Having a huge tree in the middle of your lawn has its pros and cons. It’s an advantage to have one since it provides shade to a huge area and looks beautiful. On the downside, the area below the tree can be unsightly with the huge roots and barren space. Since the area under a tree is often neglected, it shows brown patches and exposed roots.
Some people choose to remove the tree to use the space for a garden, outdoor shade structure, swimming pool, or other landscaping feature. But if you want to keep the tree, a solution to make the area below it more attractive is landscaping.
There are many ways you can landscape around trees, and it’s not limited to plants since you can also use decks. The solution will depend on the situation because you will need to consider the tree’s roots, having enough space, limited sunlight, and dry soil. Sometimes, the tree draws most of the water and prevents the area from getting enough sun exposure, making it difficult to maintain a garden.
But as long as you make sure not to neglect the area and keep the tree safe, then landscaping around the tree will help complete the yard’s whole look. Check out some ways you can landscape around trees to make the area more beautiful as well as make the most out of the space below them.
Plants, flowers, and mulch
One of the most common ways to landscape around trees is with flower beds. It brings life and color to the area as well as makes the homeowner pay more attention when taking care of the space below the tree. It’s not going to be as simple as planting flowers directly. You also have to do edging and use weed barriers and mulch so that it will have a beautiful and clean look.
- Edging border
- Potted plants and flowers
- Newspaper or landscaping weed fabric
- Garden edge (or shovel)
- Small spade
Step 1. Determine how big you want to landscape around the tree.
Get a string and tie it on the tree’s trunk. This will act as a compass so you can create an almost-perfect circle. Extend the string until the area you want to cover. Mark it with a stake and do the rest around the tree.
Note: If you prefer a different shape, just move the stakes around to form it.
Step 2. Edging the area
Cut the edge with a garden edger based on the pattern you formed, using the stakes as a guide. You can also use a shovel or spade to edge.
Step 3. Ripping out the turf
Remove a layer of sod using a spade and try to get to the roots so that the turf will roll out easily. Don’t forget to follow the edge you created for a nice and clean border.
Step 4. Installing the border
To hold the mulch in, you will need to use edging borders. This will also save you some time from having to maintain the edge since the grass from outside can grow into the landscaped area.
Step 5. Organizing the plants and flowers
Set your potted plants and flowers inside the landscaped area so that you can visualize what it would look like. Evenly space them out and make sure to avoid placing them on the tree’s roots.
Step 6. Transferring the plants and flowers
Once you’re satisfied with how the area would look, transfer the potted plants and flowers directly to the soil in the landscaped area. Dig holes with a small spade, and If there’s a root, move the plants and flowers to the side so that they’re not planted over it.
Step 7. Creating the weed barrier
To prevent weeds from growing into the area, you need to place some weed barrier such as newspapers or landscape fabric. If you’re using newspapers, put a thick layer so that it would last longer.
Step 8. Covering the barrier with mulch
You can either use mulch or something else to cover the barrier so that the area would look more attractive. If you use mulch, it also acts as a weed barrier and helps keep the moisture in. Apply a layer of mulch that’s not too thick nor thin since you don’t want the plants and flowers to drown in mulch nor for people to see pieces of newspaper or landscape fabric sticking out.
Another way you can make the area below your tree look more attractive is by installing a stone border around it.
Step 1. Placing the stones
Make a circle around the bottom of the tree with the stones. For the next layer, it should be staggering the joints of the first layer. This means that a stone of the second layer is placed on top of the two connected stones in the first layer. Do the same for the third layer.
Step 2. Laying the topsoil
After placing the stones, put topsoil in the middle of the stone border. Level the soil so it would be easier to place the last layer of mulch.
Step 3. Planting the bulbs
Get bulbs of your preferred plants and flowers then plant them inside the border. Even if the area doesn’t have plants or flowers yet, it would still look beautiful once you add the final layer.
Step 4. Adding mulch
Lastly, put a layer of mulch on top until the brim of the border. Level the area so that it would look attractive and tidy.
Retaining block tree ring
Another material you can use to create a tree ring or border around your tree is retaining wall blocks.
Step 1. Leveling and digging the area
Dig about 3 inches from the grass line and remove the sod. Apply some sand at the bottom to help level out the area so that the blocks can lay flat. This will also make the area look nicer.
Step 2. Layering the bricks
Place the 12-inch retaining wall blocks at the edge but still inside the area. This means that it should be on the soil and not on the grass. For the next layer, stagger them so that the second layer stone is placed on top of the joint or where two first layer stones are connected.
Step 3. Mix and place the soil
For the soil that you will place inside the tree ring, you will need to mix the topsoil and garden soil. Spread them inside the area and make sure it’s level.
Step 4. Adding mulch
After putting in the mixed soil, cover it with a layer of brown mulch. This will add some color and make the area look more attractive.
Note: You can also add some plants and flowers depending on how much sun exposure the area gets as well as what you prefer to grow.
If you don’t want to spend more time and effort maintaining the area below your tree, you can build a floating deck or detached deck around it. It’s called a floating deck because it’s not attached to the house. Here’s how to build a low lying deck 12 inches above the ground and less than 200 square feet:
Note: Before building, check with your local building department if you will need a permit. You should also get a professional to mark for any underground utilities.
Step 1. Marking the area
Mark the area with a tape measure to see how it would look like. For this project, it would be 14 feet by 14 feet. Next, set up the batter boards at the corners by pounding it with a mallet. Tie the string line tie around the batter board in one corner and connect it with the other corner’s batter board that is parallel to it.
Step 2. Checking if the area is a square
Using the 3-4-5 method, check if you’ve made a square. Mark three feet along one string and then mark 4 feet on the adjacent string. Adjust the string until the diagonal becomes 5 feet. Do the same for all corners and then mark it with a stake. To check once again, measure the diagonals of the entire area - it should be equal.
Step 3. Mark the lines for deck blocks
Next, you need to mark the position of the concrete deck blocks. It will be in three rows; use stakes and mark the first row a foot from the front edge, a foot in the middle for the second row, and a foot from the back edge for the third row.
Step 4. Removing the sod
You can opt to not remove the sod, but if you don’t want the weeds to grow through the deck, you should do this step. There are two ways you can do this: the hard way would be with a shovel or you can finish the task easily with a sod cutter.
Step 5. Preparing the area
After removing the sod, it’s time to prepare the area for the concrete deck blocks. This is an alternative to using concrete foundations to hold the deck up.
First, create a trench in the three rows we marked. Don't forget to level the rest of the area by using some leftover soil to fill lower spots. Next, cover the entire area with landscape fabrics so the roots will have access to air and water, then hold it down with spikes. Place a few inches of paver base on top of the landscape fabric of each trench, then tamp it down. Check if all three rows or trenches are level after putting a layer of paver base.
Step 6. Placing the concrete deck blocks
Set the concrete deck blocks. First, place one concrete block at the corner of the front edge. Put a 2x6 lumber on top then check if it is level. If it’s not level, put some paver base underneath the block or wiggle it in the paver base until it is level. Do the same for the corners of the back edge, completing all outside corner blocks. Lastly, set the middle row concrete deck blocks and check with an adjusted 2x6.
Step 7. Creating the frame
Cut the pressure-treated lumber to a length of 13 feet and 3 inches. Next, mark for the joist for the lumber. Clamp them together so they don’t move while marking. The first joist would be at the center, then measure 16s both ways.
Place the lumber on top of the concrete deck blocks and then screw the lumber together. Place two center blocks in the middle row to support the center beam. Check the levels and diagonals again, it should be 206.5 inches. Lastly, lock it with 2x4 braces using screws.
Step 8. Installing the hanger joists and setting the rest of the concrete blocks
Take the centerline marked earlier and mark ¾ inches both ways to make it easier to install the joist hangers. Do these for all the marked lines in the middle lumber.
After, remove the 2x4 braces and set the rest of the concrete blocks. Align the concrete blocks of the front edge and hanger joists in the middle row. Set the lumber and make sure that the side that crowns up in the lumber is placed upright. Do the same for the back edge and middle row.
Measure a square space around the tree and install joist hangers as well. Place two measured lumber so that there is a small square frame for the tree. Lastly, install the end joints on all sides of the deck, double the lumber for a stronger frame. Add sleepers for support and attach corner brackets inside the frame.
Step 9. Setting the steps, anchoring the deck, and adding waterproof tape
Create boxes of pressure-treated lumber for the steps. You can do a tighter spacing for more support. Place these around the front edge and side then attach them to the frame with deck screws. You should also anchor the deck with shed anchors so that it would stay put during a storm. Lastly, add waterproof tape on top of the framing members.
Step 10. Installing wire mesh and deck
To prevent animals from entering below the deck, install wire mesh all over the edges. Attach small blocks in the frame and staple the screen.
For the deck, install start-stop clips in the rim joists and each flooring joists. Slide the board in position, and attach a fastener to each one. Do it for the rest of the boards and make sure it’s tight. When you get to the tree, cut the deck so that it would fit outside the square frame. Lastly, install fascia boards on the exposed framing and deck boards using composite screws.