What would you do with this sloped bed?

dave11October 23, 2011

Here are a couple pics of an overgrown sloped bed at the back of my property. Very visible from the back of the house.

The bed is full of weeds and rocks, with a medium size Chinese Dogwood stuck in it near the edge. It is a decent tree, but only looks really nice for the 10 days a year it blooms--the rest of the time its fairly indistinct. It also looks tilted, because its on a slope, but also because it grew slanted toward the slope.

Would you keep the dogwood tree? It is dwarfed by the huge Norwegian Spruce behind it, but also will shade out anything I put behind it, which includes most of the bed.

If I keep the dogwood, won't that really limit the landscaping options?


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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

I'd keep the dogwood and ditch the rest of the stuff in the bed, replacing it with a collection of things like large-leafed hostas, rodgersia, Solomon's Seal etc. - things that will look good/appropriate with the woodsy backdrop while being showy and easy care (big leafed things, once they are at mature size, are helpful in smothering weeds.)

    Bookmark   October 23, 2011 at 10:17AM
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You probably don't want anything high maintenance so I'd keep it simple with very little variety. I'd keep the dogwood, but it needs to be limbed up so it can look like a tree and distinguished from the bed. (You ought to be able to walk below it without smacking your head on a branch. I like 8' min. If that's too much for this year, do the rest in the spring.) Also, I'd give the top a light trim for the purpose of keeping a nice shape to the tree. In the bed below it looks like you have some daylilies now. That would work. Get rid of everything else and have only one uniform groundcover plant solid throughout the bed. Install an informal hedge of flowering shrub (like Hydrangea Macrophylla or 'Annabelle') to backup the bed. Give the bed a distinct edge and keep the shape simple and smooth. (Meaning don't allow a ragged looking edge.) What would also make a huge difference is to improve the grass by getting the weeds out of it.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2011 at 2:02PM
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Thanks woodyoak and yardviser. Very intriguing suggestions. I'm kind of surprised you want to keep the tree. To me it looks odd because it's so slanted, and I guess because, if there were no tree like that there to start with, no one would advocate putting it there. Or would they?

If I had no one to ask, I'd have removed the dogwood, and placed an assortment of evergreen and deciduous shrubs, a sort of montage of colors and textures, trying to be cohesive. But folks here have way more experience and talent than I do, so I tend to defer to others about these sorts of things.

The grass around that area has already been fixed--the pics are from spring.

The little white building at the edge of the pic is an old stable, and will be next to be reno'd after the bed. The firewood is stacked there now for fast drying, as it gets full sun all day. Does it look tacky?

    Bookmark   October 23, 2011 at 5:02PM
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Oh, and we have a huge, huge deer problem here, so hostas do not survive. Daylillies survive but are eaten down to stubs pretty regularly. That bed at present has no daylillies visible, not sure how they grew long enough to be seen in that pic. But would need to pick something much lower on their list of preferred food.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2011 at 5:12PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Please don't get rid of that tree!

    Bookmark   October 23, 2011 at 5:21PM
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The lean on the tree doesn't look that bad to me. In one plane it's a little; in another it's nil.
I can't see all of the hidden branch structure, but it might be when the tree is limbed up, the "lean" becomes a minor curve (over time.) Being limbed up higher yet in future years will minimize it more. What's key is balance as opposed to exact straight lines. Anyway, as the trunk thickens it will become less of an issue. Trees can get really beat up looking in their youth and it turn into character later. What matters more is overall size, shape and fullness.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2011 at 5:55PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Leaning trees really bug me in cultivated settings - in nature they're interesting, in gardens, not so much. There are things you can do...

It's a bit big for this, but you might be able to cut enough roots on one side to straighten it. Some trees can take this, others not. A eucalyptus I did it with could not, but then, the lean bothered me so much that it was straighten, or go.

You can also just go with "go." Trees are not necessarily expensive and they grow fast to this size. But in a deer-visited environment, that may be the challenging stage to get them through. And even generally, trees of this size are, actually, not to be sneezed at as assets. So don't do this lightly, but give yourself permission to consider it. If you want trees but just not this one, plant some new ones now that you like, and then take this one down when they've grown in.

Third option, you can hide the trunk. You'd do a shrub border? Perfect. Extend the bed far enough forward so you can do your arrangement of different shrubs at the front of the bed (don't just stick one in front of the trunk, your description sounds lovely), and return the back of the bed to grass. In addition to this, you work with Yardvisor's comments about shaping the tree to minimize the impact of the trunk. Shrubs in front that have some multi-season interest also mitigates the boring appearance of the tree for 355 days. (You can grow clematis into the tree too, but they will mostly show out the sunny side).

Here's where I would start on the whole issue if I were you, with this question: if this bed, and this tree, were not already there, what would I want to do with this part of the yard? Regarding the tree in particular, I'd ask: Does this tree serve any purpose in particular - for me, for wildlife, for bees? Is this a tree I would choose if I were out shopping for one? Regarding the bed: do I want a bed there? Why or why not? If I'm going to have the work of a bed, is there a better place for one in that area of the yard, or elsewhere?

Don't be locked into something you don't like by decisions that a Previous Owner made.

Karin L

PS consider a fenced bed if you want to have one.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2011 at 7:35PM
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rosiew(8 GA)

Wood piles are functional. It's certainly not tacky.

You're going to grow to love the dogwood. Saw a large one Saturday in its full autumn splendor. I wouldn't limb it up 8' - maybe 6'.

Re the deers and hostas - buy yourself some Milorganite. It's an organic low dose fertilizer, inexpensive and a proven deer deterrent for me, notably with hostas. Deer hate the smell. Just toss it on and around the plants. When you see any signs of deer grazing just toss some more on.

Rosie, hoping this helps.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2011 at 3:05PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Thinking a bit more about this and rereading what you've told us, I think I would suggest that you keep the tree, but remove the existing bed. It strikes me that the bed shape and the tree's location in it are the problems, not so much the tree itself.

You could just leave the tree growing out of the grass. But if you want a bed, then I would suggest that you make a new bed that begins at the tree and extends to the left (as seen in your first picture) and somewhat forward. I would begin the plantings under it with something like some rhodos that would have a branch structure of their own to block and distract from the trunk (fenced to protect from deer, I guess).

It seems like there is a natural bit of slope there that the new bed could run along or in front of (if on the slope, add some rocks for interest and retaining). It doesn't have to be big or fancy, just some company for the tree.

See if you can like the tree in that configuration.

The shed and firewood look fine, but I think they will look better with a more open area in front (a clearing where one might picture you chopping the wood) rather than crammed in behind an amorphous and unnecessary ornamental flower bed - incongruous with something as pragmatic as the firewood.

If that doesn't work for you, add the tree to the firewood pile :-)

Karin L

    Bookmark   October 24, 2011 at 4:22PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

My second thoughts were also to get rid of the bed. How much space is there between the trees in the background and the dogwood? Rather than keeping/making a bed, if you didn't want the trees on its own, I'd be inclined to plant trees and shrubs that would extend the wooded background forward to incorporate the dogwood. I, too, think you'll grow to love the dogwood - they usually have nice red fall color in addition to the summer flowers. I wouldn't limb it up too far either, especially if you end up extending the woods behind forward to incorporate it.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2011 at 5:56PM
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Looking into my crystal ball I can see a previous owner digging up that unlikely spot for flower bed in an effort to hide the shed from view. Now, back at the present we are trying to make a silk purse from this sows ear. Dig it all up grass it over and see then if you really need a leaning tree in a bed of weeds.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2011 at 6:00PM
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Actually, the bed was put there I'm sure to hide a couple of large old stumps that were just in front of it, toward the house. I removed them, and they are no longer visible, but when I bought the house a couple years ago, that bed extended far into the middle of the yard. I've been reclaiming it, but now have to decide either to take out the dogwood, or landscape around it. The dogwood I suspect was a volunteer, as the nearby neighbor has a very large one, much older, and there are other volunteers that have sprung up in some of the other beds. In other words, I suspect that tree is there accidentally.

Appreciate all the advice so far.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2011 at 9:19PM
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