What To Plant Around Magnolia Trees

Question From: D. Holmes - New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Q: I am a New England gardener who has just moved to New Orleans, inheriting southern magnolia trees in my shady front yard. In the understory are a few Japanese yews and a little mondo grass, surrounded by 4" - 6" of bark mulch. I would like to replace the bark mulch with more plantings, working between the magnolia roots. Perhaps using only ground cover, but maybe something more interesting? Can I plant all around the roots successfully? Suggestions for ground covers or other plantings?

A: Denise, I live in Michigan and am not familiar with the growing conditions or plants that are most successful in your zone. However, when planting around the Magnolia take care not to damage tree roots close to the surface of the tree. Use small plants that can be slipped into the ground. Do not add more than two inches of soil over the roots. Here's a list of ground covers that came from the Times Picayune *GROUND COVERS FOR SHADE TO PART SHADE* Liriope (*Liriope muscari*) many different cultivars Creeping lily turf (*Liriope spicata*) Monkey grass, Mondo grass (*Ophiopogon japonicus*); Dwarf monkey grass cultivars (*Ophiopogon japonicus* 'Nana' and others) suitable for small areas Asian jasmine (*Trachelospermum asiaticum*) Japanese ardisia (*Ardisia japonica*) Cast iron plant (*Aspidistra elatior*, best used in total shade) English ivy (*Hedera helix*) Ligularia (*Farfugium japonicum*) Algerian ivy (*Hedera canariensis*) Periwinkle (*Vinca major*, an excellent variegated form is available) Ajuga (*Ajuga reptans*, use in small areas as it is prone to crown rot) Strawberry begonia (*Saxifraga stolonifera*; best used in shady, damp small areas) Many ferns such as holly fern (*Cyrtomium falcatum*), wood fern (*Thelypteris kunthii*), sword fern (*Nephrolepis cordifolia*) and autumn fern (*Dryopteris erythrosora*) to name a few Best And Happy Yardening, Nancy

Comment:  What a great and thorough response! I'll be researching all of the various plants you suggest. It turns out that my magnoiias (which are old and HUGE) have produced scads of tough, hair-like surface roots that have infiltrated the 6" of bark mulch accumulated over the past 25 years (previous owners). A gardener has assured me that ALL of this (the mulch and the root "hairs") can go, before introducing any of the ground covers you suggest. So I am (hopefully) on the way. Thank you!