TX Organic Research Center



Donít build raised beds around trees
March 02, 2009
By Howard Garrett


QUESTION: I have two large lacebark elms on the west side of my house. The roots are becoming unsightly around the bases of the trees, and I would like to use bricks to create a raised bed for flowers around each tree.

Since the house blocks morning sun, what should I plant that will withstand full sun from 2 or 3 p.m. until sunset? I donít want to do anything to jeopardize my trees, which we planted seven years ago. A friend lost a large lacebark elm last spring, and he had a raised bed around it.  D.P., Dallas

ANSWER: You have answered your own question. Raised beds should never be built around trees. Lacebark elm is especially sensitive to this treatment. These imported trees are susceptible to cotton root rot.   If the roots that seem unsightly are the main structural roots radiating from the trunk, they are important and, at most, can be covered with a thin layer of shredded native mulch.  If the roots are circling and cutting into the tree, they should be removed. In this case, itís best to consult a certified arborist.

QUESTION: The side of my house faces north and is on a corner lot where it gets plenty of sun. I have three mature crape myrtles and some elephantís-ears there.   I plan to remove the elephantís-ears because they need too much water, but I want some sort of flowering, 5- to 6-foot-tall plant to take their place. I planted grasses in the front of this area, and it gets some shade.  J.B., Coppell

ANSWER: I recommend agarita, a native shrub. It is evergreen and has yellow flowers in spring followed by small red berries.

QUESTION: What are your thoughts about animal composts?  A local company, BW Organics, has received national recognition for its composting of livestock and poultry waste, meaning dead animals as well as feces.   I have purchased compost from BW before and could barely stand the strong ammonia odor.  I have not used it near vegetable plants. Is it safe?  S.C., Aledo

ANSWER: Animal manure is a safe and helpful ingredient in properly made compost. My concern is the strong ammonia odor. If compost is managed properly and thoroughly decayed, there should not be a strong odor.

QUESTION: We have an aerobic septic system with discharge sprinklers. We moved some of the sprinkler heads two or three years ago. How long should we wait before planting fruit trees or vegetables in this area?  R.G., Fort Worth

ANSWER: It shouldnít be a problem now unless you have been pouring toxic chemicals down the drain.


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