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Planting under conifers, or raised border

Hi all,

Just looking for some advice.
I have recently moved into a new house, the garden is quite big and very private with 2 rows of conifers.
But we are now wandering what options we have regards planting, the trees are approx 20ft tall and run 80ft on the East side, and 60ft North side. 
We ideally would like some shrubs but are unsure what would survive next to the conifers,
Or another option is to have a raised border,  but would this make much difference to what we could plant,

There was a large rhododendron on the one side but this had to be removed to make way for an extension,  is there anything else we could maybe plant that may work well with rhododendron azaleas etc.


  • AnniDAnniD Posts: 11,943
    If you want to plant anything near the conifers, you would have to have beds that are a distance away from them l'm afraid. The soil next to them will be pretty poor and they will be taking up a fair amount of moisture and any goodness from the soil. Also, when you come to dig, there will be roots a fair distance away.
    I would personally go for raised beds as this will give you several options. By the sounds of it, your soil is on the acid side, as you have azaleas etc. Raised beds would give you the opportunity to plant other things that are non acid lovers.

    If you want to plant "in the ground", you can buy a soil testing kit from a garden centre or online, they are pretty cheap and will help you to discover what type of soil you have. Do a test in various areas as you may find it can vary even in the same garden.
    As for acid lovers, there are a few here to give you some ideas.

    Hope this helps, l'm sure others will have advice  :)
  • Thankyou for your comments, that's a good idea I will definitely get a soil test kit. It looks like a raised border would be my best option. Be interested to see what others think.
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 53,968
    I'd make borders/beds further in. You need access to trim the hedging, so that's the main factor to remember. You have other trees there too, so they'll be a factor as to positioning beds.
    It won't limit what you plant, as such, but it'll depend on the size you make them, and what you fill them with. It needs to be soil, not compost.
    Whether you make them raised or not, and you wouldn't have to, the ground will need enriching and improving, because it's been turf. The turf itself, can be turned upside down and put in the base of raised beds, or stacked elsewhere to break down for future use. It's a valuable resource.
    I can grow plants around the foot of conifers here, but without the kind of climate that supports them well enough, the ground, and conditions, won't be particularly hospitable for plants. Conifers are shallow rooting, but they aren't necessarily a problem if you plant nearby - getting enough depth for plants to be put in, is.  
    Your soil might just be neutral, or neutral to acidic, as rhodos, pieris etc just need soil that isn't alkaline, so you'll have plenty of choices of planting too.
    It's worth doing a few drawings of your plot, just to get some ideas of where you want new planting to go, then you can dig out, or create raised, beds.  :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • Yes that's true I will still need access to trim the conifers so that will limit the depth of any borders I plant.
    We are having an extension built in a few weeks so we will have plenty of soil that could be used to achieve a raised border. There are a few shrubs further down the garden growing well under the conifers East facing but I'm unsure what these are. I will try and take some photos see if I can identify them may give me a better idea of what might grow.
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 53,968
    Yes - add some photos and that will help. :)
    There's no point in anyone suggesting plants/shrubs, without knowing the aspect and climate etc. Putting shade lovers in full sun, or vice versa, isn't a great idea ;)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • JennyJJennyJ Posts: 9,605
    I would make deep borders (maybe 2.5 metres ) with the back metre or so covered in bark chips or similar as a path to access the conifers for clipping. Getting anything established close to established conifers is a challenge to say the least. The shrubs that are growing under the conifers were probably planted when the conifers were much smaller. For planting choices, I think if you have acid soil it's best to stick with what likes or will tolerate that - rhodies, azaleas, pieris, magnolia, camellia, skimmia, japanese acers etc, choosing according to sun, shade, wind exposure and so on.
    Doncaster, South Yorkshire. Soil type: sandy, well-drained
  • Thankyou for the suggestions everyone, some great tips and advice, I will plot out the garden to see how deep I could have the borders without encroaching too much on the garden. If I went for the raised borders what do you all think would be a good material to use to retain the soil, sleepers?  Thinking of cost as well potentially quite a large area to cover.
  • NollieNollie Posts: 7,326
    I have constructed raised beds, backed by 6ft fencing, about 3ft from my Leylandii hedge but chopped off a fair amount of roots in the making. The hedge I inherited is old, ugly and dying anyway so I wasn’t so bothered about compromising it. I sunk planks at the back of the bed about a foot down to act as a root barrier. So even if you don’t create raised beds, it’s worth considering sinking a barrier to stop the roots growing back and taking advantage of the new, turned and watered soil around the new planting. They will make it back in there eventually but hopefully gives my new shrubs and roses time to get their roots down and establish first. If you mulch the gap between, leaving the barrier slightly proud would help to contain said mulch and provide a neat edging between.
    Mountainous Northern Catalunya, Spain. Hot summers, cold winters.
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 53,968
    Sleepers, rendered blockwork , brick, good quality timber. All of those are options for raised beds. You'll have to cost it, and see what is viable for your budget. Bear in mind that it will also depend on how high you're making them. Brick and block will need a small foundation if they're of any decent height, and they're going to be holding back a large volume of soil. We had brick wall of around 18 inches to 2 feet in a previous house, and it only needed around 6 inches of concrete for the found. It was holding back an existing piece of ground, of around five feet depth and thirty feet length [approx] as we'd done an extension and we needed a path at the side, but we also had revetment  walls using exterior ply dressed with decking, and with a 'coping' edge, to match the new deck we did. The whole garden was on a slope, and the house was elevated.
    Don't compromise on the quality of timber either, if you use that. Go to a good supplier of heavy duty fencing timber, not a DIY store, and it's priced by the metre usually. If you want, you can also tailor the beds to match the timber lengths to save cutting, and waste. You'll need posts concreted in if they're of any height too. 
    Sleepers are expensive but need less support. However, that will also depend on the length and height of the beds. You can use iron spikes to put through them, into the ground, for support.
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
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