How To Grow Plants Under A Birch Tree

Question From: K. Kehres - South Lyon, Michigan, United States
Q: Hi Nancy, First, thank you for all the information I have gleaned from your column over the years. My question is why can I not grow annuals or perennials under a birch tree. In Livonia I had a very sensitive European white birch which I babied for 30 years. Every time I attempted to plant in the bed the plants did not survive-I watered and fertilized with both organic and commercial fertilizer all to no avail. Now we live in South Lyon and I have a beautiful 5 stem River Birch that is beautiful and again the flowering plants fail or look sickly. Even my My Monet Wiegelia plants are small and struggle. Any ideas? Thanks, Kim Kehres

A: The area around the base of a river birch is not amenable to growing sun loving annuals or perennials. The don't get enough sun and are unable to compete with the tree roots for nutrients and moisture. You and the tree would be much better off planting plants that are amenable to dry shade. Start with small plants and top dress the planted area with an inch of good quality compost. Next mulch the area with a good quality organic mulch oi a depth of 3 inches. I recommend you use Assure Transplant Success when planting. You can get it at English Gardens. The best buy is the new 4 pound bag. I have been using it in my display garden that I steward at the Rochester Senior Citizens Center with great success. For added color use large containers filled with a combination of begonias, coleus, sweet potato vine and New Guinea Impatiens. Best And Happy Yardening, Nancy