PLANTING UNDER
THE TREE?

Plants need light to grow so there is no point in planting flowers under your tree that will be trying to grow when the leaves have already appeared. You need to plant flowers that will appear early – long before any leaves occur and so that they will be able to flower successfully. This means that you must plant bulbs which will flower in spring. These must be planted in autumn and early winter so that they will become established in the soil and be ready to send up leaves and flowers when the days begin to get longer in February and March.

You really should plant bulbs that will produce lots of pollen and nectar to feed the early pollinating insects such as bumble bees. Daffodil and tulips contain very little pollen or nectar so these are not the ones to plant. What you should plant under your tree are pollinator friendly bulbs such as snowdrops, crocuses, grape hyacinths and alliums. The local insects will be delighted!

What else is under the tree?

The soil beneath the tree is the home of the tree’s roots. This area is very important. Good deep soil means that the tree roots can grow far down and anchor the tree very well. It is through the roots that the tree gets its water supply. Root hairs all over the roots absorb moisture from the soil and this then rises right up the tree as far as the leaves and the extra is transpired into the air from the surface of the leaves. So, trees are great for draining soils that might otherwise be too wet. 

The soil underneath the tree is covered with leaves that fall from the trees in autumn. As these are broken down, their nutrients enter the soil which means that there is a whole variety of tiny creatures living there such as mites, platyhelminths and lots of micro-organisms. These are too small to see but the fertility of the soil depends on them, and they in turn depend on the tree’s roots and dead leaves.

Spring

In early spring, before the leaves come on the tree there is plenty of light available under the tree. Flowers need light to grow, so this is why so many woodland flowers are spring flowers. Wildflowers such as celandine, primrose, wild garlic, anemones and bluebells all grow under trees and flower from early March till the canopy closes. Gardeners, knowing this, have developed lovely early flowers from bulbs which can grow well under trees. Some like crocuses, grape hyacinths and snowdrops also provide very welcome supplies of pollen and nectar for early bumble bee queens who each need to visit up to 6,000 flowers to gather enough food to set up nests for the year. These are much better flowers to plant rather than daffodils or tulips which have very little pollen or nectar for bees.

Summer

In summer lovely ferns can grow under trees. The tree bark itself is where lush mosses grow. A lichen-covered bark tells us that the air all around is really clean as many lichens cannot grow if the air is polluted. Neither lichens nor mosses harm a tree in any way.

Autumn

This is the time when the tree gets to take a well-earned rest. It prepares to protect itself from any cold and freezing weather that may come. Deciduous trees drop their leaves. They won’t be making food in the winter so they don’t need leaves to photosynthesise. To do this, they produce a chemical, abscisic acid, that causes the leaves to fall off. This chemical also stops growth so the tree can conserve energy in times of little sunlight. Evergreen trees however do things differently and can produce their own natural antifreeze to see them through the winter.

Winter

The soil beneath the tree is the home of the tree’s roots. This area is very important. Good deep soil means that the tree roots can grow far down and anchor the tree very well. It is through the roots that the tree gets its water supply. Root hairs all over the roots absorb moisture from the soil and this then rises right up the tree as far as the leaves and the extra is transpired into the air from the surface of the leaves. So, trees are great for draining soils that might otherwise be too wet. 

The soil underneath the tree is covered with leaves that fall from the trees in autumn. As these are broken down, their nutrients enter the soil which means that there is a whole variety of tiny creatures living there such as mites, platyhelminths and lots of micro-organisms. These are too small to see but the fertility of the soil depends on them, and they in turn depend on the tree’s roots and dead leaves.

What do you see under your favourite tree?