Planting Under Maples and Other Surface Rooted Trees
This is my site Written by Geoff on July 7, 2003 – 5:28 pm

The problem with growing anything under maples and other shallow rooted trees is that they suck up all available water and nutrients. They also form a dense mat which is hard to penetrate with even the toughest gardening tools. On top of this, little light is able to get to the soils surface through the leaf canopy. A good challenge for us shade gardeners. 

Initially, we need to try to turn the soil, removing as much surface roots as possible. This is where a good ax and a sharp mutt come into their own. Take your time, work as deeply as possible. Once you have the majority of their roots removed, fire up your trusty old mantis tiller. This will be hard work and you will have to stop often to clean the tillers tines. 

Once you have the ground broken up you will want to amend it with loads of compost and other good organic stuff. We like to apply double ground wood chips and work in deeply. We follow this with compost and rotted leaf mold. 

Then we go over the area two more times with our tiller, raking out any debris. By now you will have a slightly raised bed over which we apply a 2-3 inch layer of double ground bark. 

Into this lovely stuff, plant your perennials. By the end of the first season, your plantings will have made substantial inroads before the tree roots start growing back. About every 3 to 4 years we dig up the border and remove whatever surface roots we can and replant. We have not noticed the trees objecting to root pruning every few years. 

You can plant under these trees, but it takes more effort than planting somewhere that is not ordinarily full of roots. We do water these areas much more then other garden areas as often little rain fall reaches the soil and what does is usually used by the trees.

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Modified: March 7, 2009 at 5:29 pm GMT-0800

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