How do YOU keep your perennial bed healthy under a tree?

funnthsun z7A - Southern VAMarch 5, 2013

I have had a bed for several years under a tree and am planning to replant it. Before I do, yes, I am planning to do a soil test, etc. and get everything squared away, but I have had trouble in the past with the bradford pear that the previous owner's planted there (and my DH loves) sucking the life out of the soil so that plants aren't happy. I want to do this right, so I would love to know what most people do under a tree in their yards to keep everyone happy that is planted there. What is your yearly method for introducing needed nutrients back into the soil under a tree or am I the only one that has trouble with life-sucking trees?

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

divorce your husband..

and then get rid of the tree ...

and you will be all set ...


ps: whats the point of amending a bed under a tree that sucks the life out of the soil.. add maples to your list ..

if you add new more fertile soil.. do you really think the tree will ignore it.. at your request .. and leave it be ??? ... noooo.. you wil be doing it all over in a year or two ....

so.. your best option.. dont waste your money.. and start collecting pots.. and grow things in pots ... under that tree ...

and then tell hubbie.. its him.. or the tree .... his choice ...[really now.. what upside is there to a tree whose flowers smell like a month old gym bag.. does the man have no nose???? ... lol] .. serve him dinner out there every night while in flower.. until he asks you what dead animal is in the yard ... and then point at the tree ... lol

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 1:44PM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

I had the same problem trying to grow things under a sycamore here. I became too busy with things and couldn't take care of the bed well (with watering mainly) and so scrapped the bed. There is still a strip inbetween the tree and the foundation though, just not directly under it any more.

You are not alone, I also found the tree slurped up a lot of nutrients from the surrounding soil. Seriously, some pockets of soil underneath looked devoid of any nutrients. The problem I had was that most of the plants did indeed seem to need yearly feedings to keep from noticeably dwindling in size. There is only so much compost one can put on that sort of bed, especially since too much build up of the soil won't exactly be good for the tree and the roots and "smother" them if too much is used.

The strip I have is also getting tapped out in the nutrient department, though I composted it generously the fall before last. I'm going to get some good organic fertilizer for this area and give them a helping in those years I am not able to compost. Liquid fish fertilizer is also a pretty easy way to give them a booster. Alfalfa pellets did okay, but I'm not sure that alone would be enough.

Ps. it is not impossible to grow under trees. I had several plants that did surprisingly well there, with regular watering and a bit of nutrient supplements from time to time. Epimedium, Cymbalaria, Omphaloides (surprising), Polygonatum, certain Geraniums, to name a few. Sometimes in "difficult" areas I plant somewhat invasive spreaders, since they are kept more in check in this situation. Carex morrowii, variegated ribbon grass, Ajuga, creeping jenny, Dicentra (formosa I think it was), Limelight Artemesia, Lamium, etc. It's just a matter of finding what what works well for you and a little extra upkeep...

Just my thoughts anyway!

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 2:24PM
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funnthsun z7A - Southern VA

Thanks, Christin, for the reply. I have cast-iron plants and Variegated Solomon's seal that do quite well under there, as well as Autumn Joy Sedum and, funny as it may be, columbines seem to thrive. Everything else just dies. Except for the ivy that a bird pooped in there, that is doing great, unfortunately.

I don't mind amending once a year, I just want to be sure I am amending with what both the tree needs and the plants. I typically just top dress with manure, but haven't been able to do that in this bed yet (didn't want to feed the cursed ivy until I got it all out of there).

I love my husband more than the tree, so the tree stays. He has his reasons for keeping it, which aren't relevant to the topic. Putting him before my wants is why we are still married. I can work around the tree.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 2:39PM
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Those Bradford Pears break very easily in storms. Be patient and it will be gone. One of my neighbors lost five of those trees in one storm.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 3:23PM
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funnthsun z7A - Southern VA

Unfortunately, ours is VERY resilient. They are supposed to be 10 year trees, but it is at least 20 years old. It started to split, as they all do about 7 years ago, but DH crawled up in it and topped it by half. It, of course, came back beautifully, looked very healthy pretty much immediately and healed itself--no more splitting. It does block the sun from coming into our home and heating it up (it's brick), so it is very useful. It's just a pain for me and my plants. I am a glass half full kind of girl, so the optomist in me must say that without it, I would have no where to grow shade plants.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 3:55PM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

My entire shade garden is under an enormous sycamore. The sycamore is a perfect tree for a shade garden because although there may be a few large surface roots that you have to avoid, everything does well under it--several smaller trees including redbud, Halesia, dogwood, and just about every shade perennial you can think of except ones that need constant moisture: some ferns, epidmediums (some 20 different cultivars), wide range of spring ephemerals, Pulmonaria, Brunnera, woodland phlox, columbine, begonia grandis, sarcococca, Solomon's Seal, Arums, etc. etc. I do almost no fertilizing, but I do leave the leaves.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 6:46AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

I have a New Bradford pear and don't have any trouble growing anything under it. Maples are a different story, but can be a success story. Have posted many times about planting under maples - and no, removing the tree was NOT the solution... Board search should yield lots of posts re: planting under trees. :0)

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 7:45AM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

An occasional foliar feed for the understory plants would help them compete with the pear tree.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 3:38PM
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