What to put in beds that surround trees?

yankee_in_va(z7 VA)April 20, 2006

Does anyone have any suggestions of what to put in the circular mulch beds that surround the large trees in my front yard? Beds are probably 8-12' in diameter with a tree trunk in the middle of course. They get a pretty good amount of sun.

I don't want to go with the liriope around the edge. I would like something that is pretty easy and care free and perhaps a little unique.

I'm in Central VA. Thanks.

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gardengal48

I have never been a fan of trees simply polka-dotted across an expanse of lawn with a surrounding ring of mulch. There is a lack of context to them and a missing connection to the rest of the landscape. Why not consider enlarging and connecting these plantings to form large planting beds? Add whatever shrubs, flowering perennials or groundcovers you want to complete and fill out the plantings and provide a context that is otherwise missing. Low maintenance is derived from plant choices - choose carefully and an expanded planting area will not create any more effort involved than the frequent mowing and edging around these tree circles.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2006 at 9:35AM
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accordian

Yes, what are the purpose of those rings of mulch anyway? What's wrong with nekkid tree roots? The arborist who works on the trees at my house really hates mulch around the base of a tree. He says it can slowly strangle the poor thing.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2006 at 4:35PM
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saypoint(6b CT)

I'd fill the whole area with an evergreen groundcover, whatever grows well in your area and has no invasiveness issues.

I think that trees benefit from properly applied mulch over the root zone (not too thick, use organic matter) but they do look better just set in the lawn without mulch. More parklike. IMO.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2006 at 4:40PM
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deeje

Oh, HATE the circles of mulch. When I look out of our bedroom window, I see the neighbors' yard. Their landscaping consists of:

A (boxwood?) hedge around the perimeter of the lot, sheared to exactly four feet tall.
A spirea placed every 6' around the foundation of the house.
Five or six trees with a perfectly circular 8' ring of mulch around the trunk.

I'm not a fan of the blowsy cottage look, I like a little formality; but the neighbors' yard makes me twitchy.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2006 at 4:49PM
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annzgw

I have 2 young trees with the 'circle of mulch', but I keep the mulch away from the trunk. I like the park look too, but I don't trust myself or DH with a weedwacker around my trees. Isn't that the reason 'rings' are put around trees...........to prevent trunk injury from the gardeners?

    Bookmark   April 20, 2006 at 6:17PM
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kmickleson(z9 CA)

Careful of the water needs of the tree. A neighbor's beautiful 60 year old Catalpa tree now has to be cut down because the new owners planted cheerful, water hungry Impatiens around its base.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2006 at 7:57PM
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yankee_in_va(z7 VA)

I'm not 100% committed to the mulch rings. I'm thinking it would be hard to grow grass that I would be satisfied with right up to the base of the trees though.

When the mulch is fresh, I think it is a pretty nice looking contrast from the green grass.

Any suggestions besides ground cover? I've actually though of an ivy type ground cover, not sure what to pick around here though.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2006 at 8:15AM
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saypoint(6b CT)

Whatever you plant, don't use English Ivy. It will climb the tree if you're not vigilant, and can actually kill it in time.

You can mulch a very small area around the tree to eliminate the need to use a mechanical trimmer too close to the vulnerable bark, but you'll still have to do some hand-weeding close to the trunk.

Can Impatiens really take up enough water to deprive a tree of moisture? I wouldn't think so, the tree roots are deeper than the Impatiens, and cover an area about twice the diameter of the tree's crown.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2006 at 9:28AM
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annieinaustin(z8 Austin)

Oh, did I misunderstand this one? It sounded like the catalpa tree got too much water when the impatiens were given enough to be happy.

Please tell me, was it over-watering or under-watering?

Annie

    Bookmark   April 21, 2006 at 10:33AM
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dalepar

Under the tree is always a problem. Not much sun, and quite often the older trees have really depleted the soil. And there is the root problem.

I have had good luck with Lamium. It loves shade, has spring blooms, and is fairly heat tolerant. In the heat it will wilt down, but mine does not die. I comes back when the fall weather comes. Periwinkle is a good choice, but a little dull in my book. I have one area planted with Thorndale ivy that I am very happy with. It is not an aggresive climber, so what strands want to climb are easily removed. In my climate, the Thorndale does not like the summer sun (I do not heavily water), and therefore is somewhat self edging and stays in the shaded area where I want it. It may be too aggresive in your climate.

Because your circles are fairly large, I would mix some plants under each tree. Some Lamium for ground cover, some Hastas for interest, some periwinkle for quicker cover. That would give a mix of texture and color.

D in Denver

    Bookmark   April 24, 2006 at 2:19PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Around my oak trees, which are large and don't have a lot of functioning roots near the trunk I have planted: daylilies, daffodils, tree peonies, hydrangeas, viburnums, species roses, forsythia, flowering quince, ferns, hosta, caryopteris, mockorange....

I think you get the idea.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2006 at 3:19PM
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jugglerguy(z4-5 MI)

Check this out. No, really, go read it now.

Here is a link that might be useful: The Astonishing Truth Behind Tree Circles

    Bookmark   April 24, 2006 at 10:36PM
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vicki_ca(Sunset 14, US9)

LOL - Jugglerguy. The writer of that article forgot to mentioned Volcanoians, aka, Volcanotians or Volcanites. Surely you've seen their work. They build up an impressive mound of soil and mulch around individual trees, making it appear as if the trees are erupting from a volcano.

I am pleased to report that the tree circle aliens have not yet discovered my property. I think the Raisedbedatians became so mesmerized while admiring their fine work in my neighbor's front yard, that they completely forgot to pay me a visit. Unfortunately, the neighbors 20 year old mimosa tree fell over onto their car one windy, rainy night. Oops! All of that soil rotted the base of the tree.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2006 at 12:02AM
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sammie070502(PNW z8)

Do epimediums grow well in your area? I love them in my woodland garden. Check the the species, as they may be evergreen, semi-evergreen, or completely deciduous. Also, the height and tendency to spread vs to clump varies widely.

However, I'd consider linking the circles into some other more organic shape or even into peninsulas from the borders (if you have them.)

I'm remembering the landscaping show hosted by Gary Allen--The Designer's Landscape, I think it was called--he'd come up with some pretty crazy, undulating beds that would contain all the trees and hardscape features--but he would NEVER have been satisfied with a bunch of circular tree rings.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2006 at 12:53PM
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yankee_in_va(z7 VA)

Thanks for all the feedback and suggestions. I am going to keep my tree circles for now. I'm going to look into a lot of the planting suggestions I got from this thread. Thanks.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2006 at 1:18PM
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inkognito

This is a joke, right? Some guy trying to wind us up. Trees don't like this. Can I present every tree as evidence. Not convinced. Did you have a look at every tree you have ever seen with a necklace of mulch and sort the happy ones from those without it? No eh?

    Bookmark   April 25, 2006 at 6:16PM
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yankee_in_va(z7 VA)

Huh?

I have an admittedly untrained eye, but my trees and all those in my neighborhood with "mulch circles" seem just as healthy as those without.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2006 at 8:29AM
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watergal(z6/7 Westminster, MD)

I have Coral Bells 'Purple Palace' at the base of a tree. They can take a wide range of sun and don't mind sharing water with tree roots. They are also semievergreen in the winter.

Hostas are always good too, although look for the thicker leaves ones because slugs like to live in the mulch and munch on hosta leaves.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 9:03PM
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lovemyflower_garden

I think that periwinkle is an appealing ground cover choice for the base of a tree. It's evergreen and grows quickly, the flowers are nice too. I'm somewhat partial to the leafy evergreen plants/trees. I was thinking of planting some around the base of magnolia and pine trees to the side of our property because there is more dirt than grass there.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2006 at 10:22AM
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jaceysgranny(7aAR)

I have hostas, several different sedums, and TB iris beneath my tulip poplar and they do fine. They are not mulched and it's a square bed not a round one.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2006 at 10:39AM
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kmickleson(z9 CA)

Annie, hope I'm not too late for you to see this. Indeed, it was overwatering (for the impatiens) that hastened the tree's demise.

Karen

    Bookmark   April 29, 2006 at 10:58AM
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annieinaustin(z8 Austin)

Thanks for the answer, Karen. I really did want to know.

Annie

    Bookmark   April 29, 2006 at 11:59AM
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vicki_ca(Sunset 14, US9)

>>>>I have an admittedly untrained eye, but my trees and all those in my neighborhood with "mulch circles" seem just as healthy as those without.Another way of stating that is: Trees without "mulch circles" seem just as healthy as those with them. Thus, I question why anyone surrounds trees with mulch circles, since clearly it is not needed for the health of the trees. If someone installs maybe a foot of mulch around their trees for ease of mowing a large yard, I can understand that, but the mulch circles I usually see are much larger than that. It appears that some people use mulch as a landscape design feature. Are those who install large mulch circles around trees doing so because they think it is aesthetically pleasing? I would disagree with anyone who responds affirmatively, but taste is a personal thing.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2006 at 4:28PM
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inkognito

One job on my books is to get my tree guy to take down a maple that was planted 17 years ago. The maple leaf is our national emblem and we have no problem with growing them or sucking the sugar or enjoying hillsides covered in their autumn blaze. They grow like crazy unless they are planted too deep. Mulch volcanos have the same effect. The guy who planted this maple, that will leave a hole in the garden when it's gone, has long since spent his fee. The damage from this practice is not instant and a neat apperance today can lead to death on another day. So vicki, I think it is a question of looks versus common sense.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2006 at 7:10PM
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vicki_ca(Sunset 14, US9)

Ink, are you saying that mulching trees beyond what occurs in nature always leads to poor tree health eventually, or was it the volcano or deep planting that has caused the need to remove that mature maple tree? I've never mulched a tree, so I wouldn't know. I do know, however, that my neighbor's mimosa tree (mentioned earlier) did fall due to the large raised bed around it. These same neighbors also over-water everything in their yard, so that was probably a contributing factor as well.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2006 at 8:05PM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

Putting a raised bed or volcano mound of mulch around a tree will kill it. Some mulch is good, a foot or more especially right up to the trunk is not. Piling dirt up and burying the trunk with it to make a raised bed is flat out fatal.

I agree with Gardengal48 about how to plant a mulch circle. I've got Rhodies, Azaleas, Daylilies, Hebes, Barberries, Spireas, Mountain Laurels, Ferns, Hostas and many, many other plants around all of my trees. No tree stands alone with a forlorn circle of mulch in my yard.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2006 at 9:32PM
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inkognito

Vicki: as you probably know planting too deep is the number one tree killer. Adding soil or mulch to cover the flare at a later date amounts to the same thing. Add to this the critters that nest in mulch volcanoes and you have a recipe for disaster. Another evil practice is planting a tree with its root ball sticking out of the ground to avoid too much digging I imagine and hiding this with mulch. Or planting in a dish for watering, that later gets filled in. The insidious effect is that home owners see this going on and copy, believing it to be sound practice. Chucking peat moss on grass is another one.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2006 at 11:07AM
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lpinkmountain(5b/6a border PA)

It's not mulch per se, it's a heavy layer of mulch applied up against the base/bark of the tree trunk. Keep mulch away from the flare at the base of the tree. The mulch can vector disease into the tree and too deep a layer of mulch suffocates the important surface roots of the tree. Trees in nature do not have mulch piled up against them in a thick layer. The forest floor has a thin, even layer of mulch. What I see with my trained eye is people piling mulch around the base of trees, the trees desperately sending out roots trying to get some air, then people diligently piling more mulch on these roots, til the trees take on a way too flared appearance at their base, meanwhile slowly succumb to stress. It takes a long time for a tree to grow, it takes a long time for a tree to die. I understand that you want to protect your trees from the mower or maybe you like the look. Call your local cooperative extension agent. There are ways to plant under trees that are less damaging than others. Depends on the type of tree and what you plant under it. Some combinations are better than others. What kind of trees are these?

There are lots of online educational pages put out by various cooperative extension services at universities around the country, you can find a lot of good information by googline "mulching under trees" or "planting under trees." Below is a link to one of my favorite ones, from the "Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series" from the University of Minnesota.

Here is a link that might be useful: Planting under trees

    Bookmark   April 30, 2006 at 12:00PM
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vicki_ca(Sunset 14, US9)

Just to clarify what I said above about one foot of mulch... I meant to say a 1 foot *wide* mulch circle for ease of mowing - not 1 foot deep pile of mulch up against the base/bark of the tree! Again, I have never mulched a tree, and they seem to be healthy after these 25 years.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2006 at 12:39PM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

And there I was, telling the day laborers to throw all the hideous adobe clay soil we removed from the other parts of the property, onto the roots of the silver maple and walnut in the backyard, because I was TRYING to kill them. Needless to say, 15 years later they're healthier and happier than ever. It must be sheer tree perversity, I think!

    Bookmark   April 30, 2006 at 1:08PM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

The turning radius on our lawn tractor is 5 feet, hence the 5 foot wide mulch circle. Undecorated, however, plain old mulch.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2006 at 3:17PM
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pcj42(NC)

I've got tree circles in my yard. I kind of think it actually looks better than roundup circles. I mulch about a foot or two around our trees because they have big bark roots or "footings" that I hit with the mower while trying to mow. I do pile on the mulch initially because after it rains a few times and then settles, it becomes flat. I don't have volcanoes. I have had some trees die. One was struck by lightning. The others were hit by the bulldozer while the property was being cleared which resulted in bark being knocked off.

Of course, being a living thing, trees do die. They don't all live to a ripe old age.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2006 at 5:19PM
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inkognito

So here is the choice, according to pcj42: pile on the mulch or pile on the round up and if some trees die because of our insensitivity hey "being a living thing, trees do die. They don't all live to a ripe old age." You have landed on a planet where we care about stuff like this pjc and tree don't have footings. They may not have feelings but then neither do you.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2006 at 6:29PM
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maro(z8 WA)

We're off and running.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2006 at 9:05PM
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pcj42(NC)

inko--Trees do die. Walk through the woods. There are fairly young trees that have died. No one has put mulch on them. No matter what you do or don't do, they are gonna go one day. No trees don't have footings and if you read again what I put, I said footings in quotation marks after I said big roots with bark that stick up out of the ground. Grass can't get mowed here and as someone previously posted, weed eating can nick the bark and create problems, such as........oooooo...are you ready for this...... DEATH of the tree. So if you want to hand clip your grass, be my guest. I don't.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2006 at 10:29PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

>I have never been a fan of trees simply polka-dotted across an expanse of lawn with a surrounding ring of mulch. There is a lack of context to them and a missing connection to the rest of the landscape. Why not consider enlarging and connecting these plantings to form large planting beds?Right on. If grass won't grow up to trunks, so that it's just trees in grass all the way through then whole grouping should be enclosed in a bed, with lawn and trees fully separated. After trees are underplanted then you have a lawn flowing through beds of trees and shrubs, etc., like a lake or a lazy river flowing between forested hillsides.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 5:08PM
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graymare1

I watched a program from Univ of california-horticulture department and they said to put nothing but mulch at the base of a tree.
go out into the woods and see how many trees have a lot of vegetation around the base. Mostly it is just the dropping of leaves and needles from surrounding trees. Thus it is apparent that you will choke and starve your tree for water if you plant "pretty little flowers" around its neck. Plant your flowers in a separate bed.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2006 at 1:03AM
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gardengal48

"Thus it is apparent that you will choke and starve your tree for water if you plant "pretty little flowers" around its neck. "

Hardly. I'd say they got that pretty much backwards. First, it is difficult to make an accurate analogy between a natural wooded habitat and a cultivated garden. Second, the reason many trees in naturally wooded settings are devoid of much undergrowth is simply due to insufficient light conditions combined with the much more aggressive and far-reaching nature of tree roots compared to that of smaller growing shrubs or herbaceous perennials. The trees hog the lion's share of available soil nutrients and moisture, effectively choking out the smaller growth, not the other way around. In a garden setting where attention can be paid to irrigation and supplementing nutrients through mulching or fertilization, that is far less likely to happen. Even then, many gardeners experience difficulty in developing plantings under the canopies of well-established trees - often much too rooty and too dry. But as to smaller plants choking out larger growing trees - no flippin way!

    Bookmark   September 9, 2006 at 7:02AM
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janetpetiole(4b)

The reason there might not be much growing under trees in a forest is because of the natural mulch from leaves and needles falling onto the soil is deep enough to block out light that seeds need to germinate. A large stand of pine trees will usually lack any undergrowth because pine needles break down slowly forming a thick mat, but I cannot recall ever seeing a deciduous forest devoid of under-plantings.

Lawn grass is not a natural cover for the base of a tree, itÂs only seems that way because we are accustomed to it. Visit a forest and look at whatÂs growing around the trees, or visit an arboretum and inspect the uncultivated areas.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2006 at 10:05AM
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chantalrocks_hotmail_com

We have two big spruce trees in the front lawn. Around the base there is that ugly black plastic edging...not exactly a circle and it's going every which way. Inside these large "circle" "things" there's a bunch of small stones. Sprouting in between is grass, weeds, dandelions...you get the idea, it's hideous. Looks like our house belongs in the bush. thinking of just ripping out the edging and raking up all the stones. If I use grass seed...is that pointless? Sorry...first time home owner!

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 10:48AM
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