I need some shrub advice

Westbrook, ME(Zone 5a)

I could use some advice from knowledgeable shrub people. I have a bed with the most awful soil conditions imaginable. The soil is heavy clay... but the real kicker is it has gradually been invaded by tree roots - maple to be exact. The more I amend the soil - the more the tree roots invade. I realize my best option is to cut down the trees but they belong to the city and after contacting them - they see no reason to take the trees down.

I have a few perennials growing in the beds now but nothing really thrives there. I'm afraid as the trees grow bigger it will become impossible to grow anything there in a few years and I'll have to take the whole bed out. I was thinking of turning the bed over to shrubs that might be able stand the competition. The area isn't large... it's a border that runs along a retaining wall, the whole thing being about 4 feet wide. I want small shrubs - only 3 or 4 feet tall. The area is full sun with clay soil that dries out in summer. I'm hoping that if I plant decent sized shrubs they'll be able to establish themselves and "hold their ground" when the tree roots come marching back in. Am I being realistic? or am I dreaming?

Are there any decent shrubs that would grow in these conditions? The bed is in the front yard so I'd like them to be flowering and have interesting foliage. I'm zone 5 so they'd have to be hardy. Anyone have any suggestions for me?

I'm certainly not the expert you're looking for, but since nobody has responded in 2 hours, I'll venture out here.

Have you considered bamboo? From what I've read, it is quite aggressive, and there are many cultivars that will withstand some impressively cold temperatures. You should also have no trouble finding varieties that stay short.

There's a thread about bamboo (with good links to other sites) right here: http://davesgarden.com/showthread/31926.html

Good luck!


Well, this is a tough one. Last year I decided that it would be beautiful to have plants underneath some very old trees. So, I made brick walls about 14 inches high all the way around and filled it with leaf mold and manure. Though it is shaded, the soil is rich enought that plants love it. Would this be an option for you perhaps?

The one negaive is that if the tree roots don't get enogh opportuntity to breathe, they make weaken and eventually die. Both you and the city might not like that...

Good luck. I'd love to hear if the bamboo works out. I have always loved it but thought it required southern climate.


Princeton, NJ(Zone 6a)

I feel your pain, LOL! I have similar conditions to deal with. 4 or 5 inches of red clay on top of 3 feet of shale with alot of Norway maple and ash roots mixed in. You need a jackhammer just break the surface!

You might try potentilla for dryish full sun conditions as well as hypericum. Barberries are pretty tough too. Maybe a red leaved variety in combination with the yellow, pink, or white flowers of the flowering shrubs would be nice. Throw in a few drought resistant ornamental grasses (of which there are quite a few) and you're lookin' good! I think anything you plant there will require supplemental watering at least until they're established. A DEEP mulch will also work wonders. GOOD LUCK!

Murfreesboro, TN(Zone 7a)

PoppySue, I read somewhere that the red twig dogwood can be invasive. That might be a good attribute for this particular bed, but I don't know how it'd do in your area. Might be worth checking out, though. Same with crape myrtle - I can personally vouch for their ability to root well in any soil. But I'm afraid they might not do well in your zone....it seems like they're more a southern "thang."

Post a Reply to this Thread

Please or sign up to post.