Creative Landscaping Ideas Around Tree Roots

Coming up with landscaping ideas around tree roots can be a challenge. Not only do you have the tree roots to deal with, but you also have to figure out shade plants that will survive around the base of a tree.

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We had landscaped around the oak tree in our front yard many years ago when we moved it. Back then our landscape design consisted of a rock border around the tree and daylilies planted underneath it. We had also filled it in with loose mulch to finish it off.

It looked beautiful until a few years ago when the root system grew so big it knocked all the rocks out of place. And because the tree grew so much the lilies didn’t get enough sun to bloom anymore. It went from partial shade to full shade.

Here is what it looked like earlier this year.

how-to-landscape-around-a-tree-BEFORE

A giant eyesore right in our front yard. It took me all summer but I finally got around to redoing the landscaping around this oak tree.

First, I removed the rocks and gave those to my niece. Then I edged around the trees (the easy way), using only a shovel.

edging-around-trees-the-easy-way

Shade-Loving Plants for Landscaping Under Trees

If you’re looking for landscaping ideas around tree roots you will likely need some shade plants.

For that reason, I removed the daylilies and went to the store for shade plants. I wanted a pop of color here so I knew I was going to use heuchera (aka coral bells). I have several of those in the front porch garden as well.

Hostas are another shade-tolerant plant that does great under trees. Those weren’t my first pick but the garden centers were cleaned out of most things considering it’s August already.

So I did end up buying hostas, the price was right (3 for $10) and I like the brighter green of the leaves on this variety. One other consideration I had was ferns but those are harder to find and more expensive so I went the easy way.

Then I filled in the area with several bags of dirt before planting them around the tree trunk. This will help them grow in new soil and not compete against the tree’s roots.

best-shade-plants-for-around-trees

Above, you can see how I laid them out. I alternated the plants for color contrast. There is also an empty planter there which was going to be my feature of this garden area.

How To Lay Landscape Fabric

After I had them planted, I went around and put down landscape fabric (garden netting) to help prevent weeds from growing around the base of the tree.

garden netting

I’m no expert at laying garden netting. How I did it was to first cut off a section from the roll. Then I laid it around the plants and cut out circles for each of the plants. Lastly, I trimmed the edges so they were rounded like the tree edging. I also used the metal garden pins to pin it down and hold it in place.

I would’ve preferred to lay it down before adding the dirt and plants because that would be much easier. However, my landscaping friend told me that was not the ideal way to do so I listened to the professional on this.

Once the garden netting was secured, I added a few more inches of soil. I didn’t want to build it up with a lot of soil, just enough to add my small plants.

Now it was time for the feature…garden rocks.

Landscaping Around Trees Ideas

My idea for this area was to have rocks spilling out of a tipped planter as well as some around the edge of the tree. I wasn’t sure how much I needed and was talked into getting a HALF TON at the landscape place.

using-decorative-rocks-around-trees

It seemed like far more than I needed but was actually far less expensive than buying 7 or 8 bags of rocks so I agreed. I soon found out what I saved in cash I spent on time and labor moving all these rocks.

It was FAR more than I needed so I ended up driving around delivering rocks to family and friends that wanted some.

After two days of hauling rocks, I was beginning to feel as if I were on the chain gang.

In spite of all that, rocks are great for landscaping around trees. First, I added some to the planter and then placed a bunch as though they were spilling out from it.

landscaping-aroud-tree-ideas-PROGRESS-PIC

Then I placed the larger rocks all around the base of the tree. I also added stacks of them in between where the plants are.

rock-border-around-tree-PROGRESS-PIC - landscaping ideas around tree roots

The reason for those little stacks is so that when the plants grow bigger, they will look nestled into the rocks. You’ll have to use your imagination for now. I share that after pic in 2-3 years, lol.

Decorative Landscaping Rock Ideas

Once I had the border finished, I had one spot that looked a bit bare. So I went back to my plethora of landscaping rocks and found some smaller pieces to make a decorative dragonfly using the river rock.

Isn’t that cute?

decorative-dragonfly-in-landscape-made-with-rocks

It filled in that little spot just perfectly. I also plan to add a layer of organic mulch over the dirt but haven’t gotten to that yet.

Landscaping Around Trees for Erosion Control

If you’re wondering if there are any landscaping ideas around tree roots that might help with erosion control, the answer is yes.

The rocks I added function as sort of a mini retaining wall. The buildup of dirt acts as a slope for runoff and the plants will help absorb excess moisture, as will mulch.

While I don’t really have an issue with soil erosion, I wanted to include this for anyone who does. It’s a great way to take care of that issue in a beautiful way.

One More Idea For Exposed Roots

rocks around base of tree with exposed roots
via: mast-producing trees

I had to include this idea for landscaping around trees with large exposed roots. It’s so simple but it looks so cool. After edging the area, just fill in with many small rocks and leave the roots exposed.

The white rocks they used above really help to contrast against the dark roots. The contrast adds to the visual appeal.

That perfect carpet of green grass doesn’t hurt either.

Additionally, here is a picture of my backyard. You can see I planted hostas around this oak tree (in the background) as well. Hostas thrive around tree trunks!

landscaping around trees ideas

Curb Appeal

dragonfly-made-out-of-rocks - landscaping ideas around tree roots

As I mentioned, this tree is smack in the middle of my front yard. Having it cleaned up and landscaped really helps with the overall curb appeal of my house.

landscaping around trees with rocks

What was an eyesore is now a focal point.

While I much rather be planting flowers, landscaping around trees can be just as beautiful. It just takes a little creativity and effort.

And lots of rocks. 😉

Landscaping-ideas-under-trees

I hope you enjoyed these landscaping ideas around tree roots! We’d love to hear your landscape solutions in the comments!

Update: After publishing this post I received some backlash in the comments regarding concern for the tree’s health.

While I am not a landscape expert, I have done this same thing to two other trees on my property when they were newly planted small trees 20 years ago. Both of which grew into mature trees without issue.

However, I would say for best results, if you’re concerned about the health of the tree, you should consult a landscaping company or other experts to be sure.


14 Comments

  1. Wow that looks so nice and neat. Good job.
    Chain gang, lol

  2. I especially love the dragonfly. That’s adorable, and I’m stealing that idea!☺️

  3. Just moved into a home with a tree whose root area look unloved. Can’t wait to put your idea to work!

    1. Glad it was helpful! 🙂

  4. Kathleen Schalk says:

    OMG, PLEASE research tree health with regard to surface roots much more deeply. The only solution you show that is actually healthy for the tree itself is the simplest one, where you fill in with many small rocks and leave the roots exposed. Everything else you have shown will slowly kill your trees. If you want to contact me, please do, and I’ll not only explain it to you quickly, but also refer you to articles by (and give you contact info for) Master Gardeners and people with doctorates in this area. Please don’t kill your beautiful trees!!

    1. Thank you Kathleen, I didn’t realize I needed a doctorate to plant around tree.

      1. Your work is beautiful. I don’t believe ANYTHING you’ve done and shown is killing your tree. In fact, with the nutrients from the added soil, protection with the mulch, and the extra watering your tree will now get, there’s even more TLC. Thank you for sharing. I’m also stealing the dragonfly.

    2. She correct…I did a similar process 4 years ago and my maple tree become weak and eventually split open and fell over. It cost me $ 14oo to have it completely removed from the front of my house. Luckily,it didn’t cause any injuries or major property damage. From personal experience I would not recommend it unless you want to do a landscape design on a tree stump like I had to!

      1. Thanks Demetry. That is so surprising to me. I too, did a similar process on this tree when it was newly planted, about 20 years ago. It didn’t hurt the tree and in fact, the tree grew so big the roots knocked out the original landscaping which is why I had to redo it recently. I also planted hostas the same away around the tree in my backyard many years ago which also has grown enormous!

  5. Carolyn Shelby says:

    I am also a Master Gardener and totally agree with Katherine. You are killing your tree. However, putting rocks around a tree (without adding additional soil) is recommended by fire fighters. It may help save not only your tree if there’s a fire, but also your home. Surround the tree base with enough rocks to cover it to the drip line. This will help protect your lower limbs from watching if there’s a fire. And DO limb up your tree. Recommended distance is 1/3rd the height of the tree. Also prune out dead limbs that could be a fire hazard. After you’ve done all that, do remember to do a slow, deep soak of your tree around the drip line if you’re in a heat wave. Ideally you should add about 1” of water per week to an established tree.

  6. Cy Carlberg says:

    The main reason we like to have the area around the base of a tree dry and without extra soil or plant material is to avoid the introduction of root rotting fungi. Here in California, oak root fungus is one of the leading causes of tree mortality. Folks think that extra water, “love,” flowers, etc. next to a tree trunk is beneficial, and on trees that are susceptible to root disease it is not! The fungus is most prolific where the additional soil meets the trunk tissue. It’s a good rule of thumb on any tree to keep a few feet between the trunk and additional soil or plant material – the tree needs to perform its own processes (respiration in this case) and we don’t want to interrupt that.

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