By Lindsay Seventko, Communications Intern

backyard gardenMany forest lovers also enjoy nurturing a summer garden, but the two interests often remain distinctly separate. Establishing a sizeable garden typically requires large open areas, which sometimes means clearing the backyard trees to make room. If you’ve been wanting to start or expand your garden without cutting down any trees, use these tips to begin growing luscious ferns, colorful perennials and delicious fresh veggies and herbs, all under the shade of your forested backyard.

Getting Started

Growing close to or under a large, established tree requires hardy plants that do well in shade, that won’t overly compete with the tree for water or nutrients. Most trees, despite how deep their roots may stretch into the earth, still have feeder roots that spread out within the top 1 ½ feet of soil. Thus, digging a deep hole may disturb them. Conversely, spreading thick, additional layers of topsoil, compost or mulch may smother the tree’s roots, not allowing them to receive sufficient amounts of oxygen. Therefore, the section closest to the trunk of the tree should consist of the most shade-tolerant plants that grow in your zone, that ideally are planted while still seedlings.

Be sure to note if your backyard contains black walnut trees and avoid planting under them altogether, as they contain compounds that will poison your plants.

Creating a Barrier

Find the most ornamental and shade-tolerant plants that grow in your zone — think decorative evergreen ferns, shade-tolerant hostas, rhododendrons, ivies and other ground covers — and plant them while still young and small in shallow, lightly compost-lined holes. The number of barrier plants needed will vary based on the species of tree you’re planting under. As a general rule of thumb, the thicker the shade, the wider the section of hardy plants should be between the trunk and more sun-loving flowers or vegetables. Mature pine trees will require very drought-, shade- and acid-tolerant plants under a wide radius of their cover, while oaks will offer more speckled areas of sunshine and absorb less water from the soil, allowing for perennials and vegetables to be planted nearly up to their trunk.

Planting Your Veggies

Once you’ve established some ornamental hardy plants closest to the tree in the driest and most shaded areas, you can begin establishing a vegetable garden that will thrive in partial shade. Root and stalk veggies will do well, such as celery, leeks, onions, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, rutabagas and most herbs. Lettuces, kale, spinach and other leafy vegetables will also succeed. Remember to water more liberally than you would in a traditional garden, and regularly supplement the soil with thin layers of rich compost.

Any central patches of direct sunlight should be saved for vegetables that grow out of a flower, such as tomatoes, zucchini or eggplant. Intermix the veggies in different patterns; by not planting them in distinct rows, the soil quality will improve and the aesthetic will be of a bounteous wild forest.

Showing off your Garden!

Have you successfully mastered planting under trees? Show off your garden by tagging us on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook!