help with this disaster...

WendyB(5A/MA)April 26, 2011

A friend asked me for guidance on this. I looked at it a few weeks ago and started to come up with something (classic dry shade plants replacing grass; some perimeter and corner accent areas with shrubs). But then I saw it again today (with camera), and now I am hesitant on anything growing there well at all... maybe total vinca. Let alone digging in all the roots to make room... ugh.. and what about that dropoff...

I read a lot about growing under oaks and I understand the roots are quite sensitive and won't like much tampering and don't like summer watering. (although that was a CA article. We are in New England).

Can someone turn me around and point me in the right direction? Is there a right direction? In my minds eye, I see a wonderful tapestry of shade perennials including lotsa hosta, but I am a bit nervous about the root issue.

It is south-facing, but obviously a lot of shade present from that huge oak.

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What an unfortunate placement of a beautiful tree. the Dog run probably isn't helping much either.

If it was my project I would remove all the grass from the entire lawn. I would just mulch the area 10 feet diameter around the tree.On the corner of the house that is not by the driveway I would put in an interesting small tree such a flowring fruit tree or a japanese maple. It is an important thing to place properly - be sure it is far enough from the house and place it in an area where the grass was growing well.

From the japanese maple I would use layered groupings of medium shrubs (ninebark, miss kim lilac, rhodies, spirea are good choices for my area) gradually decreasing in height out to the stone wall. On the edge of the lawn area next to the wall I would plant groupings of cotoneaster which could softly climb over the wall. between the mulched tree circle and the driveway I would plant an easy drought tolerant and tough ground cover. Blue rug juniper, bearberry, maybe creeping euonymus although it tends to be a little hard hi in the winter in your zone.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 7:51PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

You might want to check with the folks on the Tree Forum... Oaks have a reputation as being one of the most garden-friendly of the big trees because their roots tend to go deep. The south half of my backyard woodland garden is under a red oak. My oak is not nearly as big as that one though. But if grass is growing under that one, I wouldn't hesitate to plant under it! When we started the garden under the oak here, I removed the grass and added only about an inch of a 'top dressing' soil mix (basically compost and peat).

Perennials that grow well under it include tiarellas - especially running ones which make a nice groundcover..., white corydalis (also useful as groundcover), Virginia Bluebells, Solomon's Seal, Oak fern, Ghost fern, columbines (let them seed around/grow them by scattering seeds around), hostas, Brunnera, rodgersia... almost any shade plant I've tried in fact!

All the little spring bulbs are happy under there - plus some orange tulips that the squirrels planted one year!

Further away from the trunk I have several different hydrangeas, fothergilla, dogwood trees and white redbud.

So I'd definitely remove all the grass. Before I resorted to mulch as a groundcover though I'd give a wide variety of shade plants a try and see what works for that location.

Here is a link that might be useful: tree forum

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 8:32PM
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Woody, how would you go about removing grass in this type of situation. I was thinking of the wet newspaper method with 2" of mulch, but I am worried if that is enough depth to accomplish the kill. Any more than that and I am worried about depriving the oak roots of oxygen.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 11:19PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I removed the grass under ours - and all grass that I remove to make beds - by hand! I take a narrow, flat edging spade and make straight cuts about 1-2" deep in long lines about 4" apart. Every 2' or so I cut across the lines so you end up with a lot of 2' x 4" strips. Then it's easy to take something like my invaluable J-shaped crack-weeder and just slide it under the 4" end of the strip to loosen the roots. Then you can just pull up the grass in long strips. Pile the strips with root side up somewhere off in a corner and let them compost down. Spread about 1" of screened compost where the grass was (I just try to replace the depth of the grass and soil removed...) It doesn't look like a big area so it wouldn't be too much work to do.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 10:16AM
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IRuehl(8b-9a, Savannah GA)

What about raised planter beds along the house? about 3ft wide, 2 deep. No digging in roots, controlled water? But I dunno, Just my 2 cents, I would paint the house lighter before thinking about the yard. Seems heavy and kinda scary looking.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 10:26AM
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Nice challenge! You can grow a lot of things in "high shade" or "part sun".

The wall is great, just a bit chunky. What small shrub, vine or annual flower grows in your area that would trail over the edge of the drop-off? Something colorful but not aggressive to soften the edge.

If you plant things from seed, bulbs, or 6-pack size, just making tiny holes, you don't have to do much digging.

The newspaper and mulch method will not kill the tree - it works because it keep light from getting to the grass, not because it blocks oxygen.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 8:12AM
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A different trim color would lighten it up and take some of the focus off the tree's size. Something to match the stone and the tree. Paint the door the same color as the trim, or something complementary. Leave the downspout brown, though; it's hidden very well with that color.

Then revisit what to plant and where.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 2:41PM
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What you have there in the picture as shown is not a tree, it may look like a tree from a distance but here it is a wooden column. So the 800lb gorilla is 'scale'. The only way to fix this (other than painting the door a different colour!)is to take the tree down. Jeez you will have firewood for the next ten years never mind sunlight on your newly painted door.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 5:53PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Ink's absolutely right. Take the tree down before it crushes the house. Not only will you have firewood for the next decade (or make some cabinetmaker really happy), but the smaller branches will give you enough wood chips to mulch the neighborhood. Then have the stump ground out (more mulch) and plant something that will stay in scale with the house.

mto the big-tree-killer
and small-tree-planter

    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 6:30PM
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That is awesome. I'd deign a landscape as if it were not there just not to pretend that you can work it in. Very cool. (South Shore?)

    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 7:58PM
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You can't mean that Andrew. "I was trying to design my garden but I kept hitting a brick wall in my creativity, at least I think it was wall, ouch there it is again right in the middle, is it an invisible Curb App Heal?"

    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 8:46PM
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If getting rid of the tree is not an option, then I agree with getting rid of the grass...doesn't really grow anyway. Then do a search online for 'shade garden' and add plants that thrive in shade...make curvy paths and emphasize the entryway into the home!

    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 8:57PM
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I do mean it. What else can you do without creating the infamous pubic effect? That is an awesome tree, but it is so big and the crown is so high that it has an isolated role. You're not going to make it dissapear and you are not going to tie it to the house as an integrated component of the landscape.
There is something really cool about that tree claiming that area where it meets the ground as a place frozen in history before the wall, before the road cut, and before the already historic house as it appears. The last thing I'd do is to interupt that tree's claim on that section of grass right around it. I'd leave it all alone and work the foundation and the uphill side lot line and leave open the top of the street wall and the top of the drop off wall. Leave an apron for the monument.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 9:12PM
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