Outdoor Upgrades: Update #2

Looking at our long to-do list for the summer we decided our first project should be a flower bed under the large shade tree in our backyard.  We did a little internet research to determine how best to go about this project.  The one thing we heard over and over again was to be careful about how deep we made the bed — too far up the tree trunk and we could wind up rotting it out in 3-5 years.  We chose to make the flower bed a three-foot circle around the tree, and only make it about nine inches deep.  That way it just covered all of the exposed roots and bare patches, but left most of the trunk alone.

We made our flagstone retaining wall using the Allen + Roth Bertram 9-in L X 3-in H Peyton Flagstones.  On our first trip to Lowes we purchased 64 flagstones, which we unfortunately discovered was only enough to build almost 2 of the 3 layers we needed.  We picked up 45 more on our 2nd trip, which was just enough to complete the job.

Step #1:  Laying the bottom ring of bricks around the tree to get our initial shape and size.  After measuring a three foot circle around the tree, we discovered several roots in our way.  We used garden shears to clip the small ones, a hammer and chisel to notch some of the larger ones, and then chose to build over and around the others.

Tree Planter 1st Ring

Step #2:  Leveling.  This was probably the most time consuming task of the whole project.  We had to adjust our initial circle a few times to work around the buried roots we encountered, but overall it went pretty smoothly.

Step #3:  Building the wall.  This step was very easy for the most part.  Because we’d had to work around the roots on the bottom layer we wound up with extra space at the end that wouldn’t fit a full brick, so we just turned one on it’s side and it filled the gap nicely.

Tree Planter Retaining Wall

Step #4:  Filling the bed.  We started with a layer of compost to cover the exposed roots throughout the flower bed.  Next went a layer of newspaper to discourage weed growth.  We then put a ring of pea gravel along the inside of the wall to help with drainage and fill some of the gaps in the wall around the roots.  We had no extra soil from our yard to fill the flower bed, so we added five bags of potting soil, another ring of pea gravel, and topped it off with six bags of top soil.

Tree Planter Filling

Step #5:  Planting.  This is quite an experiment for us because of the inconsistent sunlight under our tree and our poor gardening track record.  Most of the plants we chose require partial shade or filtered sunlight, so we’re hoping they will all be successful.  We planted begonias, impatiens, geraniums, vincas, and two different varieties of day lilies.

Tree planter flowers

We expected this process to span the course of three days (due to the extreme heat this time of year, we can only work outside in the early mornings), but we finished it in two.  So far we’re very pleased with the outcome, and we’re hopeful that our garden will grow all summer.  Let us know if you have any suggestions for plants that thrive in part to full shade and would love the desert heat.  We’d love suggestions!

Tree Planter


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