large front flowerbed under tree

Carol Thomas VaughnApril 2, 2012

I have a large flowerbed in the front yard that I just don't know what to do with. Several years ago we enlarged it, in part to keep neighbors from constantly cutting through our yard. We may have made it too big though! 4 years later it is mostly an eyesore. We've had it looking decent a few times mostly with annuals, but it's too costly to continue filling it up that way. Currently, there are mums that have been doing well across the front of the bed. Last fall I thinned them out and spread them around the rest of the border. Last year it was also full of Blackberry lilies. Boy can that stuff spread! At one point I was just going to let it keep spreading and fill the bed, but overall it was too "wild" and unkept looking. At the end of summer I pulled most of them out, but there are still a ton of them poking up this spring. I also transplanted some wandering jew into the bed thinking it might spread and fill in as a ground cover. I don't know if I can salvage something with what I have, or if I need to just rip it all out and start fresh. I know it needs a new truckload of dirt and some good mulch, but what else? I'm in the Dallas area of TX. Hot and dry most summers, but parts of this bed are pretty heavily shaded by the Bradford Pear. (don't need to start in on the poor bradford. I know he's not popular but it's what was there...and it's pretty for now :) )

A few other ideas I've had for "filler" are lamb's ear or vinca minor. Are there other ideas of pretty perennials that might work besides just "filler"? Maybe some groupings of plants?

Thank you!


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I design the beds

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 5:58PM
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Sorry,I can't control I post again.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 8:05PM
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It pains me to say this, but I think something needs to be done with the tree. Though I'm thinking you may have to remove it completely, I would first try other things prior to the removal. It seems to be weighing the house down. The garage is the focal point instead of your home (living areas).

I'm not an expert on tree pruning but perhaps you can thin it out, so you can see some of the house through it.

Ultimately I think a better look with be a small ornamental tree closer to the property line. You could place various shrubs that go from your front door curving toward the ornamental tree. Is your street tree lined where everyone has a the same type of tree in their front yard.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 9:54PM
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Carol Thomas Vaughn

Thank you aloha for your comments. It also pains me to agree with you! Seeing it every day I hadn't realized how much the tree dominated the view until I posted the pictures. I had the same thoughts as you. Unfortunately that will not be an option right now. When its time comes though, I like your ideas. Yes, it is a street with virtually every house having the same tree. There are very few with something different in them.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 10:53PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I think you need to decide what you want... just to fill with something that looks tidy (could be a single plant left to spread), or an attractive, varied garden. I don't garden in your zone, but I'm sure you can find the plants to do either.

But even from another zone, I can say that this is probably a challenging area to garden due to tree roots sucking it dry of water and nutrients, so a total dream garden is probably not an option. But a bit of variety is likely possible.

If you go for variety, think about plant form in your selections - irises, for example, with spiky foliage, with lamb's ears for the carpet. Either of those, by the way, might be a good way to fill the bed on their own too (if irises grow in your zone).

Another plant family you might consider is bulbs. True, they are seasonal, but again, if you can carpet with something like lambs ears, the dying foliage might not drive you nuts, and gaps would not be left after they die back.

There is also just mulch with clumps of plants - daffodils in spring, other stuff later - can work too, if it looks kempt and organized...not all migrated to the edges :-)

Finally, there is always juniper or microbiota!

Karin L

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 12:58AM
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Carol Thomas Vaughn

Thank you Karin! I would like a more varied garden if I can figure it out. I like your idea of irises. They do well in our area and always admire them in other yards but have never had them in mine. They might especially do well on the neighbor's side of the bed as kind of a taller "backdrop", and I think they would look very nice with the lamb's ear carpet. Thank you for your suggestions!

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 8:42AM
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The Bradford is greatly disdained nowadays, seen as "overplanted," "invasive," and structurally unsound. Remove it, though, and you will greatly miss the shade in the Texas heat. And it will be spectacular this fall.

I'm not sure I share the current fixation on landscape "focal points." In any event, you can easily remove enough of the lower foliage of the tree to better accentuate the entrance.

I haven't had much luck with junipers where they don't get full sun. You might take a look at Harbor Dwarf nandina--low, drought tolerant, and discreetly colorful. Prostrate rosemary might also do well there. Both will look attractive year round.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 9:07AM
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What seems to bother me most is the shape of the bed, accentuated by the high white border. The creeping junipers are handy plants... but so would be anything that would "spill" and blur the border

The link is long, but it gives some info on plants for your part of the world from trees to ground covers.

Here is a link that might be useful: English garden Texas style

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 10:34AM
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While I far prefer a tree that is trimmed along the way rather than tended after its bad habits have been allowed free reign, I'd limb the Bradford up for mainly two reasons: to gain more light below and to stop obstructing view of architectural features. (To help prevent the splitting off of major limbs I'd also consider an overall reduction in the size of the canopy by a professional. Of course it would re-grow, but the limbs would be more stout relative to the weight supported.) Removing lower limbs are usually within the capabilities of a homeowner. A 10" Corona folding saw and some loppers (and a step ladder) would take care of all of them.

The shrubs currently at the foundation are a negative, not a positive. They cover too much. I don't find their blocky, separate shapes soothing. Mounded shrubs (Schillings holly for example) flanking the overall windows would look better. I also put a flowering perennial at the left of the left window to add some interest. (The plant that came to mind for me was blue Siberian Iris, like Caesar's Brother. The foliage looks good for a long time.)

Some annuals limited to the door area would add a bright spot, be easy to maintain and not too expensive.

The rest of the bed could be unified with a single, low groundcover. Look around your neighborhood to see what complies, grows well and is consistently handsome. Something that spreads on its own to overcome shallow tree roots without deep digging needed to install would be a good choice. (An example would be Vinca minor (Periwinkle) but I have no idea if it performs well there. Ajuga can grow just about anywhere.)


    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 11:24AM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

I don't garden in Texas, but I wonder if you could fill the bed with about a dozen lavender plants behind the mums? They can grow for years, and the billowy shape would soften the stone edging, plus the blue-green foliage would look nice with your brick house. You could do a lot more, but it sounds like you want something simple.

I would also stop clipping the shrubs below the windows into cubes, let them grow together into a hedge, if that's possible.

Just tossing out a few random thoughts.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 12:10PM
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We call Schillings holly dwarf yaupon down here.

The Bradford should never have been permitted to branch out laterally so close to the ground. The more stress you can remove from it, the less likely it will be to split wide open during a gale.

Unfortunately, the things that work best in Texas are being planted by all and sundry. Enduring novelty is hard to come by. A border of Big Blue liriope would drape across the edging and soften it considerably.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 1:56PM
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Miniviolet, how long do you plan to live in this house? For myself, if it's only going to be a few more years, I'd get the tree professional pruned. If it's going to be 5+ years, I'd remove the tree and start over. Your growing season is reasonably long and a new smaller ornamental tree that doesn't overtake your house would be a much more appropriate size within a few years. After that it would grow to it's full mature size but would never be the overpowering tree you have now.

One of the things landscaping is suppose to do is enhance the exterior of your home. In your case it's detracting from it. Just like you built a barrier for neighbors not to use your yard as a short cut, that barrier ended up being more of an eyesore. Yes it sounds like the neighbors don't use it anymore but at what price. Yes the tree provides some very nice shade for your home but at what price?

For myself, it would boil down to how long I was going to live there and go from there. Do you want to be dealing with this tree in 10 years or will it just be a distant memory?

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 2:01PM
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Carol Thomas Vaughn

A very sincere Thank You to everyone who has taken the time to read and reply! So many ideas to consider. I truly appreciate them. The biggest issue right now is budget. Professionally having the tree pruned is probably not an option, my husband actually pruned it quite a bit last year (you should have seen it before!). I'll have to play with the idea of maybe replacing it...and run it by the man who would have to do it! If I were ever able to change the shape of the bed, maybe at the point where the sidewalk to the patio ends, it could start to curve inward? Kind of more of a crescent shape to soften it up, but still maintain that "barrier" between the yards?

I've also wanted to take the bushes out several times, but I've always chickened out not sure if it would be a good move or not. A special thanks to you Yardvaark for taking the extra time with pictures so I could see the visual. I may just have to more forward with that idea.

Even if we don't make the big changes yet, I love all the planting ideas and links. Very helpful. I actually found lamb's ear, heuchera, and a few forget me nots and creeping jenny on 1/2 off at the local garden center today. I'll be playing around with the placement of them later to see if they might work. I guess I'll finish pulling out all of the Blackberry lilies, and probably even the mums. The mums have gotten so large and full that I hate to see them go, but they don't fit as a "border" plant any more...because they are so large! Maybe I can find a new spot for them. Does anyone around here know if it is too late for me to plant irises for this year?

Thank you, thank you everyone!

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 8:10PM
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Again, I'm not familiar with the pruning enough to give you specific direction but from Yardvaark pic, trimming out the branches with foliage opens up the front door and windows immensely. Keeping the main trunk and wood branches next to the main trunk IMO add interest w/o being overwhelming. I'm sure you can find information on doing it. If you're considering removing it completely, what's a few branches just to give it a try.

If Yardvaark has time and you like the idea, perhaps getting a vine on either side of the garage would soften the area above the garage with greenery. It looks like you have enough space to place a vine. Perhaps though you may not even like vines.

I'm assuming when you are saying the neighbors are cutting through your yard, you mean the neighbor's children. I would assume that eventually those kids will grow up and start driving cars (even if there friends are just a few doors down) and the eventually moving out. Do you think this crossing over will end reasonably soon?

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 9:24PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

You don't have to take out the mums entirely or even the Blackberry lilies, which I understand to be Belamcanda, so might look good with more spreading plants. Be thankful for what does grow there! Just add to it for now, and do add good soil or mulch and do some watering if needed. (As I write this I chuckle because it is pouring outside). If you have amazing success with the new plants, there will be plenty of time to take out the old ones.

Try to group the plants you have to make clumps or drifts, or swaths maybe in the case of the mums, and put something contrasting adjacent to it. Plants will probably migrate in the bed to get away from the densest roots and toward the most sun, so anything that stays in the tougher areas is doing you a favour.

You could just cut the mums back to keep them from getting too leggy, maybe arrange them better, and other than that, buy and try is a good approach. Whatever works, do more of it :-)

Karin L

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 9:47PM
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I've not had much luck with mums as perennials in Central Texas. They come back pretty good the second year, but not the third. The gurus say they should be treated as annuals.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 6:09AM
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Aloha, I hear you loud and clear on that vine. If I lived here I'd probably create a trellis or arbor that spans the garage doors... or something, somehow. But most people don't seem to want to put in the effort it takes to have vines.

Miniviolet, my philosophy on what to put in the bed runs along the line of creating a simple harmonizing picture first, and then adding detail interest later as you think it's necessary. Why? A uniform groundcover throughout would be easiest to maintain and not be visually offensive, whereas a mishmash of different plants could be. A uniform groundcover might be suspected of being "too boring" but adding "spice" any time later would be easy. I also suggest that if a good and appropriate groundcover is used, you might not even find it to be boring. There are groundcovers that are pretty almost all the time and spectacular when they bloom.

I hope I didn't give the impression that a professional was necessary to remove BOTTOM branches from the tree. This is something any homeowner could do. It requires mainly this tool

and a step ladder. It's quick and it's easy.
    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 12:58PM
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Carol Thomas Vaughn

Thank you all again! The vine idea is definitely going on the "one day" list. Love the idea, but can't implement it at this time. The bottom branches of the tree are probably doable, my husband has done it in the past. I'll see if I can't get that groundcover established and going with the lamb's ear, but I will try and keep the lilies and mums going somewhere. I don't have the heart to completely throw them out.

And the biggest laugh came from Aloha's comment that he assumes those cutting across are the neighborhood children. I wish it was only the children! The adults were as bad as the children. I love that all our neighbors are friendly and there is a lot of back and forth between houses, but just got tired of it constantly through my yard and right outside my window. Yes, mostly children though. We have a whole "pack" in a 5 house radius on one side and a few across the street that are constantly out playing together, still mostly elementary. I cringe to think of them all starting to drive at the same time!

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 9:33PM
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Brad Edwards

I don't know much about bradford pears, but I would think you could heavily trim it up in the fall and make it look more of like an ornamental apple. To me that would look amazing and would fit the house.

I would also add organic matter, compost, or composted manure to the bed then mulch heavily before planting. Your having a hard time growing things because it gets so hot in the top of the soil and there is little water retention. Poke your finger in the soil, if its really warm then you'll see what I am talking about. In texas people vastly undermulch their beds. In the southeast many people frequently have 2-3foot high raised beds with pinestraw added annually in the fall. This does a couple of things. It protects the ground from being scorched, it blocks invasive weeds, it allows for controlled plantings, and it keeps the top layer of soil most longer after rains. The only thing I can think of that will do well there and spread would be sweet potato vine.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2012 at 5:43PM
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Brad Edwards

It was bugging me on the pruning of the bradford, trimming the bottom branches seems like it would be the way to go but I would really look into this

It will give it a much more natural shape.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2012 at 5:47PM
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Carol Thomas Vaughn

Thank you for the tree link oceandweller, good information in there.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 2:16PM
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