How to plant under a tree with many roots in the ground?

Modesto, CA

A friend of mine would like to add some plants to an existing planter bed. The planter is about 4'x 12' in deep shade. There is a nice Japanese maple in the bed, and a very large tree in the lawn about 15' away. The planter bed has many tree roots in it, and it is hard to dig holes large enough for new plants (one-gallons or smaller).
Has anyone dealt with a similar situation?
I'm thinking I don't want to attempt to cut away any tree roots as this is probably not good for the trees especially the Japanese Maple. The only solution I can think of is to plant six-pack sized starts of one ground cover, and let it fill in. The friend really doesn't want to remove the plants that are already there. She just wants to fill the empty spaces.
Anyone have any thoughts on this?
Thank you

Kiowa, CO(Zone 5b) yup tree roots form maples can be a tough area to lanscape........or like you say...small ground cover plants..

I started out with Viola Johnny Jump Ups, a tray of 72....then I let them reseed at will and now I have hundreds if not a thousand or so......

Thumbnail by warriorswisdomkathy
Modesto, CA

Thank you, Warriorswisdomkathy. I love your Viola Jump-ups!

Ventress, LA(Zone 8b)

We learned in Master Gardners' class to buy a bag of soil, place it under the tree (do not remove soil from bag) and slit holes in the bag where you want to place your plants. After planting mulch with pine straw to hide the plastic bag.

Remember if you cover the roots of some trees, they can die so you may want to plant around some of the roots.

Hope this helps.

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