How To Cope With Rooty, Shady Areas Under Trees & Large Conifers

Let’s face it, there is shade, and there is gloom.  It’s all very well people suggesting long lists of shade tolerant plants (ahem, see below), but some areas under trees and conifers are so gloomy that even the most shade tolerant of plant will struggle to grow.

Even for those that are less gloomy, the normally very dry soil, coupled with the fact that the soil is so full of tree roots that it is difficult to hack a hole big enough to plant anything in… no wonder many people simply give up on these areas.

In this post, we’ve given you a list of shade tolerant plants, but you’ll also find some other ideas for those areas where plants just won’t grow.

Make it work for plants

  • CyclamenConsider having someone crown lift / raise the canopy of the offending tree(s), to allow more light in
  • Unless you are faced with total gloom, there are some plants which will grow in most conditions.  Think about:
    • Yew
    • Box
    • Holly
    • Aucuba
    • ScillaRubus
    • some ferns (e.g. Polystichum)
    • Lamium
    • some Hellebores
    • Bergenia (which will  manage around the trunks of trees)
    • hardy Cyclamen
    • bulbs like snowdrops
    • Scilla
    • BergeniaWood Anemones

– to name but a few.  The soil will need to be very well prepared, with plenty of compost added.

  • Where the shade is caused by deciduous trees, then you should have a period from late autumn through to mid spring where more light percolates down to the soil. So think about planting winter and spring flowering plants and bulbs.  Remember that most woodland plants flower in the spring before the tree canopy greens over.
  • Because the soil will be very dry, watering will be important.  Some simple irrigation may open up a whole new list of plant options – Hydrangeas, for example, thrive in the shade, but do need plenty of water.  Mulching may also be worthwhile.
  • If the soil is mega rooty, might it be feasible to construct some simple raised beds?  A timber raised bed is relatively easy to construct and will lift the borders out of the roots.  Or for an even easier option, why not consider using containers?

Create a feature

Under tree seatingThere may, of course, still be areas where nothing will successfully grow – or at least nothing you want to grow.

Perhaps here a more practical approach would be to think about how to make the area as attractive as possible.

  • Why not create a cool place to sit on a hot summer’s day – a simple bench, or circular seating around a tree trunk can look very effective.
  • If you’re feeling more ambitious, could the problem be turned into an interesting feature area – maybe a little shady secret garden with a feature in the centre, viewed through an “arch” or “window” cut in the surrounding greenery.  A small spotlight lighting up the central feature would add the finishing touch!
  • If fences are involved, an ornamental trellis will help add interest.
  • Or can you arrange for a bark path to run through the most difficult section of the garden to cultivate?

There really are lots of possibilities – it just needs a little thought & imagination applied!

storage areaStorage

Alternatively, of course, these tricky areas can be used to store things out of sight.  Do note though, that a dark, shady area is not the best place to “lose” the compost heap – it needs more light!

The storage area shown in this photo is one we created for a recent ALDA client, hiding away some unsightly wheelie bins and creating some outdoor storage at the same time.

Image Credits: Christopher Hilton, brewbooks, Bill Murray, Jack Pearce, Candiru

2 thoughts on “How To Cope With Rooty, Shady Areas Under Trees & Large Conifers

  1. Enjoyed your site it was very helpful thank you, and I can’t wait to get more information to help with my garden as this is a new hobby

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