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Landscaping Around A Tree

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Landscaping Around A Tree

Tree roots require oxygen and water in order for the tree to thrive, but in soils with little porosity, particularly clay soil, little water and air exists below the soil surface. For this reason, tree roots often grow shallow or above ground, with erosion helping to make them even more visible. Landscaping tree roots and trunks is problematic because the tree becomes accustomed to exposure, so simply covering the problem with soil can invite rot and infestation, as well as smother and ultimately kill the tree. Instead, you must landscape around the problem and slowly acclimate the roots to soil coverage.
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Landscaping Around A Tree

Avoid damaging the trunk and any thick roots Most trees have large major roots that extend several feet into the soil to anchor the plant against buffeting winds. The majority of a tree’s roots, however, are small woody roots and fine-hair roots that grow within the upper 12 to 18 inches of soil and extend far beyond the tree’s drip line (the farthest reach of its branches). These roots are responsible for absorbing water and nutrients from the soil.If you encounter a root larger than 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter while digging a hole for a plant, move the planting hole a few inches away to avoid slicing through the root. You will sever mats of small tree roots when digging, but they will regenerate fairly quickly. Continue planting as you would for any other bed, spreading out the new plants’ roots as much as possible to ensure good contact with the surrounding soil. To avoid wounding the tree bark—an open invitation to insect and disease problems—start planting at least 12 inches away from the trunk and work outward.When all plants have been installed, water the entire area to settle them and the soil. Then spread a 2- to 3-inch-deep layer of organic mulch, such as wood chips or bark chips, to conserve moisture and keep weeds down. The moisture that mulch can hold against a tree’s bark is conducive to rot and disease, so be sure to keep the mulch at least 12 inches asay from the base of the tree.
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Landscaping Around A Tree

Most trees have large major roots that extend several feet into the soil to anchor the plant against buffeting winds. The majority of a tree’s roots, however, are small woody roots and fine-hair roots that grow within the upper 12 to 18 inches of soil and extend far beyond the tree’s drip line (the farthest reach of its branches). These roots are responsible for absorbing water and nutrients from the soil.If you encounter a root larger than 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter while digging a hole for a plant, move the planting hole a few inches away to avoid slicing through the root. You will sever mats of small tree roots when digging, but they will regenerate fairly quickly. Continue planting as you would for any other bed, spreading out the new plants’ roots as much as possible to ensure good contact with the surrounding soil. To avoid wounding the tree bark—an open invitation to insect and disease problems—start planting at least 12 inches away from the trunk and work outward.When all plants have been installed, water the entire area to settle them and the soil. Then spread a 2- to 3-inch-deep layer of organic mulch, such as wood chips or bark chips, to conserve moisture and keep weeds down. The moisture that mulch can hold against a tree’s bark is conducive to rot and disease, so be sure to keep the mulch at least 12 inches asay from the base of the tree.
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Landscaping Around A Tree

Don’t build a raised bed – Most gardeners make a mistake of building a raised bed around the base of the tree in an attempt to create better soil for the flowers. Unfortunately, when doing this they can harm or even kill the tree. Most all trees have surface roots that require oxygen to survive. When compost, soil, and mulch are piled up thick around a tree, it suffocates the roots and allows no oxygen to get to them. This can also cause the roots and lower trunk of the tree to decay. Although you will have a nice flower bed, in a few years the tree will be nearly dead.
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Landscaping Around A Tree

Meet your tree's needs first Not all trees are created equal. Each requires specific light, soil, and moisture conditions to survive and remain healthy. As you begin to plant your understory, make every effort to work with the situation you have. Some tree species, such as oaks (Quercus spp. and cvs., USDA Hardiness Zones 4–9), are extremely sensitive to major soil disturbance. Massive undertakings to alter the grade of the landscape or to change soil pH under a tree are difficult and often impractical. Adding a layer of soil that is more than 2 inches deep, for example, can reduce moisture and oxygen availabilities and hinder gas exchange to existing roots, causing trees to suffer or even die.A tree’s root system and canopy also determine how easy or difficult it will be to install a garden under a tree. It can be particularly troublesome to work among the extensive surface roots of shallow-rooted trees such as maples (Acer spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9) and elms (Ulmus spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9). The dense canopies and umbrella-like habits of trees such as conifers, Norway maples (Acer platanoides and cvs., Zones 3–7), and lindens (Tilia spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9) not only block sunlight but also deflect rainfall. Only the toughest plants have a chance of surviving in such conditions.
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Landscaping Around A Tree

Start with small plants to reduce soil disturbance It’s best for the tree if you disturb the soil only where you are installing new plants. If turfgrass is growing—or attempting to grow—under your trees, it needs to be removed. Avoid stripping the grass, which not only is backbreaking work but also damages a tree’s fine roots. Try instead to smother the grass with five or six sheets of wet newspaper, topped with a layer of organic mulch 1 to 2 inches deep. The downside of this method is that it may take two to three months to kill the grass. Chemicals such as glyphosate (Roundup) will kill the grass faster and allow you to plant sooner, but it’s important to avoid spraying herbicides on the tree because they can be absorbed through the bark.When purchasing plants to grow under trees, think small. When you find the plant you want, buy it in the smallest size available. Smaller plants require a petite planting hole that will minimize the disturbance to tree roots. You may have to buy more plants, but you’ll have an easier time tucking them among the tree’s roots.
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Landscaping Around A Tree

It’s best for the tree if you disturb the soil only where you are installing new plants. If turfgrass is growing—or attempting to grow—under your trees, it needs to be removed. Avoid stripping the grass, which not only is backbreaking work but also damages a tree’s fine roots. Try instead to smother the grass with five or six sheets of wet newspaper, topped with a layer of organic mulch 1 to 2 inches deep. The downside of this method is that it may take two to three months to kill the grass. Chemicals such as glyphosate (Roundup) will kill the grass faster and allow you to plant sooner, but it’s important to avoid spraying herbicides on the tree because they can be absorbed through the bark.When purchasing plants to grow under trees, think small. When you find the plant you want, buy it in the smallest size available. Smaller plants require a petite planting hole that will minimize the disturbance to tree roots. You may have to buy more plants, but you’ll have an easier time tucking them among the tree’s roots.
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Landscaping Around A Tree

Help your new plants compete with the tree To ensure that your plants succeed rather than merely survive in their new spot, some aftercare is required. Water weekly when rainfall is inadequate. Continue to monitor soil moisture until the plants are established. Because they are competing with a mature tree for this precious resource, you may have to spot-water the plants if it appears that your tree is getting to the moisture first.Avoid fertilizing for the first year after planting because it encourages more top growth than root growth, where new plants need to spend their energy if they are going to make it. If you suspect nutrient deficiency, get a soil test first to confirm your diagnosis. If needed, a general, slowrelease, balanced fertilizer, which benefits your large trees as well as smaller plantings, can be broadcast and watered in well.Annually applying a 2- to 3-inch-deep topdressing of organic matter (such as compost, shredded leaves, or well-rotted manure) to the soil in spring will add sufficient nutrients. In natural woodlands, plants grow in soils annually replenished with organic litter, such as leaves and twigs, which then decomposes and enhances the soil. Because we tend to remove this debris as it falls, applying the topdressing of organic material replicates nature without damaging tree roots.Over time, you’ll find that this organic matter provides many benefits. It naturally enriches the soil by adding nutrients and enhancing aeration and moisture-holding capacity. It loosens heavy clay, improves drainage, and allows your new plants’ roots to become established. Organic matter also encourages the activity of earthworms and other beneficial organisms that mix and aerate the soil.By following this procedure, you’ll find your tree more amenable to sharing its territory, and the image of the shade garden you had in mind will begin to appear before your eyes.

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