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I've seen beautiful plantations of herbaceous perennials plants under mature deciduous trees and I would like to plant something similar.

My concern is for the tree itself (an Autumn Blaze maple in this case).

I have often read on this site that trees respond badly to changing the height or grade of the soil above their roots. So this precludes simply adding 6 inches of soil inside the drip line section.

I once tried digging around but the three (planted 2 years ago at that site, bought at a nursery it was about 8' to 9' tall) already has many small roots in all directions which I assume are from this tree and I fear that by digging holes I will be damaging it.

What is the best way to proceed or is this just a bad idea?

  • are there any native groundcovers that you like? Can you grow plants from seed? – kevinsky Apr 14 '16 at 9:49
  • @kevinsky Yes I could grow from seeds. I like Cornus Canadensis, but I think(?) it needs more shade than I have. I normally see it in dense woods. – Gilles Apr 14 '16 at 11:58
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Just going by your description of how this tree roots, it doesn't appear ideal for planting around, either by digging or by raising the bed. So, I'd suggest placing containers with herb starters, carefully not where roots are present. This way, if desired, your roots could be grown and fertilized organically, while you could feed the tree itself differently. I tend to plant shade lovers at the base and around trees and have had success. Some herbs will not grow too wildly in the shade, but if you pick the right ones, you should do fine.

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    Do you mean herbaceous meaning a soft stem, or actually herbs (edible)? Soft stemmed plants should be safer to plant near roots of the tree, however it does sound like the tree you have may not be ideal for planting under unless it was done at the same time as it was planted. – Viv Apr 14 '16 at 5:15
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    @Viv I mean herbaceous as in soft-stemmed plant (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbaceous_plant). Planting them at the same time would have been best... – Gilles Apr 14 '16 at 12:00
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    Thanks for the clarification. I just went straight to herbs, but the rules appear to remain the same. All is not lost, you can still enjoy these guys in containers. For people like me who still rent, planting them in the ground at the same time would never have been a choice, and depending on tree and plant types, it still may not work out always. – Srihari Yamanoor Apr 14 '16 at 18:37

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