Three questions if you don’t mind. 1) Can I grow herbs around a small dogwood tree and a big maple tree? I’m not sure if the tree will take away all the water and nutrients. 2) Can I put the soil around those tree in order to make a raised bed (for the herbs) around it? I read that some trees need to breathe and will die if the roots and the lower stem are buried. 3) My dogwood tree is very skinny and looks sick most of the time unless it is blooming. How can I make it look healthier?
The Gardener’s Answer
Hello, Mel in Kentucky: Herbs are happiest grown in full sun, so to plant them around the base of the tree will not give them ideal growing conditions in which to thrive. They should receive a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight each day. You might consider planting them in containers. Planting anything around the base of a tree can be tricky, especially trees such as maples that tend to have large shallow roots. These roots will take any moisture and nutrients away from any smaller planting surrounding a tree. It is never a good idea to add soil to the top of the tree after it is planted at the proper level. This can be detrimental to the tree in terms of oxygen exchange as well as potential insect and disease problems. It is basically the same thing as planting a tree too deep, which is never a good outcome. So if you want to plant a groundcover under the trees, choose ones that you can plant farther out and let them fill in on their own closer to the base of the tree. They will consistently need additional moisture to compete with the larger roots. As for your dogwood, they typically do not have many insect or disease problems, and without seeing your tree it is hard to say what is going on. Does the foliage look healthy? How old is the tree and how much sunlight does it receive? Is it planted in an area that does not drain well? All of these are factors that need to be taken into consideration when trying to determine why it is not happy. If it is a new addition to the garden, it may just need time to get established. If it is an older tree you might consider having a certified arborist come out and take a look. If it has been in the garden for more than a year and it has not been given nutrients, you can go ahead and fertilize. As with any fertilizer make sure to follow recommended application rates.