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Creating a Flower Bed Under a Mature Tree: 4 Things to Remember

Updated: Jul 2, 2022

I've had my eye on sprucing up a lackluster planter under a large tree in our back yard for a long time and finally decided to do something about it. Should this project have been completed back in the spring when it was 25 degrees cooler outside? Yes. It absolutely should have. But what fun would a project be if you're not dripping sweat and cursing your way through every shovel full of dirt? Needless to say, escaping the intense Florida heat and humidity was my motivation to get this job done as quickly as possible.






This Southern Live Oak, affectionately named "Sally" by my then 3 year old daughter Riley, has provided the back of our home much needed shade for the past 22 years. While Sally adds both beauty and interest to our yard, her almost surface level roots make it extremely difficult to plant underneath her. Here is the way she looked before I "zhouzhed" her up a bit without jeopardizing her bark or roots.




I live in zone 9b which means there are many plants and flowers to choose from that can be planted round due to the warm conditions. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone has a great map to see which plant hardiness zone you live in. Since this planter is in the shade, I decided to plant pink caladiums and white and red impatiens. I purchased soil, black mulch and landscape fabric from Lowe's. I also decided to lay paver stones to create a path around the tree.


Four Important Points to Know Before Planting Under a Mature Tree:

  1. Do not lay a large amount of top soil over the roots.

  2. Try to keep the soil from piling up against the trunk to avoid rot and disease of the bark.

  3. Be sure to use porous landscape fabric and not plastic for your weed barrier so the roots can receive water and "breathe."

  4. Try not to damage the roots with your shovel when digging for your plants.

Number 4 was the most difficult. I encountered many roots and had to be flexible about where to put the flowers. A good rule of thumb is not to cut or remove any roots larger that two inches in diameter. A few curious "visitors" watched my progress including two friendly Mottled ducks, two beautiful Sandhill Cranes and this 5 ft. gator swimming in the pond behind my yard. Let's just say I kept my head on a swivel the whole time! Not pictured: the Coral Snake that disappeared under my pile of sandstone pavers and mulch. #Floridalivin'



Once I planted all the flowers, I gave it all a good drink. I dug out the existing sod to fit the stepping stones. Most people put down a layer of sand under each stone to keep them level. I skipped this step and may regret it. We shall see! I'm going to leave the grass in between the stones for now and may go back later to replace the grass with something else. I also incorporated some large sandstone rocks I had leftover from a previous project. It will take a few weeks for the St. Augustine grass to fill in around the border. Here is the final product :



Not bad for a couple days work. Huge shout out to Turf Keepers who recently did the landscaping around the pool cage (Pool cages are a necessity in Florida if you don't want to find the gator previously pictured swimming in your pool) as well as all the lighting. I love how the entire tree glows at night and the Stag Horn Fern is showcased in the branches.

All in all, I'm happy with the outcome. As with every project, it always takes longer and involves more than what I expect, but I sure do learn a lot along the way! The hardest part is always to stop thinking and start doing. Just dive in! If Kellbell can, so can you!



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