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Problem soil near sycamore

A friend has found that plants are not thriving in soil near a large sycamore yet do grow well away from the edge of the canopy spread. Apart from competing for water and nutrients, could the tree roots be having a toxic effect on surrounding plants? What solutions could she try?



  • sotongeoffsotongeoff Posts: 9,802

    Not toxic as such-but not much will grow under a tree in full leaf in summer-perhaps some early flowering bulbs /plants might have a chance.

  • nutcutletnutcutlet Posts: 27,350

    Not much will grow well under a large tree. As well as water and nutrients plants  need some light.

    Try Spring bulbs that are all over by the time the leaves come on the tree. Cyclamen. Ivy as ground cover. Arum italicum, trachystemon. As far as I know there's nothing toxic about sycamore. Raise the canopy and let more light in and the range would increase somewhat. Visit some woodland gardens when the garden visiting season comes round again and see what grows.


    In the sticks near Peterborough
  • Thanks for these responses. She could certainly try bulbs.  I thought a Nerine might survive for this time of year. There is actually quite a lot of light as the canopy is high and the beds in question face south/ south west. She was rather thinking of small shrubs but the Skimmia she had did not survive and a Pieris in a pot is not happy unless raised off the soil, hence my soil question. I was wondering about Olearia which doesn't mind it a bit dry? Dry woodland plants might also work I suppose.


  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 29,838

    Some trees do excrete chemicals that inhibit growth of otherplants in order to reduce competition for nutrients and water.  As the canopy spreads, so do the tree roots and thus the area where othr plants cannot grow.

    Sycamore trees have particularly shallow, spreading roots and that makes it all the harder to grow other plants.   

    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • jo4eyesjo4eyes Posts: 2,058

    Has she checked the ph of the soil? Pieris & Skimmias prefer the acidic side of neutral. So if she didnt use ericaceous compost in the pot that wont have helped.

    Did she continue relgiously watering? even in wet spells, as new plantings in such a situation will have needed extra.

    Suitable groundcover plants for beneath the canopy & around the trunk- Ivies (sorry), Lamiums, Vinca, Ajuga, small spring bulbs will grow happily though these until the canopy closes over later in the yr. Cyclamen. Bergenias & Heucheras & some hardy Geraniums will cope too. More plants/shrubs will do better at the edge of the canopy.

    Nerines would prefer a really sunny spot. Although the aspect is good, it may still be a wee bit shaded for them. Could try them in a pot first though?

    The soil beneath the tree will be very compacted, so any plantings need to go into a 'pocket' of leafmould/compost/soil improver to give them the best start & water.

    If all else fails, then a good deep layer of say bark chippings or even slate like chippings will provide a ground covering nearest the trunk.

    It depends on how 'tidy' a grdener she is/wants. My neighbour has a layer of coloured slate chippings beneath a small Acer. Not my taste, but very good to look at & minimal maintenance. J.

  • Thanks Jo4eyes for you substantial answer. Point taken about pH - we are on the chalky side here. She wanted a shrub to fill the gap so I suspect a good hole with plenty of compost/food, regularly topped up will help. We could try heucheras and begenias, lamium/ivy/vinca and trachystemon beneath. Will get to it. Many thanks.

    Thanks Obelix - does anyone know if sycamores exude toxins?


  • nutcutletnutcutlet Posts: 27,350

    But watch it with the vinca, wish I'd never introduced it.

    If you want a small shrub a sarcococca takes some beating, shiny evergreen leaves and VERY winter scented.

    In the sticks near Peterborough
  • jo4eyesjo4eyes Posts: 2,058

    Vinca minor ok though. easy enough to control.J.

  • nutcutletnutcutlet Posts: 27,350

    Should have got that one shouldn't I? One of the problems is that the one I have covers wide areas and then gets what looks like rust so I have large area of naff looking growth.

    In the sticks near Peterborough
  • Thanks, yes, Sarcococca I should have said is on my list for shady area and for fragrance and indeed, may be the one I choose, all things considered.

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