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Planting under huge hole oak

we have a hole oak in our front garden, about 70’ tall, trunk diameter around 6 feet, surrounded by a bed in which we struggle to get anything growing. We’ve tried a number of things - agapanthus, grasses rock roses, lavender -,which we’ve managed to keep alive but they struggle. The canopy is quite high and light isn’t an issue and we have watered it regularly but the tree literally sucks the moisture out of the soil in minutes. We’ve also added a lot of leaf mould and compost around the bed but the soil - devon red clay - always feels a bit sickly. It feels like the tree just sucks the nutrients out. 

So I’m looking for suggestions, a) how to improve the soil and b) what to grow in a soil that’s slightly less fertile than Mars. 


  • *holme* oak. 
  • RubytooRubytoo On the sofa, Southerly aspect.Posts: 1,287
    edited July 2019
    We knew what you meant, we allow for predictive text and make a next best guess, :D
    It is a bit tricky they are lovely trees but you do get double the trouble with them being evergreen as well.
    Yours sounds wonderful :)

    Have you tried any cyclamen?
    The autumn hederifolium are probably the easiest. But the leaves do die down so you are left with nothing for a few months.

    C. coum are spring flowering but I think a little harder to establish. And I have not had them long enough to know them well.
    But read they do not do well mixed with the more thuggish autumn ones, which tend to take over.
    I do not know how true it is.


    C purpurascens is another one you might try. I do not know how easy they are to get.
    These are in flower now and have leaves on for much of the year, not that exciting. But the flowers are also scented.
    And more importantly to you maybe, we have them growing under a dry Yew tree. The base soil is improved clay. (It slopes too so drains off...grrr)
    We do not have many as I was given one plant and saved seed and grew that, so they are only just getting to be little clumps.

    I do water them a bit as we have Polystichum ferns there too which as they are "hard" and wintergreen  do not go a crispy mess with lack of water.
    Look at Polystichum setiferum divisilobum group.

    Also a brown coloured Carex grass does okay. Sorry forgotten the name.

    Spring pea Lathyrus vernus also manages a reasonable  display and still has leaves at the moment.
    Epimediums also would be worth a try. But they do appreciate a bit of moisture to get well established.

    As you do spend time tending and watering the above should hopefully establish.
    It might not be the beautiful roses or lavenders, but you can still make a nice cool display.

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