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Tips for Planting Under Mature Trees

Planting Under Mature Trees in Portland Landscapes

Flowering Tree with plantings underneath

Fatsia Japonica, Beesia and Hosta thrive under Japanese Snowbell Tree in NE Portland.

A designer pal of mine asked for some help with selecting plants to grow under large mature trees.  Here is what I have learned over many years.  Also a thank you to Bruce Hegna (Nature Nurture Landscape Design) for his contributions to the list and Stacey Stewart, Eden’s Gate Garden Design.

 

Carol’s rules for planting under big trees

  1. Do no harm to your big trees roots.  Please don’t chop into them, bury them with additional soil or treat suckers with herbicides. They may see you coming but they cannot run away.
  2. Plants competing with mature tree roots will grow very slowly. Two or three times as slow as plants who do not have tree root competition.  Patience is a requirement.
  3. Up close to the tree trunk where there are so many large woody roots is the hardest place to plant with success.   Also, the size of root ball for your new plants will need to be smaller close in to the trunk so you don’t damage your trees roots. And yet….see #4
  4. A larger sized plant will establish with a higher percentage of success than the tiny sized plants. (Which isn’t fair but I did not make up these rules, nature did)
  5. When you discover a root where you want to put a plant try splitting the root ball of your new plant so the new plant is straddling the root. This can work surprisingly well in fall and winter, but not in the heat of July.
Lush plantings under mature trees in Portland Landscape Design

Plants thrive with morning sun only in hillside garden in NW Portland’s Willamette Heights neighborhood.

Plants to grow under mature trees

Morning sun and afternoon shade under deciduous trees

Under 3’ tall plants:  Sword Fern,-Polystichum munitum, Bishops Hat-Epimendium ‘Sulpereum’ ‘Frohnleiten’,  Hardy Geranium-Geranium Macrhorhizum,Creeping Oregon Grape-Mahonia repens, Hellebore, Hosta

Taller shrubs:  Osmanthus, Japanese Aralia-Fatsia, Huckleberry- Vaccinium ovatum

Understory trees:  Variegated Red Twig Dogwood Shrub- Cornus S. ‘Hedgerows Golden, ‘Vine Maple-Acer circinatum, Rhamnus Variegata, (Variegated Italian Buckthorn) Azara microphylla, Russian Olive. Eleagnus ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’

Woman with Sequoia Tree

Carol Lindsay communing with a grove of Sequoia trees – nothing grows here.

Deep shade is the most difficult.  It’s much easier to grow plants with some dappled light coming through deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves in the fall). Here is a deep shade landscape of mine in Portland.

Naturescape Portland Oregon Native Plants

Evergreen Huckleberry used as a screen in SW Portland.

Huckleberry used as drought tolerant planting under mature tree in Portland.

Huckleberry Hedge at the edge of a shade garden in NW Portland.

Plants to grow under limbed up fir trees

These plants are getting direct sun for part of the day

Plants Under 3’ Tall:

Mahonia repens (needs some shade), Sword Fern, Tellima grandiflora, (Fringe Cup), Ceanothus t. ‘Kurt Zadnik”, groundcover California Lilac, Abelia ‘Rose Creek’, cold hardy Hebe, a variety of hardy geranium groundcovers like Geranium x cantabriginense and more.

Taller plants:  Corylus cornuta, (native hazelnut),  Holodiscus discolor, (Ocean Spray), Vaccinium ovatum, (Native Huckleberry) Acer Circinatum, (Vine Maple and please be sure you have room for the Vine Maple to 10’ wide and more)  Azara microphyllya, (Box leaf Azara Chinchin) Mahonia (Tall Oregon Grape).

Most of these plants are drought tolerant or low water but you will be watering them carefully, not too much or too often but regular water is a must under such difficult conditions. After many years most of these plants will require less frequent watering.

Hardscape design Sellwood Moreland Garden Design in Portland

Freshly installed Landscape Design in a Day. Emily says, “Carol got my desire for simplicity and my style both with the plant material and the hardscapes.”

After care for plants growing under mature trees

  1. Drip irrigation-you will need to water the new plants so they actually get some of the water.  This means a long slow watering practice such as what you can achieve with drip irrigation.
  2. Top dress with a mulch rather than push the plants with fertilizers. Add mulch around the new plants twice a year or at least once unless they are a plant like California lilac or Manzanita, (they do not tolerate any fertilizer or rich mulch).
  3. I’ve had great success with dressing just the crowns of the plants with tiny crushed rock such as quarter ten crushed rock. Plants that had not grown in years had a growth spurt when I started adding crushed rock around the plant.  (Great tip from Maurice Horn—Joy Creek Nursery.)

There is still some trial and error but I hope you will be inspired to try underplanting your big trees.  You can have successful, healthy and attractive plants under and near many kinds of large mature trees.

We love  to create designs that work with your mature trees.  Contact us and tell us all about what you want in your landscape—503-223-2426 or use our contact page on our web site.

 

Entry Garden Make Over in North Tabor Neighborhood

Instant Gratification for Cottage-Style Front Garden Design

Front yard boasts colorful naturalistic plantings with bird friendly water feature

Front garden plant bonanza! Foxglove (Digitalis) and lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina ‘Big Ears’) surround a peaceful water feature on a busy street in Portland.

Marian recently moved into her Southeast Portland home and knew how much love and care the previous owner took in the garden. The backyard is beautiful and oversized for the neighborhood but the front yard just looked tired and dull. She hired me to do a complete planting design overhaul.

Hardscape Landscaping makes a great improvement in this North Tabor front entry

Sometimes a path just needs a refresh – in this case the homeowner removed the square pavers, refined the shape, then topped it up with new stone.

Landscape Design To Installation Timeline

Getting from design day to finished garden can take anywhere from 1 month to several years! It depends on the size of the project, the skill of the people doing the work and the budget. This is a great example of a quick timeline for a landscape project. I collaborated with Marian in April to turn her goal (“I want to smile when I walk up the driveway”) into a full garden design and planting plan.

In about a month, Marian DIY’d the entire plan- ripping out plants and the old path, and installing a new path, adding a fountain and putting her new plants in their places.  As she will say, she met all of the neighbors finally because she was out front so much. Check out the before photo!

Before photo shows a path that subtracts beauty from a landscape

BEFORE: the front garden was always well loved, but the planting was tired and dull and the path was not an asset.

Blooms Backed by Evergreens

Even a cottage-style garden needs to have winter structure in order to work. The design’s winter structure includes Carex (Grass), Erysimum (Wallflower), and Calluna (Heather). There are also a few larger structural plants that will take time to make an impact, including Abies procera ‘Glauca Prostrata’ (Dwarf Noble Fir) and Trachelospermum jasminoides (Star Jasmine vine)

 

Water feature bowl with wildflowers in bloom in Portland Oregon front yard

Water fountain with Foxglove (Digitalis). The design incorporates instant gratification plants for the first year to look good while some of the more structured plants grow in. This can be achieved in many ways including annuals, wildflowers and bulbs.

Instant Gratification Gardening in Portland

Most gardens take 2-3 years to fill in. You’ve seen photos on this blog or perhaps watched a neighbors yard take a few years to really grow in. For many people this is part of the joy and seeing fresh mulch without weeds is a beautiful thing. But, if you are the sort that wants the garden to look fantastic in year one, I can share a few tricks.

  1. Hardscape landscaping matters so pay attention to the paths and hardscape. Even the most beautiful plants can’t make up for a path that doesn’t work.  All we did was change the line of the path to a simple clean curve and ditch the existing paver materials.  The client installed the new path line without a single wobble and now her path sets off her new plants beautifully.
  2. Add lots of bulbs, biennials and annuals: These are easy to buy in bulk or even seed. They add that wow factor that gives the feeling that you’ve really transformed the space. This is the main trick used in this garden.
  3. Plant densely:  yes, it costs more to buy twice as many plants and yes, you will have to remove some plants after 5 years. But for the most part, their foliage will knit together quickly and look nice and lush years earlier.  Take care that your long term trees and shrubs are properly spaced and planted in their long term location. Do the fun overplanting with bi-annuals, trust worthy perennials, bulbs and annuals too.
  4. Buy big: this one is obvious. Focal point plants or front and center beds that will make the most visual impact and are the best places to splurge. Get a bigger size (aka older plant) to start out with and plant it correctly.  This is especially true for trees and it’s as important with boulders and garden art because dinky doesn’t do it.
Echinacea, (Coneflower) Salvia, and Erysimum (Wallflower) provide spring through midsummer color in this Portland front entry garden design

Echinacea provides a long season of beautiful blooms in the growing season but dies back in the winter. The wallflower (Erysimum) in the background and carex grass in the foreground will provide evergreen structure.

Client Testimonial:

I truly couldn’t be happier with how everything turned out. It’s even better than I imagined…”  Marian in North Tabor Neighborhood of Portland Oregon

Contact Us

Are you ready to transform your garden and smile every time you come up the driveway? Contact us today to get started.

Native Garden Design in Portland

Native Garden Design Gardening for Birds

NW Garden design for birds

Two lounge chairs have the perfect view of the new bird friendly garden and water feature.

Gardening for Birds

Alan and Paula’s home backs to a wildlife haven, a park managed by the city. Before Landscape Design in a Day, they set up many bird feeders and thoroughly enjoyed watching the various species visit.  From day one, we knew this would be a garden for the birds. Our mission is to make better places for the humans to enjoy watching the birds.  They already loved their back yard but spent all their time up on their deck.  They wanted a professional garden designer who would care about their desires and have the skills to pull it all together.   We knew we would create multiple sitting areas that get our clients out into the property and bring more of what birds love to the property to entice them to visit and further enhance bird watching.

Portland backyard designed to attract more birds.

Before Design in a Day the deck was the sit spot.

Portland backyard invites clients to garden to watch birds.

After: Lounge chairs invite us to sit and enjoy watching the birds.

Better views into a native garden design

The homeowners spend a lot of time in an office that looks directly into the barren side garden toward the park. The foreground view was rough lawn and a lot of fence. That window led some of the important design decisions, such as where to put the focal point water feature. Now every outdoor sit spot AND the indoor office chairs can see and hear the cascading water.

Water – Bring the birds in – native garden design

Native plants are important, but the best feature to attract birds and keep them coming back is water. This naturalistic water feature brings so much delight to the homeowners. In our native garden design, a large pre-drilled boulder is placed on a steel box called an echo chamber, which is then covered in smaller stones to hide the chamber. The echo chamber under the boulder amplifies that beautiful bubbling water sound so that it can be heard from the deck and inside the office.

Gardening for birds requires a water source to attract wilidlife.

The homeowners water feature attracts and provides for birds year-round. Photo taken by Alan M.

Shelter and safety for birds

The next item needed for a bird paradise is shelter – usually in the form of trees. All birds need to be able to hide from sky predators like hawks and ground predators like cats.

We kept plants low around the water feature with native plants like Indian plum nearby for fast escape. The  birds also use the top of the fence to survey for ground predators like cats. (Keep birds safe with a catio.)  The adjacent park provides perfect trees for nesting. This park already had an upper canopy of native Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) and Doug Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) as well as a mid canopy of Vine Maple (Acer circinatum) and others. Paula and Alan provide fresh water and food plants plus their multiple feeding stations of seed,  suet and more.

This Portland garden attracts wildlife with bird food and water.

Deer visit this garden from the adjacent park.

Gardening for Birds

Native garden design – plants that provide food for birds

Of course, the last big element to attract birds to the yard is food. For example, the homeowners love the band-tailed pigeon visitors, so we were sure to add native Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa). These birds also love madrone berries but we didn’t have the right spot in our native garden design for madrone but there was a large 50′ tall madrone 500′ away in the park. Perfect for band-tails and also for band-tail pigeons here are other native plants that provide food for birds; Indian Plum (Oemleria ceraciformis), and Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia). Paula and Alan also maintain multiple feeding stations of various seeds, suet and more.

NW native plant for birds

Indian Plum (Oemleria ceraciformis), is one of the first PNW natives to bloom often as early as March.

A nw native plant that provides food for the birds.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) is an important food for birds. The berry is a good backyard snack for people as well, if you can beat the birds to it.

Hardscape Landscaping Construction

The hardscape landscape was completed by Lewis Landscape. Check out the amazing execution of the stairs and wall we designed.

Before the garden was redesigned to attract more birds.

Before: Old wood wall was crumbling, stairs were skinny and uninviting.

Hardscape is part of the garden design in this Portland backyard.

During: Building the new curved wall and more inviting stairs.

Portland backyard gardening for birds.

After: the finished hardscape landscaping results in open, wide stairs in the perfect location to allow easy access to lower garden.

The old wall and stairs were falling apart, which gave me the perfect opportunity to redesign it entirely. The old stairs were too narrow and right up against the underbelly of the deck.  It was fine for a utility work area but not for a sit spot. The new design creates the opportunity to create two comfortable sit spots where the homeowners can enjoy their natural surroundings.  Room for plants and the new wide stairs make movement between the spaces gracious and inviting.

Client Testimonial

“Carol and Alana, I cannot tell you how much we enjoy the yard.  The path we asked you to widen just enough to contain pots (to which you added more width to) became big enough to put two lounge chairs and a little table.  This is now our favorite sitting spot.”

“The water feature was perfectly placed as we can see it from the deck, from the yard, (some from the dining room) and very well from the office.  The birds LOVE it – all from bandtailed pigeons to hummingbirds.  We get the biggest kick out of watching them enjoy it.  Not to mention, the sound is perfect and the natural look goes well with the our new more woodsy landscape.”

“We love the yard, the steps, the new plants, the walkways, the fountain and so do the birds and bees and woodland creatures.  It was a perfect design for us.”

“Creating our own base map of our yard (with the kit) made us better design partners. We felt like we helped create our paradise too.”

Paula M

 

 

Please note our clients provided to us most of the after photos in this blog.

Are you ready to create a garden full of life? Contact us today to learn about our collaborative design process.

Hummingbird Candy-Gardening for Birds

Gardening for Birds Makes Year-Round Entertainment

12 Portland Plants to feed Hummingbirds

Did you know Hummingbirds stay in Portland over the winter? You can attract these beautiful creatures to your yard, and provide much needed nectar, with a variety of plants. Here is a round up of plants we call “Hummingbird Candy” for every month of the year. If you’d like help integrating these plants into a Garden Design, contact us. Or just add one or two in a pot on the porch!

(Note: plants bloom at different times each year depending on the weather. The plant selection above is typical in Portland.)

Happy Bloomers for Early in the Year

Portland gardening for birds.

January: Oregon Grape

Portland gardening for birds

February: Witch Hazel

Portland gardening for birds.

March: Flowering Currant

January – Oregon Grape, Mahonia sp., blooms winter through spring, depending on the type. I enjoy Xera’s description of Mahonia x media ‘Charity’. Pair this Mahonia with other natives such as Red Twig Dogwood, Cornus sericea, and a dwarf cultivar of our Western Red Cedar, like Thuja plicata ‘Excelsa’.

February – Witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’, is a winter must have. See the blog post Winter Garden Plants the Sizzle for some ideas where to view these beautiful shrubs in full size. This is one of those plants that improves with age.

March – Flowering Currant, Ribes sanguineum, is a beacon of joy in Portland’s dreary season. The bold pink of this bloom is just so happy! Ribes is one of the easiest Portland native plants to grow. For more easy natives, see Native Plants.

Usher in the Spring with these Reliable Plants

Portland gardening for birds.

April: California Lilac

May: Cape Fuchsia

June: Penstemon

April – California Lilac, Ceanothus sp., is great for Hummingbirds as well as Bees. Pair the small dark-green leaves of Ceanothus impressus ‘Dark Star’ with the strappy light-green foliage of Hakone Grass, Hakonechloa macra. Of course, you’ll need to water that Hakone Grass with drip irrigation until it’s established.

May – Cape Fuchsia, Phygellus sp., is a plant we like so much it has it’s very own blog post: Colorful Cape Fuchsia. 

June – Beard Tongue, Penstemon sp. is a wonderful bloomer for drought-tolerant landscaping. Many Penstemon’s are native to the west coast and all attract hummingbirds.

Enjoy the Lazy Days of Summer with Beautiful Blooms

July: Hosta

Portland gardening for birds

August: Crocosmia

Portland gardening for birds.

September: Salvia

July – Hosta cultivars are an often overlooked hummingbird magnet for shade. See A Pollinator Garden Paradise

August – Crocosmia blooms all summer long, ending around August in my Portland garden. This is often the first plant people think of when they want to attract hummingbirds. Check out some impressive captures in Portland on this instagram account.

September – Anise Sage, Salvia guaranitica, is a favorite of a recent client design and install, see Laurelhurst Neighborhood Backyard.

Keep the Hummingbird Entertainment Going through Fall

Portland gardening for birds.

October: Hardy Fuchsia

Portland gardening for birds.

November: California Fuchsia

December: Yuletide Camellia

October – Hardy Fuchsia, Fuchsia magellanica and hybrids bloom from summer into fall, depending on the type. Portland Nursery always has a nice selection.

November – California Fuchsia, Epilobium sp., is less widely known as others on this list. It blooms the entire fall season, later than most perennials. Pair it with ornamental grasses, which look fabulous at the same time. I might suggest an evergreen sedum or other evergreen groundcover in front of this plant as it gets pretty ugly after the first hard freeze of winter.

December – Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ and other Camellia’s fill a very important season for hummingbird plants. Some hummingbirds leave for the winter but our native Anna’s Hummingbirds stick it out through the cold and wet. Consider planting a winter-blooming Camellia for these pretty creatures. For more fun winter interest, see Cheery Winter Landscape.

If you are a bird lover who wants more wildlife in their garden, contact us to make an appointment.

Creating Privacy with Plants for Small N.E. Portland City Landscapes

Privacy landscape design for NE Portland city home makes front yard dining work beautifully

The lush beauty of clumping bamboo creates privacy for a front yard dining patio in SE Portland.

Privacy Designs for Small City Landscapes

I like to use clumping bamboo for my small city properties to achieve privacy and to screen out unattractive views.  Here are 3 small city landscapes that make good use of clumping bamboo.

Private Entry Garden in Busy Hawthorne Neighborhood

These clients created a private entry garden on a very busy street. They used a clumping bamboo with a strongly arching, almost weeping structure called Fargesia sp.’ Rufa’.  The need for a feeling of an oasis around the home in their friendly neighborhood outweighed the need for security. The front gate discourages uninvited visitors. Neighbors cannot see into the front yard and the clients cannot see the sidewalk or the cars.

From inside the home they look out their windows to see curtains of green and it is very restful.  The back yard is so small that they tend to do most of their outdoor dining and entertaining in the front yard where the privacy is perfect for intimate gatherings.

NE Portland Home gets Kitchen Window Privacy

backyard privacy landscape design in NE Portland with clumping bambooEveryone spends lots of time at the kitchen sink.  My NE Portland clients had their kitchen window lined up perfectly with the neighbor’s kitchen window.  The lots in this neighborhood are small, 5,00 square feet and less.  This tiny city back yard needed privacy and needed it fast.

We wanted our privacy screen to be at most 10’ tall with a very upright growth habit to preserve space.  In a yard this small we needed every useable inch!  We used the clumping bamboo named Fargesia robusta ‘Campbell’ again and if we had used a weeping form like the ‘Rufa’ that would have been a mistake for obvious reasons. The client and her brother are very talented and installed everything including the new concrete patio.

Privacy for Irvington Back Yard with Clumping Bamboo

These clients in Irvington neighborhood wanted privacy and also wanted to screen out the house and roof of the large house next door.  The home office also had a large window looking out onto the 10’ wide side yard and into a view dominated by the neighbors overly large roof.

Clumping Bamboo in tall wood planters creates privacy landscape fast for NE Portland home.I want solutions that work, not solutions that make work.

They specified screening that was going to be 15’ tall and evergreen.  They also wanted low maintenance.  It was on the north side and even if we wanted arborvitae, I was concerned we would not have enough light for them to thrive and maintaining them at 15’ was going to take a long time and then require professional pruning as well.  There were lots of plants people typically use for this situation and they are all going to be high maintenance and potentially trespass onto their neighbors air space and light.

Backyard landscape gets a privacy boost with planters and clumping bamboo in N.E. Portland

Fargesia ‘Campbell’ clumping bamboo in Irvington neighborhood creates privacy.

This was a perfect place for clumping bamboo.  To get the plants at the 15’ mark we had custom planters that were 30” above the grade built.  This would give our plants a boost so they won’t have to wait as long for the screening.

Caveats:  The plants will make some leaf debris year-round but especially in the spring. The plants will require regular irrigation forever.  They are not drought tolerant.  And even with a few minuses, let me tell you, this is a lot less work than other options for a 15′ screen.

Clumping bamboo, in particular Campbell’s Variety, is an excellent choice for small city back yard and privacy solutions. For an even taller clumping variety consider Fargesia robusta ‘Green Screen’.  It is more likely to top out above 15’ tall.  Clumping bamboo do not need to be contained in a planter.  In this case, the planter is there to boost height and to have other plants in it to complement the clumping bamboo.

For more information about clumping bamboo see Bamboo Garden web site.

Looking for attractive and thoughtful solutions for privacy in your small city property?  We love tricky city backyards! Contact us.