Tree Roots and a Flower Bed

Prattville, AL

I think I've made a critical error and am looking for some advice. I just moved into a house where the landscaping consists of nothing but overgrown boxwoods, holly bushes, and half dead azaleas. Garden fever took over and I chose to start my first overhaul by pulling up 4 boxwoods in a small bed in the backyard where I want to plant perennials and annuals. There are also about 4 holly bushes at the end of this bed that I chose to leave there because I got tired! In the process of pulling out the old boxwood roots, I realized that there were some SERIOUS roots from the holly trees running through it, so I lopped off the bigger ones and pulled out the ones I could. I then amended the soil with some humus/composted manure and gardening soil.

I woke up at 2am and realized that I probably should have laid some plastic down before I put the new stuff in to keep the holly bush roots from disturbing my new plantings. Does anyone have any ideas regarding what I should do now?? Am I worried for no reason??? I hate to spend a fortune on new flowers just to have them die!


Conneaut, OH(Zone 5a)

I would never want to use plastic.You would probably develope drainage problems.I have a giant silver maple tree in my yard.I wanted to plant a shade garden beneath it.I had trouble getting plants to thrive in it.I soon realized the plants roots could only go a few inches down,before the would bottom out.The shade plants could not get there roots deep enough.They were hitting tree roots.The simple solution was to build up the soil.A raised bed,so to speak.Problem solved.Edge

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)


I sympathize with you as far as tree roots go! I am paying the price--every year-for having planted 2 Maples in my back yard almost 40 years ago....They will suck every drop of water and nutrient out of the soil where their roots grow!

We moved in a new development back in 1969. We had NOTHING but bare soil and clay....
So--I went shopping for trees that would grow fast and provide shade.....YEAH! Stupid ME!!!!
I planted a Silver Maple and a Red (Swamp) maple in my back yard in 1972.

OH! They grew fast and I was so happy! In just several years--we had decent shade.
I was not then, yet, into serious gardening----just some flowers here and there.....
The trees were small and the flowers thrived.....

NOW--almost 40 years later--I curse all and every year these Maples grew and spread their roots ALL over my back yard--and at the same time I so appreciate the shade these two trees have provided me in my back yard. How I hate them!!!! How I LOVE them!

I have absolutely NO beds I can dig into with ease in my back yard! It is a physical battle to just dig a small hole to plant anything in--knowing that, in a matter of months--it too will be taken over by feeder roots from the tree.....
One Summer--many years ago--I had 2 Whiskey barrel planters that I bought and put them near the bigger of the Maples and planted something something in them.....
Well-----by the end of Summer--I could not even dig a spade in them,!!!! The small roots from the Maple had invaded them solid!!!! How disgusting!!!!!!

I am an active, serious gardener---but to this day--I might as well give up trying to plant anything in any of the beds bordering my back yard and reaching over to my house!
I live in a development--so I do not have a lot of ground......BUMMER!!!!

Kim--You could have,probably, gotten some good money for those Boxwoods you dug up. They are worth some serious money! You could have advertised-----If they were a good size and healthy--you might have gotten close to $100 each for them. Be smart! Research--before you trash anything!!!

I don't know how much mature Hollies might have gone for----but I sure would have advertised them to see.....Don't always act on impulse!!!!


I didn't know that hollies spread their roots out so far. How big are the hollies and how close are you digging?

My dad has this problem now with fast-growing Poplar trees. He was in his early 50's and wanted trees he could enjoy the shade from in his lifetime. Now he is in his 70's and his lot is absolutely covered with roots. He's tried raised beds but the roots seek the water and soil. They grow through everything. Asphalting his driveway is useless because it's cracked within a year.

Still, I didn't think that hollies would be this way. We're thinking about planting some hollies and I'd love to hear from someone who has them. So far we've planted Winterberry but we're thinking about evergreen ones.

Are you sure that the roots are from the hollies? We've dug roots here that were from trees that are long gone.

This message was edited Mar 19, 2009 5:03 PM

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)


I was NOT talking about Hollies!!!!!
In the above post of mine--I was talking about the roots from my two Maple trees.....

Please go back and read it again.....


Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

I suspect velnita was referring back to Kim's original post where she was complaining about the holly roots going through her bed.

Yes, I was referring to the subject of the thread. I apologize for not being more clear.

Woodway, TX(Zone 8a)

edgeoftheworld, it would take a chapter of a book on trees to explain the function of the roots and what happens when someone "builds up the soil" or creates a "raised bed" on the ground where the roots are. suffice it here to say that his problems are not solved, but are only beginning.

Conneaut, OH(Zone 5a)

dp72,You might be right.The garden has been established for about 5 years.It is doing great.I am satisfied with my results.Probably has alot to do with plant selection.So far,so good,grow on.Edge

Prattville, AL

Thanks for the insights! And to Gitagal, guess what?? I just found out over the weekend that the big tree in the middle of my backyard just happens to be a silver maple!!!! Perhaps the roots in my flower bed aren't from the Holly's, after all. Also, thanks for the tip on selling the boxwoods. When I dig out the other 99 in my yard, I'll definitely post them!!!

New York, NY(Zone 7a)

Is there a general recommendation, for attempting to keep large tree roots from invading a currently designed raised bed in the shade?

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

Tree roots are pretty much going to go where they want to go, I'm not sure there's much you can do besides be choiceful in what type of trees you plant (if they're not already there), or plan your raised bed so that it's in an area far enough from the tree. Or if the tree and the raised bed are both already there, you may have to adjust the type of plants you plant there--some plants do fine when there are tree roots around, but the plants that like to be moist all the time may not do as well since the tree will steal some of the moisture.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)


I would NOT dig out your Boxwoods and THEN advertise. I would advertise and say--"You dig".....and give a price range by size when they call. That way--you are off the hook if something goes wrong.

You might get replies from landscapers that will come and dig out the ones they want and then sell them for full price to their clients. They will know HOW to dig them and also how to transport them, replant them and guarantee them.....

If you are interested in this "business"--I can put you in contact with my friends here that have the same situation and have made thousands of $$ selling their Boxwoods. They might be able to give you an idea of how much to ask for them.

If you are interested--send me a D-mail. I will take it from there....


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