Landscaping Around Trees: The Do’s & Don’ts

Should You Landscape Around Trees?

yellow and white flowers around the tree is acceptable when it comes to landscaping around trees
Planting flowers around trees is one of the safer options when it comes to landscaping.

Landscaping around trees: should you do it? Well, yes and no.

Beautifying nature is always a fun and exciting idea, especially when wanting to make it a focal point for your home. But maintenance of landscape health is important, too!

Before we dive in, here’s a brief overview of “Do’s and Don’ts” to remember when implementing your next landscape idea:


  • Plant flowers or small shrubs around the tree
  • Be extremely watchful of tree roots
  • Mimic the forest floor
  • Plant trees far away from retaining walls
  • When in doubt, contact your Certified Arborist


  • Tackle a big landscape project (hardscaping, patios, landscape lighting, etc.) without contacting your Certified Arborist
  • Cut tree roots
  • Put landscape fabric or weed mats around tree
  • Add rocks around trees
  • Add more than a few inches of mulch or wood chips around the base of the tree trunk
  • Excavate or change the grade
  • Build a raised garden bed around tree

Landscaping Around Tree Roots

umbrella over tree, illustrates the drip lines to be watchful of when landscaping around trees
When landscaping around trees, watch out for its drip line (imagine it’s an umbrella!).

When landscaping around trees, the #1 thing you need to watch out for is your tree’s roots.

The critical root zone (CRZ) is your tree’s life system. By hacking or cutting through these crucial “veins,” you risk severe tree damage, root rot, and eventual tree mortality.

Here’s an easy trick: To find the CRZ, look out for the tree’s drip line.

You can do this by envisioning your shade tree like it’s an umbrella – if it were to rain, where would the rain go? It would go where the edges of the canopy reach out.

Underneath this umbrella is the caution zone.

Z-mark the area. Know the area. Protect the area.

Tree Care Tip #1: Envision a tree like it’s an umbrella, and protect everything underneath that area.

Small projects like flower beds or small shrubs minimally dig into the root zone. These should be fine, as long as you’re careful.

Tree Care Tip #2: If you’re doing a small project and find yourself on a tree root, just move a couple of inches to either side and you should be fine.

Now, you may be thinking, “Oh, but my builder, outdoor lighting guy, cable TV guy, they did work under that line. They all said it’s fine.”

Looking out for your trees may not be their number one priority, but it’s ours.

As tree experts, we’re here to speak for the trees. They’ve been with us for for a long time, and they deserve the best.

Q: Is it OK To Put Landscape Fabric Around Trees?

Landscaping around trees should be done in a way that mimics the forest floor, like shown here (ferns, moss, leaves, grass)
When landscaping around trees, it’s best to mimic the forest floor.

Many people make the mistake of thinking, “Yes, it’s ok to put landscape fabric around trees – we need to prevent weeds!”

But what if we told you that’s actually not the case?

In fact, not only are weeds okay around trees, but our Certified Arborists actively work to recreate the forest floor around the trees.

Trees were conditioned to grow in the natural forest floor. And what do forests have? Not artificial landscape fabric or weed barriers; they have weeds, sticks, leaves, and animals.

You should also avoid:

Tree Care Tip #3: Don’t see it done in nature? Don’t add it.

Here’s the bottom line: Any work will damage the tree, but there will be less damage done if you contact us in advance.

  • Big planting project? Our tree experts are equipped with tools to locate roots without damaging them.
  • Cutting a root? Our root pruning technique will minimize the damage done to your tree.
  • Running cable line, patio, walkway, driveway, either over or through roots? Our tree experts have techniques, safe and specialized to your specific tree species, location, and project.
  • Want grass up to the tree? Arborists can mulch beneath the grade and give the tree the important organic matter it needs to thrive.

You can reserve an appointment with one of our Certified Arborists by calling us at 703-573-3029 or by using our online system. With a little help, you can safely landscape around your trees, protect your trees, and achieve your dream landscape design.

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