Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Big Trees and a Lush Lawn?

I try to take a walk every day. It is the best form of exercise for me and it is the perfect opportunity for me to spy on the landscaping and gardening practices of my neighbors (hey, could be worse!)  One homeowner in my neighborhood is yet again attempting to establish a lawn in a front yard that has several, very large trees in it.  This is most likely a doomed effort, a waste of time and money.  Think about it: when you walk in the woods where there are mature trees, what do you see on the ground under the trees?  Lush, green grass?  Nope.  You might see a few clumps of grass here and there, but you are more likely to see moss, clumps of ephemeral wildflowers, seedlings, and decaying leaves and branches.  (Look at the photos above: both are yards with large, mature trees).  Why is this?

The first reason most people think of is light.  Yes, some shade trees do a fairly good job of blocking light from the grass and grass needs sun.  But this is not the main reason lawns under large trees fail.  Trees have deep roots, often as wide and deep as the above-ground dimensions of the tree.  The sheer biomass of a tree has a huge capacity to soak up and store water and nutrients.  You might get rain, but little of that will be available to a lawn for long. You might water that lawn for a longer time, but the trees will soak up that water, depriving the grass of it.  Water too much, and you doom the grass to fungal rots that attack the blades and shallow roots.

What to do?  Planting shrubs can lead to the same problem, but I have had luck growing the following under or near a large pine tree: Japanese maples, Rose of Sharon, viburnum, daylilies (they like it dry), and American beautyberry.  Other than that, a pine straw mulch and some moss would be nice!

So can you have big trees and a lush lawn?  What, want a pony too?

Happy gardening!

1 comment:

Anita said...

Yes, I DO want a pony! Actually, a horse.

I'll be looking at the yards of my neighbors as a stroll or bike through to see the pattern of grass or no-grass you've described.