3 Tips for Landscaping Under Trees to Dress Up Your Yard

Enhance the beauty of your landscape and keep your shade trees healthy with these simple tips for making the most of the space around them.

Maybe you're lucky enough to have mature shade trees in your yard, or perhaps you've just planted one. Either way, in addition to valuable shade, they add so much beauty and other benefits by themselves. But there are some easy ways to make them shine even more in your landscape. While the limbs and leaves fill overhead space, there's often an empty area around their trunks that shouldn't be neglected. Instead, landscaping under trees creates a finished overall look to the yard while protecting the tree's trunk and roots to keep it healthy. The best part? These landscaping hacks are inexpensive, easy to do, and will look great year after year.

landscaped area around base of tree

1. Add the Right Plants

Shade trees often block out enough sunlight under their canopies, so it can seem challenging to get much to grow under them. However, plenty of hardy, shade-loving plants will appreciate a sheltered spot under a tree, whether in a small flower bed that encircles the trunk or a more elaborate shade garden.

Good choices include colorful annuals like impatiens and coleus or flowering perennials like astilbe or coralbells. When deciding what to put around trees, choose nursery containers rather than bigger ones. Not only will you save a little money, but they'll also be easier to plant without damaging the tree's roots. Spring bulbs are also a great way to add a pop of color around deciduous trees because when the trees leaf out and block the light in spring, the bulbs will be going dormant and disappear anyway.

placing mulch around base of tree
Brie Passano

2. Layer on the Mulch

Mulching around a tree is a must. Mulch can be more than just wood chips—shredded bark, pine straw, and even gravel also work well. Use the same type and color of mulch throughout your landscape to create a unified aesthetic. The repetition of mulch in flower beds and around trees gives the landscape a cohesive and clean look.

Other than giving everything a tidy appearance, why is mulch a good choice for what to put around trees? First and foremost, it protects the tree trunk from damage by lawn equipment. The circle around the tree trunk reminds you how far to stay away from the trunk when mowing and trimming so you don't accidentally hit it.

Mulch also helps to insulate the soil from temperature extremes. A 2- to 4-inch layer can help keep soil warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. That protects delicate roots from being stressed by heat, which is especially important with young trees. Plus, it slows the evaporation of water in sunny spots, so plants stay hydrated longer. Mulch can also help reduce soil erosion on slopes and naturally prevent weeds from sprouting.

When applying mulch around the base of a tree, don't pile it against the trunk like a volcano—this can encourage pests and diseases that harm trees. Instead, create a ring of mulch so it looks more like a donut around the trunk. Make sure your mulch layer reaches at least the tree's drip line (the area outside the canopy). Landscape edging can be added around the border of the mulch for a more defined outline.

add rocks to flower bed around tree base
Brie Passano

3. Use Garden Accents

In addition to mulch and shade-loving plants, landscaping under trees can include a few garden accents to fill empty spaces. Large, smooth rocks add a natural element to the space and will help to keep weeds from growing. You can also use landscape lights below trees for a dramatic nighttime accent to create silhouettes and shadows. Place small container gardens in open spaces to add height and contrast. A fairy garden or toad house is a whimsical idea for what to put under a tree.

Giving the space around tree trunks a little attention goes a long way. These tips will quickly and easily turn the area around a tree into a visual focal point in the landscape. Not only does it accentuate the tree's beauty, but it also helps keep the tree healthy so it will remain a part of your yard for decades to come.

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