Planting around tree roots (especially when they’re giant and growing above the ground) is a dilemma that frustrates gardeners. With little to no planting space available, gardeners end up feeling defeated and either 1) don’t plant anything, or 2) end up planting a lawn around the tree—which has its own set of problems like damaging the trunk or roots with the mower, improper watering, etc.

It’s challenging, to be sure, but here are 5 tips and techniques that can help:

  1. Choose small-sized plants with small root balls to fit among tree roots (no 5-gallon plants!).
  2. If necessary, dig a triangular-shaped hole between the tree roots to plant.
  3. Loosen the plant’s root-ball, removing as much soil as possible—especially peat, as it repels water, causing plants to dry out, not to mention the environmental damage caused by harvesting.
  4. It’s critical to leave the tree’s root flare alone, keeping moisture-retaining mulch away from the trunk to avoid disease and rot.
  5. When digging, be careful not to damage tree roots, and don’t cut any that are thicker than a pencil.

Choosing plants with shallow roots, such as groundcovers, small bulbs, and grasses, are all good options for planting under daunting tree roots such as this. Photo by: Rebecca Sweet.

Shallow-rooted Iris 'Darjeeling' (bamboo iris) is a perfect dry-shade-loving plant that will thrive among the giant tree roots. Photo by: Rebecca Sweet.


Fun, passionate, and knowledgeable, three words that describe Rebecca Sweet! See what discussion topics are available and watch a short video as Rebecca explains how her talks will inspire, entertain, and educate gardeners at all skill levels.

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