shrub for near/under sugar maple

viviane58March 27, 2011


I have a huge sugar maple in my front yard with nothing else near it and would love to plant either evergreen or deciduous shrubs to create interest.

What has been successful under these conditions (dry shade, competing roots and poor drainage) ?? And how far should I go out to start my "digging".

A landscaper recommended sweet bay magnolia virginata and epimedium as ground cover.. any thoughts ??


Viv in virginia

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

does grass grow under it???

pic below.. the neighbors maple.. not sugar ...

do you really think anything will grow in those maple roots??? especially if grass wont grow there ...

is there any chance.. you can mulch the area.. and add some seats .. and make that spot a seating area .. and plant things other places??? think outside the box you have already created ...

with just a shovel.. dig anywhere ... if you run across a giant root.. dig off to the side ... instead of insisting on going thru it .. never amend.. use native soil... and never water only the inserted plant.. if you do anything to encourage the maple to reroot in the hole you dug.. it will do so.. and usually choke out what you planted ...

maples usually win the competition race ... that is why yours is so big.. and there is nothing under it ...


    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 3:27PM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

Very, very difficult planting conditions. You might get Liriope spicata (not muscari) going, but that's not a shrub. Only shrub I can think of that might make it is Eleutherococcus siboldiana variegata. Very slow growing, but quite handsome.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 6:22AM
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Aucuba japonica (gold dust plant) does well under maples.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 9:08PM
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Could you live with groundcovers? You'll have many more choices and less watering.You'll also have something interesting to look at for more of the season.Some bloom
If you are interested in ground covers for dry shade tell us and we'll give a list as long as your arm

Oh, alright. If you have to have a shrub there a technique I learned from a gardenwebber.....hey, where is George? Is he posting any more? He had several hydrangeas under maples

He planted them on top of the soil.

(I see I'm writing about re creating his planting. If you want one shrub just change all the plurals to the singular)

Begin with very small shrubs. Get some decent soil Not a bag of potting soil. Composted top soil, maybe? Make a good sized pile for however many shrubs you are planting.
Learn how how wide the shrub will be at maturity and space the Piles that far apart. Plant the tiny thing in the pile of soil and KEEP IT WATERED all season.

You will probably need to put a barrier of some kind around the pile 'cause the soil will want to wash away when watered or when it rains. Maybe some green metal edging that's five or six inches tall?
AS the season progresses and certainly every season you'll want to add more good soil to support the growing root system. You don't want to bury the shrub up to its neck (s), just keep up with with the watering and an eye on root development.
That's it. Think of it as an inexpensive experiment. You might lose a $5 shrub.
But I swear it works. The ring of hydrangeas was full and healthy as can be.
I'm going to look for his post with pictures.



    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 5:20PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

I think it's a variation on an old Thalassa Cruso idea. Plant the whatever in a shallow cardboard box. It should establish about the same time the box disintegrates. I haven't tried it personally because I've been able to establish things under maples by simply planting them reasonably normally, but it sounds like it should make sense.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 5:57PM
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ademink(z5a-5b Indianapolis)

I've had some luck under sugar maples...but not under silver maples, as pictured above (hades of the tree world).

I actually take that back...I currently have barberry under the neighbors godforsaken silver maple and it doesn't know any differently. It's planted maybe 10 feet away from the massive trunk. Perhaps this would be a good option...?

Interesting ideas, marie!

Pachysandra (ground cover) will also do fine.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 9:17PM
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very interesting, gardengal. Preachers and gardeners have license to borrow ideas (plagiarism light)How did you remember that?

I tried to search for the photos which ego45 (George) posted when he answered my question.He had 650 posts associated with his name.Then I tried to find my original post and I had 475. I gave up.

I have some red twig dogwood planted last summer under maples.I kept telling the landscaper I didn't think it would work, but since she reassured me they'd replace them she did it her way. They don't look so hot so we were going to try mounding them. I think I'll try the cardboard box technique.

Do you think the shallow boxes nurseries use to transport purchases would be the right size? Or would we want deeper ones?

I'm tantalized by the idea. But I also feel anxious about experimenting. That's makes no sense but made me realize I am not a very adventurous gardener. I am willing to try new plants in new places but don't try new gardening techniques.


    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 11:56PM
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mainegrower(Z5b ME)

It seems counter-intuitive, but rhododendrons will grow near maples - I've been growing them under, around and near sugar and Norway maples for 30 years.

The maples need to be limbed up so the rhododendrons receive sufficient light. Do not dig a hole for planting. Instead, use an 8-10" depth of partially decomposed bark or another coarse but moisture retentative medium right on top of the ground and plant into it.

The rhododendrons will need to be watered during dry spells (and even after rain if the maple canopy has acted as an umbrella) and will need to be fertilized in early spring. The mulch needs to be topped up yearly. They probably grow more slowly than they would without the maples' root competition, but they will grow. Some of mine are in the 7' to 10' range.

The dense, fibrous root systems of rhodendrons do not grow deeply or widely. As long as the roots are kept moist and receive low doses of fertilizer the plants will flourish.

This is undeniably a fairly high maintainence planting, especially the water requirements. If that's not practical, some of the tough, drought resistant ground covers suggested by others would probably be a better solution. The least labor/time/care intensive solution would be mulch and shade tolerant plants in containers.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 5:29AM
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isn' your technique very similar to one I described? That's fine, but want to be sure I"m not missing something.


    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 11:53PM
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Dave in NoVA • 7a • Northern VA

Here's what I'm doing to get things growing under maples:

Now granted it's a bit drastic, but the roots were lifting the sidewalk, flowers, seeds, twigs were falling in gutters and on roof, etc. Previous owners should have kept them trimmed back occasionally, but the trees were allowed to get too big and too close to the house. We couldn't grow anything under them.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 9:31AM
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great example of wrong tree in wrong spot. it would not have mattered how well or how often tree was pruned. Wrong Tree for Wrong Spot.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2011 at 12:20AM
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Dave in NoVA • 7a • Northern VA

Yes, the developer put them in years ago because they were 'fast' and cheap. Most have outlived their usefulness AND the huge surface roots of existing trees now have literally covered the yards that still have them. Can't grow grass or shrubs under them. Many of these red maples have already been removed on our street.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2011 at 9:39AM
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Thanks guys. There is some grass growing about 10 ft from the base of the trees. And moss.... My landscape friend seems to think sweet bay magnolia and oak leaf hydrangea will work around 10-12 feet away from the base. Surface roots are fairly abundunt though.

The idea of mounding soil is interesting - mounding plus shallow root plants. Hard to believe that you can grow rhodos in just bark alone. Anybody have any pics ?? Also, I would have to make some kind of a "barrrier" to keep the soil from running away.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 12:01PM
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re: soil running away- I think someone mentioned using a cardboard box....or am I now remembering things that don't happen as well as forgetting things that do. I think it was gardengal

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 8:56PM
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no, it was mad gallica who said it.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2011 at 11:06AM
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