What can I plant under beech trees?

ikea_gwOctober 26, 2008

I have a wooded backyard with many beech trees. Some of them are 30 feet tall but most of them are only 15 feet tall. I hear beech trees hog moisture and also doesn't let light through much. I can actually prune some lower branches so there is 2 hours of sun under the tree in the morning. Any suggestions?

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Spring bulbs and ferns do well under beech. Not a lot else! A few shade-tolerant evergreen shrubs can glow, but only slowly; try yew, holly.


    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 5:09AM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

Look for things that can take dry shade...

Some of the ferns, cyclamen, as said above, many of the spring bulbs and other spring ephemerals (the wildflower types that go dormant in summer), possibly mountain laurel, etc.

Most of the beech woods I have seem have had only beeches growing in them (I don't know whether from the dry shade or if beeches are allelopathic, so nothing else CAN grow well), but while I don't remember the species, other things did grow at the edges, so don't give up.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 9:17AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

The natural ground cover in many British beech woods is the English bluebell. Over and done with by the time the beeches leaf out fully. As Resin says not much grows under beech except in that brief Spring window. If you go for bluebells try and get English not Spanish ones for the authentic effect. US natives which might work would be things like trilliums, erythroniums, sanguinaria etc Ephemerals, as dibbit says.

Here is a link that might be useful: Beech wood with bluebells

    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 1:50PM
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jqpublic(7b/8a Wake County NC)

Yeah its really hard to plant under American Beeches. Great suggestions everyone! They are such beautiful trees though...especially in fall/winter when the young trees hold onto their golden leaves in fall.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 10:11PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Probably most of the Spanish bluebells here are actually hybrids between English and Spanish. I was surprised to see English bluebell bulbs at a local garden center recently, am wondering if they are true-to-name.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 11:33PM
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Thanks everyone! So basically I can plant bulbs but not much else? Hmm. I have about 13 of them growing on my 1/2 acre. I really want to have more flowers near the house. Should I sacrifice two of them (12 feet tall and that wide) that is closest to the house? I feel bad about cutting down trees, but they are really in the way where they are. What would you do?

    Bookmark   October 28, 2008 at 7:46PM
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No comment on the tree removal without a picture. Another genus of plants that seem able to do well in dry shade are the Heuchera. Of course, many varieties to choose from. Tiarella as well along with the intergeneric hybrids heucherella. Worth a try I'd think.


    Bookmark   October 28, 2008 at 8:03PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

One of my favorite places in my area is Cypress Creek Landing on Black Creek in the Black Creek Wilderness. There are many beech trees growing on the bluffs beside Black Creek - evergreen ginger/hexastylis arifolia and jack-in-the-pulpits/arisaema triphyllum grows in the deep leaf litter beneath the trees in deep shade. Mountain laurel/kalmia latifolia and anise bushes/illicium floridanum grow in shade very close to these beech trees, though I don't remember seeing any growing directly under them.
There are many other types of attractive plants that grow in deep shade in different parts of the country, like the above mentioned foam flower - maybe you could go to the woods and see what grows under them naturally in your area.
Here's a picture I took overlooking little Cypress Creek while I was standing on a little narrow bridge. This doesn't show the beech trees, but it does show the more water loving trees and shrubs there, like a cypress and some titi shrubs/trees/titi racemiflora -


    Bookmark   October 28, 2008 at 9:39PM
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Well, right now there is English ivy growing under the trees. The previous homeowner let it got a bit out of hand, but I have plans to pull them up. I like the idea of mountain laurel as they grow wild in the mountains near here. They are very pretty that is for sure. What about azaleas or rhodedendron?

    Bookmark   October 29, 2008 at 9:41AM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

Pulling won't work on English ivy until several years of pulling have passed - you should probably plan on using an herbicide...., sorry.

I believe that the Kalmias can take drier conditions than either the azaleas or the rhodies - I know several people here who have lost 5-10 year old azaleas in the past summer, after 2 years of drought, but this year was classified as "extreme drought".

    Bookmark   October 29, 2008 at 10:05AM
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I was really hoping to not use herbicide. Is it really impossible to do without using herbicide? I don't mind hard work.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2008 at 10:42AM
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goodhors(z5 MI)

I just purchased a couple of American Beech saplings off Ebay, and I will now know to give them room at the base for a sparse-growth area. I have lots of violets, along with woods plants like Jack-in-the-Pulpit, so they may work together fine and be very happy under there. Ground is seasonally dry in late July and August, so I will water hard this first couple years.

I am picturing it as you would planting under Maples with the vast, shallow root system taking the moisture and nutrition. My violets can be quite happy with shallow roots, though low sunshine might be a factor. They do bloom before leaf growth is done. How about Plumbago, just as ground cover? I grow it in fairly deep shade, always a rewarding look in fall with bright blue flowers and darkening leaves. Dirt is heavy there and I do water if we lack weekly rain, though mostly for the other plants, Lingularia, Fleeceflower, Brunnera and some various ferns.

There just are no Beeches locally, that I know about. My woody area is Hickory and Oaks, Basswood, Ironwoods. Maples make the horses sick so I keep cutting any I find sprouting. I have heard Beeches provide lots of wildlife food, as well as being very attractive, so that was my reasoning for the choice. I do have a Dawn Redwood out there, about 4 years old, seems happy, up about a foot each year. I weed whack the weeds down a couple times each summer, to prevent reseeding. Dirt is unplanted with grass, so many plants just seed in. Green plant cover is fine, but no tall weeds with sticky seeds to get on my dogs! Lots of leaf litter for mulch, with standing water common in spring and fall with the rains. Water drains, but slowly if there is great amounts of rain, like last summer with 6" in a 36 hour period!

I figured these Ebay Beeches were inexpensive, easy to give them a try. They arrived in a timely manner, look quite nice for 40", lots of leaves, have perked right up after planting. I will plant them permanently in spring, we have to clear out some trashy stuff where I want them located. Darn chainsaw died, so the area is not ready this season. I also will cage the trunks as rabbit protection, they are HUNGRY with any snow cover. I got a spare Beech sapling from the seller, may plant that out on the fenceline, shade for the horses a few years from now.

I would trim any of the Beeches that are in the way, now, before they get larger. Really look hard at them, too close to the house, too close together, more shade over a planting area than you need? Will trimming help make them good tree citizens? We limbed up our Oaks quite high for more more sun underneath, on mature trees, and were real happy with the results. Husband hates having to cut a big tree if it is healthy. Yet sometimes trees just are in the wrong location and need to come out. Maybe the stump could be a decorative feature in a bed! Hold a bird house or feeder, wash basin for birdbath, a statue or big flowerpot? It is fun to have more than one idea as you check your layout. You can come up with something totally unexpected, that works better than you planned.

Thanks for the further information details on Beeches.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2008 at 11:32AM
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