Tree Landscaping Ideas to Plant a Beautiful Space
Tree landscaping ideas have divided opinion. There are many schools of thought on what, if anything, should be planted around the base of a tree. While some design purists prefer the simplicity of a lone tree with only grass below, many take advantage of it to add interest and style to the surrounding area.
“To help you select plants that will grow well at the base of a tree, think about the roots,” says landscape architect Jana Bryan of Julie Moir Messervy Design Studio. “Whether your tree has a deep taproot or more shallow spreading roots near the surface will determine what can be planted around it.”
When it comes to aesthetics, Jana suggests considering the overall shape of the tree. “A vase-shaped tree can be placed among upright perennials, while a weeping tree is complemented by lower horizontal forms. If it’s a multi-stemmed tree and the goal is to have a filtered view, then you’d want the plants at the base to mingle with the stems of the tree.
Check out more expert tips on incorporating trees into all landscaping ideas, regardless of style.
Tree Landscaping Ideas
1. Create a meadow with shade-friendly flowers
Landscape contractor Summerhill Landscapes worked with the project’s landscape architect to transform what was initially vacant land into a colorful meadow.
“This serves as a summer house for the clients, so they wanted a property that could be easily maintained, with very little lawn,” says Tom Volk of Summerhill. After testing the soil and reviewing site characteristics, the company helped select native and non-native flowers – including Queen Anne’s lace, coneflower and coneflower – to surround a single tree in February. The result is a low maintenance garden that sings with insects and wildlife.
“Honey locusts are a good choice for a meadow because the sunlight penetrates to the plants below,” says Tom. “Nevertheless, be sure to select flower species that don’t require full sun if there are trees around.”
2. Use plants that match other parts of your landscape
A main focal point at this residence is the existing pond, so Julie Moir Messervy Design Studio created an arrangement that celebrates the views and surrounding color palette of the pond. The design borrows thinking from Japanese gardens, using rocks and water and sculptural trees.
“For this collection of foreground trees and shrubs, we selected foliage colors that complement the pond-side plantings,” notes Jana Bryan, landscape architect at the firm. The red flowers around the base of the tree are reminiscent of the red leaves seen at the water’s edge. “The rocks and bench in the distance are meant to transport a visitor through the landscape, providing moments to pause and admire the view.”
3. Plant grasses for a woodsy feel
Wild grasses are soft, pretty and contrast with the bolder shape of a tree. Although we saw a return of pampas grass, that wasn’t the vibe the landscapers wanted here. As this house is surrounded by woods, the owners wanted to integrate the landscaping into its environment. And because there were plenty of tall trees, plantings that could withstand shady conditions were a must.
Summerhill Landscapes planted an alley of formal-looking lime trees, pruned using a traditional European technique, and surrounded them with a textured carpet of pensylvanica sedge.
“Sedge is one of the few grasses that can grow in partial shade,” says the company’s Tom Volk.
4. Choose soft flowers for a soft vibe
In this property designed by Julie Moir Messervy Design Studio, a colorful flower bed planted with flowers, grasses and a taller serviceberry enhances the landscape. They help to create a lovely view for people taking advantage of the adjacent covered seating area.
Along with a variety of grasses, the company chose perennials with “airy flower plumes, including astilbe and lady’s mantle,” according to landscape architect Jana Bryan. “Soft, relaxed textures create a soft border around the seating area.”
5. Include flowers so they bloom all year round
Landscape architect Brian J. Mahoney redesigned this property, which previously featured a lawn that extended to the back of the house.
In an effort to “homogenize the ins and outs of the back facade”, Mahoney designed a path, ideal for a narrow garden just three feet wide, lined with crepe myrtles and flowers that “exude the color of the early from spring to autumn”.
Other plantings include dianthus, phlox, clematis, lavender, nepeta, iris, pansy, petunia, hydrangea and rose. “With this very narrow garden path, we were trying to create the feeling of being in a lush English cottage. There is always something exciting popping up.
6. Leave an area for rewilding
Summerhill Landscapes helped reinvent a blank slate, transforming an old potato field into an enchanting meadow.
The river birches are now brightened up with Queen’s Anne’s lace, echinacea and grasses. however this was not always the plan. Taking some of the approaches of animal gardening, aesthetics are largely left to Mother Nature.
“Not all the species present were specifically planted there,” explains Tom Volk. “Some plants are starting to arrive from other areas of the property, which is always a nice surprise!”
The result is a wonderful refuge, as attractive to people as it is to bees.
7. Group plants under trees to make room for a path
To enhance the curb appeal of this residence, Julie Moir Messervy Design Studio planted lush beds on either side of a winding stone path that leads from the driveway to the main entrance.
Two crabapple trees – a key tree in current garden trends – flanking the path are planted with a mix of perennials, “providing a range of bloom times and colors to offer a warm welcome throughout the summer” , notes landscape architect Jana Bryan.
The trick is to fill in the beds around the trees but leave space on either side of the path, so the walkway feels welcoming rather than overgrown.
8. Stick to a Simple Palette for a Modern Aesthetic
According to Tom Volk of Summerhill Landscapes, this particular client requested a clean, modern look. To complement the large Kwanzan cherry tree, which was carefully relocated from another area of the property, Summerhill helped the project’s landscape architect find the simple palette of hydrangeas and goldtau grass.
“The process of moving the cherry was very complex,” Volk explains. “We had to put it on hold while the house was renovated, then let the roots grow back before replanting it.”
By keeping the lush blooms below a single color – white – the tree really shines.
9. Look to the past for inspiration
As part of a collaboration with landscape architect Simon Johnson, landscape architect Brian. J. Mahoney designed what essentially looks like an old, forgotten orchard.
“The owners originally ordered an orchard surrounded by lawn, but years later decided they wanted a meadow,” says Mahoney, who planted sun- and shade-loving perennials and annuals.
Now the fruit trees are surrounded by sweet alyssum, forget-me-not, yarrow and coreopsis. “Throughout the season, the color changes from white, blue and purple to yellow and orange.”
10. Build Drama with an Aisle
On this waterfront property, Summerhill Landscapes worked with the project’s landscape architect to install a hornbeam walkway. A driveway is synonymous with walkway gardening and evokes the kind of romantic afternoon walks seen in Jane Austen or Bridgerton movies. Here it is joined by bushy hair grasses to delineate a long driveway.
“The owner wanted clean lines,” says Tom Volk of Summerhill. “There is a view of the water at the end of the driveway, so the intent of the driveway is to draw the eye to the water.”
What do you put around the base of a tree?
When it comes to what to put around the base of a tree, think specifically about your tree and your soil. “Every project is different,” says landscape architect Brian J. Mahoney, who cautions against piling up too much mulch at the base of the tree.
Instead, he suggests incorporating some sort of ground cover, even if it’s just grass. However, a plant bed is preferable in order to prevent the area near the roots from “being grabbed by lawn mowers”.
Landscape architect Jana Bryan agrees that ground cover is essential. “We use ground covers at the base of a tree to anchor the tree while allowing its shape to be showcased,” she says. “Also, planting shrubs of different heights, with the tallest shrubs placed behind the tree, provides a nice backdrop.”