallow 12'x12' bed for some shade plants or a rock garden around the tree but (as there are exposed roots) I'm not sure if it would be a good idea.

Also, what to do about the metal pipe sticking out? I suppose I could try to saw through it and cut off the ends (leaving the middle of it still stuck in the tree) but I'd like to explore all options.

Thanks in advance!

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Rock garden---good ideas

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 4:00AM
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Your photos are a little too close up to show the context of the situation in regards to adding landscape elements. Cannot tell what's around the tree that it should relate to. I think a raised bed not a good idea. Better would be a groundcover around the tree. And it will not work if it's a dog run.

I believe I would try dislodging the pipe at the lower end first... cut if necessary. Then see if it could be pivoted like teeter totter to loosen a little. A few bashes with a sledge hammer might work. If cannot be loosened, then cut off both ends. as short as possible. Use a slightly smaller diameter pipe (but not small enough to go through the inside of pipe opening. Using it as a chisel, give a few blows with a sledge hammer to push the remaining piece of pipe sideways and downward out of the tree crotch.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 6:03AM
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Refer to the graphic below. Cut the pipe near the tree on upper side and leave about 8 inches sticking out on the lower side.

Cover the lower pipe opening with duct tape and install a hose clamp to secure the tape to the pipe as shown.

Pour sand down the pipe until there is about 6 to 8 inches in the bottom of the pipe. Insert a bar, 5/8 rebar, or smaller pipe inside the tree pipe and drive it out with a sledge.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 9:40AM
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Okay, I soooo can't resist this...

Here is a link that might be useful: Trees growing around objects

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 10:54AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

LOL! I liked the bicycle....

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 11:30AM
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Thanks for your responses!

When I said that the yard was "severely neglected," I should have actually said that there was no actual landscaping present. Instead, there were numerous brush/leaf/stick piles that I have since cleaned up and removed. In addition, because of the storm drain in a neighbor's yard near the back left of my lot, a good amount of the top soil from my yard seems to have washed away (this tree is in the lower part of the yard, nearest to the drain) leaving clay.

Besides a 4'x12' raised bed made with landscaping timber at the other end of the yard from the tree in the photo, there is still no hardscape or plantings to speak of (not even a patio or deck outside the house). Therefore, I guess I have a "clean slate" of sorts when it comes to planning something for this particular area.

pls8xx, thanks for the advice about removing the metal pipe. I'm going to try to do it soon. Also, you mentioned maybe planting some ground cover around the base of the tree. The only problem is that the ground under the tree is filled with little stringy roots and seems extremely compacted. How much of a hindrance would this be in planting, say, shade ferns or some sort of low growing cover?

Thanks again all :)

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 4:59PM
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Erm, sorry, Yardvaark- you were the one that mentioned ground cover versus a raised bed.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 5:04PM
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When planting groundcover in an area of tree roots like this, it is not the same as normal landscaping or planting in a garden. This is a "rough and tumble" area. I'd look for something that will survive in these conditions and spread when all you do is chisel in a few starts and keep the area maintained. Just help the plant along with some additional watering and keeping weeds out. But I can't make a recommendation without knowing the larger context. Let's say that this was surrounded by lawn. Well, as much as I hate to say it, again, bishop's weed may be the answer. (I know people hate it when I recommend that, but it does have its purpose.... and looks great in those places where nothing else will survive!.)

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 5:34PM
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I am furiously curious about the pipe removal process proposed by pls8xx. Please report back what happens! I can't help but envision a piece of rebar blasting through the duct tape on the first or second blow. But, in theory, it has a well-this might-just-be-possible-for-some-lost-ancient-Babylonian-engineering lure to it.

adriennemb, loved your offering of "trees growing around objects." I sent the pic of motorcycle to my cousin who is rabid about old Jap. motorcycle restoration.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 5:44PM
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If you beat on the end of the pipe it will mushroom and deform, making it much harder to drive through the tree.

My way you don't have to beat on the pipe itself. The sand in the bottom of the pipe transfers the force to the side of the pipe. It's an old redneck trick. Thars things they don't teach down at the engineer's school.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 6:27PM
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Why not run a chainsaw through one of those co-dominants, the pipe will just drop out surely?

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 6:32PM
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I took some more photos this evening in case you guys wanted more visuals. I'm the mid-atlantic region, zone 6b specifically.

As you can see, the whole area is in rough shape. The plastic garden fence behind is just temporary, to keep my little ones from wandering away as the fence in the back belongs to the neighbor and is falling down in places :(

The neighbor's fence. You can see where it's sagging from the soil erosion into the storm drain, which is in the left behind the wild bush, in the neighbor's yard. I have yet to tackle that brush back there; there's poison ivy growing on it.

The little tree on the far left is a fig tree that my husband insisted on planting. I think he dreams of picking and eating fresh figs in the seasons to come, if the squirrels and birds don't get to them first :)

My little statue at night :)

This is the 4'x12' bed next to the house that I mentioned before. It looks pretty sad in this photo :(

Do these pictures help? Any more suggestions? Thanks!

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 8:16PM
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You would typically not want to raise or otherwise drastically change the level of the soil (either by raising it or digging anything out) around the roots of a tree, as it typically negatively impacts the functioning of the roots.

Some people have had luck gradually adding thin layer after thin layer of soil, year after year so that the tree has a chance to adapt. Not sure if it's generally advisable. Sometimes it's handy to make friends with an arborist (i.e. in cases like these).

- Audric

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 10:31PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

You'll need to address the water runoff onto this area before you can realistically plant anything that has a chance of growing in what looks like pure compacted clay at the base of that tree. I would agree that some sort of tough durable shade tolerant ground cover is probably the best solution for that area, but the Bishop's weed isn't one that I'd recommend(disclosure here, I once planted some variegated Bishop's weed on a project here below coast redwood trees thinking it would be the only thong to stand up to the thick tree roots and deep shade, it wasn't up to the competition for water with the tree roots and didn't take!). Anything you try to establish at the base of that tree will establish better if you can cultivate in at least a couple of inches of new top soil and give the new plantings periodic soaking to get it established. Avoid placing new soil directly against the trunk itself, and don't go deeper than 4 to 6 inches of new soil. I would research the best shade/tree root tolerant ground covers for your zone, perhaps pachysandra, Vinca minor or English ivy even.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 10:41PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

To pick up where Inkognito left off... you are making a lot of compromises to have these trees in your yard. I don't think anything will grow under them, certainly not nicely.

Are the trees worth it to you? What purpose do they serve? How much longer do you plan on keeping them?

To be honest, I'd have them both down pronto. Or at least one of the two twins.

Karin L

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 10:56PM
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bahia, what would you recommend to address the water runoff problem? Would there be any other solution beside installing french drains or something similar?

I like the idea of using Vinca minor--the flowers are so pretty and it won't climb the tree over time (I think) like English ivy would.

Thanks :)

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 11:05PM
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karinl, Honestly, I would love to have one or both of those trees cut down but I'm afraid of how much it might cost. That being said, I haven't had an estimate done so I may be just worrying over nothing. The "twins" and the tree on the right are quite tall and really cause too much shade in the yard.

Still, I'd like to explore all options and I appreciate all your suggestions!

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 11:14PM
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Another thought about how to make the space look better. Define a clear division between grass and mulch and create an island of mulch around the trees. Keeping the shape simple and distinct is better. trees could be combined together into single island. Cheap mulch available free if you can get tree trimmer or power company to dump a load for you.

If you need more light, consider limbing up the trees by removing any low hanging branches and letting in light below. Keeping the trunks clean of scruffy growth makes them look better, too.

Isn't there a better location for fig tree other than growing below a shade tree? Visually, it will be a conflict. And Fig tree needs sun.

I don't think I'd give up on the idea of trying to grow a groundcover until it's tried. Babying it--making sure it never completely dries out--can sometimes make the difference. What part of country are you in? While Vinca minor is pretty, I had zero luck with it in Atlanta. It always got fungal disease and languished.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 11:49PM
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Yardvaark, I'm in Maryland, zone 6b. I've seen lots of Vinca minor around here so I think it might be good to try. I like your idea of the mulch island too, maybe held in place against erosion with some sturdy edging.

Regarding the fig tree, it's hard to see in the pictures I posted since I took them at sunset, but it gets quite a bit of sun. Last summer, I did limb up the twins and it helped. I agree with you about its placement being in visual conflict. Fortunately, it's only been in the ground since last year and perhaps it would be possible to move it without damaging it too much.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2012 at 12:12AM
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I think I'd experiment with two or three possible groundcovers and see how they did in these conditions. If vinca minor works... well, that could be very pretty!

You've alluded to "erosion" but your yard looks relatively flat so I don't know where there are erosion problems or what they'd be. The bare grass around the trees I would more likely than anything else attribute to lack of light. And maybe some poochy patting (wear.)

In the sketch below are various mulch schemes. #2 & #3 would be the easiest to maintain. Personally, I would not use a material/product of some sort to retain the mulch. Especially if you use a groundcover there's not a real need for an additional product that retains mulch. Often, unless such a device is high quality and very well installed (adding some expense) they tend to end up looking like an eyesore themselves. Instead, I'd use a "trench edge." It looks tidy without adding clutter. Create a "trench" by removing some soil (to a depth of 2 1/2" to 3") at the perimeter of the mulch area. Toss the removed soil back into the area to be mulched (but not where it just came from) and rake it smooth. Cover all with mulch. The trench edge will retain the mulch. without needing any other product. Don't bother with the trench where the mulch area comes to fences or other objects that would retain it.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2012 at 1:36PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

One question is, do you want this to be an area where you can walk/sit/play? Mulch can work for that, but vinca can't.

Regarding the cost of taking the trees down, do consider getting an estimate, and find out what its components are. Disposal of the material will often be a good chunk of the cost, and if you can keep some of the chippings as mulch, or some of the trunk as firewood (put it on craigslist if you don't need it) you can probably keep it more affordable. Some types of wood are also worth something as lumber, and a tree removal company should be able to factor that in. You can also dispense with stump grinding, although obviously you will have to live with a stump for a while, as that often costs a few hundred. If you aren't getting the stump ground, a good remover should be able to cut the base pretty low for you.

If nothing else, having an estimate will make your decision regarding whether to put so much effort into your yard an informed one. I have gardened under trees like this for many years, and it takes constant dedication to grow anything substantial in such an area, and it can rarely be done well. Mulch may be your answer, but is a shady mulched yard what you want?

You might also consider that if you are planning to sell the place, the more unwieldy the trees get, the more likely it is that a buyer might deduct the cost of removal from the price offered for your house.

Do you know what kind of trees you are dealing with?

Karin L

    Bookmark   February 28, 2012 at 4:51PM
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An update on that metal pipe that was stuck in my tree (which I think is a maple from its flowers):

Today, my friend got his saw out and cut through the pipe at the bottom end. Apparently, it wasn't *as* stuck as we originally thought because he was able use his weight and a sledge to loosen it and then hammer it out, (which is almost too bad as I curious to see if method pls8xx described would work!)

I was very surprised to discover that the tree had started pushing a root up through the end of the pipe that was in the ground.

Here's the remaining hole:

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 12:51AM
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I, too, was curious to see the pls8xx method in action. But, at least, the tree looks much better with pipe removed!

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 9:50AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Nice work on the removal. The root in the pipe is an excellent illustration of what your greatest challenge will be in trying to tend new plants in this yard. The pipe was obviously collecting water, and that is what the roots were after.

Whatever you now plant, you will water. The tree roots will find that water and grow roots there. That is why, under my big trees, the only realistic option was container gardening - and the container had to be on a slab of some sort, because yes, trees can and will send roots up the container drain hole to get at the water inside it.

This is not to say you cannot make the yard nicer. Merely, realize that this is what you will be up against, and take protective action.

Karin L

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 11:10AM
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