Mulching around trees isn't just a measure to prevent mowing damage—it also provides a small space to challenge eager gardeners and landscapers. Use the space around the base of trees (big or small) to add new flower beds and decorative landscaping details to the yard.

By Jenny Krane
Updated October 29, 2018

Trees don't need to be a stand-alone landscaping element. While the limbs and leaves fill overhead space, the trunks are still narrow and leave empty ground space. Creating a flower bed or even just placing mulch or gravel around trees' bases can add landscape interest and gives a finished overall look to the yard. Check out the possibilities for landscaping around a tree and get planting.

Pick Shady Plants

The area under the canopy of a tree can be a bare patch in the lawn. If a tree is growing in the middle of a garden bed, it can interrupt the landscape design. To remedy a blank eyesore around a tree, start by clearing any remaining weeds and grass. Prep soil for planting, then place hardy, shady plants around the base of the tree. Hostas are a great option because they are tolerant of neglect and shade, and fill in nicely. Ferns will also do well under a tree. For added color, look to coralbells, astible, impatiens, or begonias.

Related: Perennials for Shade

Add Mulch

Mulching around a tree is an easy place to start. Mulch can mean more than just wood chips—rocks, gravel, and landscape fabric can also be used as a mulching material. Using this technique adds to the aesthetic of the garden and can unify the look of your yard by using the same type and color of mulch throughout your landscape. The repetition of mulch in flower beds and around trees gives the landscape a cohesive and clean look.

So what does mulch do, exactly? Using mulch in the garden reaps many benefits and serves multiple purposes. First and foremost, it protects the tree trunk from damage from 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 clip the trunk. Mulching also helps with soil insulation. A nice layer of rock or wood chips can help keep soil warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. It helps keep delicate roots from being stressed by heat, which is especially important with young trees. Mulch helps with regulating water levels in the soil, slowing the evaporation of water in sunny spots to keep plants happy and healthy. It can also help reduce soil erosion on slopes. Weeds can also be stopped with mulch. The soil covering keeps the soil dark and crowded, making it difficult for weed seeds to grow. 

To apply mulch around the base of a tree, spread mulch 2–3 inches thick. Do not pile mulch against the trunk like a volcano—this can encourage pests and diseases. The mulch should be spread thin and wide and should reach at least to the drip line of the tree (the area outside the canopy). Landscape edging can be added around the border of the mulch for a more defined outline.

Use Garden Accents

If a full flower bed isn't the look you're going for, add other garden accents around the tree to fill empty spaces. Large, smooth rocks add a natural element to the space and will help to keep weeds from growing. Place small container gardens in open spaces to add height and contrast. Under a tree is also a great location for a fairy garden or toad house.


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