Tree Edging (Landscaping Around Trees) Tips By Species, Tree Types, Grow Zone

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | September 1, 2023

People with tools doing tree edging techniques after learning how landscaping around trees works with landscape edging stones, garden edging around trees, lawn edging, and other tree rings ideas.

Tree edging and landscape edging around plants are the features of professionally landscaped gardens that make things look so neat and organized.

But, tree edging provides more than just a finished look.

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When it comes to trees, this basically refers to the delineation between the tree area and the extraneous area.

For example, if you have a tree in the middle of a lawn, you might want a border of mulch around your tree base. The border between this mulch and the surrounding grass is known as the edge.

This edge effect can be accomplished in many different ways.

This guide explains the different options for tree edgings available, and provides tips for landscaping around trees based on species, tree types, and growing zones, so that the edging you apply will not only look beautiful, but will also provide support for the health of your trees.

Tree Edge (Landscape Around Trees)

The most common circumstance of needing a tree edge is if you need to incorporate a tree into a grass lawn. The tree’s roots suck up water and its branches block the sun.

This means that usually, around its base, it is very difficult for grass to grow. This often leaves the area yellow or barren or filled with weeds.

Obviously, landscapers want to avoid this. The obvious solution is to put mulch or some other covering around the base of the tree, insulating it from the surrounding grass.

Tree Edging Ideas (Landscape Edging)

When it comes to tree border edging, numerous methods can be employed to achieve a stunning and well-defined boundary.

Some of them include rocks, bricks, mulching, plastic barriers, or with alternative types of plants.

A graphic that shows Edging Around Trees on a backyard.

Each method has its pros and cons which means that it is important that you find one that suits you and your yard.

In general, we recommend methods that are natural looking, easy to maintain, and will last a long time without the need for additional product purchases or much maintenance.

Tree edging does not necessarily involve a border. If you are designing a grass lawn and stressing over incorporating tree edges, it is worth considering the lawn design together.5

Throughout history, the primary goal of a grass lawn was to display wealth, because the owner had to pay for its upkeep. Other than fruit and visual beauty, the lawn didn’t provide much.

Today, more and more people either want gardens that yield food and flowers or simply for them to retain more natural beauty.

Considering a more natural approach to your property, rather than a plain grass lawn with a few features, will likely save you time, and money. And in the coming years, probably be considered an aesthetically superior choice.

You can let your tree grow with surrounding plants, as it would in nature, or beneath it simply incorporate symbiotic species, which will be discussed below.

No Border Edging (Garden Edging)

The two basic types of edging are bordered and non-bordered. Of course, the edge itself is a transition, but the question is whether or not you want to make the edge into its own element.

For example, let’s say you have a tree you want to border within a lawn. You can put mulch around the base of the tree.

Then you can either simply leave a transition between the mulch and grass. Or you can put a rock or brick border between the two.

Mulch Around Trees

Probably the most common surrounding for a tree is mulch.6

However, it’s not just there as a grass substitute, mulch can benefit trees in many different ways.

Close up of hands mulching around a young tree in a field during daytime.

(Image: Alfo Medeiros13)

First, mulch can rapidly increase the growth rate of your tree. Second, it can drastically reduce, or even eliminate weeds; for this purpose, a thicker type of organic mulch is recommended.

Third, it helps the soil absorb nutrients. Fourth, it steadies the moisture content of the soil, reducing evaporation and providing protection.

It also acts as an insulator, regulating the soil temperature below and provides protection against erosion that regular soil might not.1

How To Mulch a Tree

Mulching around trees is relatively straightforward. You will probably want to clear that area of grass or anything else except the soil.

A recommended radius for a ten-foot-tall tree is about three feet, although the mulch tree ring will ultimately depend on the tree and your aesthetic preferences. Next, simply apply a good quality organic mulch to this area, aiming for a round shape of two to three inches in depth.

As an alternative to organic mulch, dried leaves can also be used.

Leave enough space around the tree trunk, as piling mulch up against it will expose the tree to disease. It is recommended to have seven to ten inches of bare space around the trunk.

The last step is to water everything in.

Plants Under Trees

An alternative to plain mulch is to incorporate plants under your trees.

Plants are good for the ecological health of your garden. Especially for a yard that would otherwise simply be grass and trees, they will provide much-needed diversity.

Also, they can act as a nice visual transition between a low green lawn and a tall brown-barked tree.

Garden tree edging ring made of bricks and surrounded by plants.

(Image: W.carter14)

The type of plant should be determined by the exact growing conditions,7 meaning soil type and climate of where you live, the type of tree, the type of ground cover, meaning mulch or gravel which will surround them and the tree, and of course your desired visual or environmental effect.

Planting Under Trees

Depending on the tree, you may want to trim away some of its lower branches, to provide extra space and or sun for the plants below, although almost all the varieties you should consider planting are shade-tolerant.

Some gardeners construct raised beds a couple of inches above the ground level in order to pile on favorable soil for the plants.

A graphic that shows an example of Planting Under Trees.

However, raising soil on the trunk of the tree exposes it to disease, and can suffocate the roots, which in fact need oxygen to survive; so building a raised bed under a tree is not recommended. Instead, if possible, plant the shrubs along with the tree and give each a shallow hole, to avoid damaging roots, then incorporate a bit of compost and water in to help initial settling.2

Types of Plants To Add Under Trees

Whichever plants you choose should be shade and drought-tolerant as the tree above will limit their access to sun and water. If your tree is not a shade tree, one that produces large amounts of shade, you obviously won’t necessarily need to plant shade or drought-tolerant species.

In any case, the plants should be native to your region to ensure their suitability. You can choose between shrubs like Holly and Rhododendron, bushes like Japanese Maple and Juniper, or ground cover plants like Red Creeping Thyme or Lily of the Valley.

The latter choice is poisonous to humans and most animals but can be a beautiful choice.

Another choice you can make is between perennial and annual species.8 The obvious benefit of perennials is that you won’t have to replant.

However, including annual species means more choices, and many gardeners in fact enjoy the involvement that comes with planting anew every spring.

In any case, the success of your plants will be largely dependent on the species you choose, so just make sure they are well adapted for your region.

Plants can grow in plain soil, mulch, or gravel. However, some plants may favor certain conditions.

If you have the opportunity, consider which plants you want and the ground covering at the same time. This is your best chance to surround your tree’s base with both the best-looking and healthiest arrangement.2

Edging Around Trees (Tree Rings Landscaping)

Borders can make tree edging look even sharper.

For those people who think they need a hard delineation between the tree area and its surroundings, there are many choices of border material with which to create a tree edging ring.

Here are some tree border ideas:

#1: Plastic Strip Tree Edging Ring

Strip edging is probably the least desirable form of garden edging or lawn edging, although it does have its advantages. Usually, it involves digging a trench a few inches into the desired border.

Then a plastic or preferably silicon strip is inserted vertically to create a barrier as deep as the trench. The trench is then refilled and you are left with a vertical barrier that goes a few inches into the ground.

There are many potential designs for the above-ground portion. The obvious issue with this is it requires a lot of digging and offers absolutely no flexibility.

In order to change or even in most cases maintain the strip edging you will have to re-dig another portion of your lawn, potentially change the length of the stripping by adding a new length or cutting off part of the old, and of course fill in and potentially replant the area where you’ll remove the strip.

#2: Concrete Tree Rings

One that you will see occasionally is concrete. You can either have the concrete poured or simply purchase a premade shape.

The benefits of concrete are that it is cheap, sturdy, reliable, and of course, it is one piece, so it will not require a lot of, if any maintenance. The downsides of concrete are that it is usually visually unappealing, and cannot be restructured into a different shape or design as the homeowner wishes.

That’s why concrete is relatively uncommon, and brick and stone are usually preferred.

#3: Bricks Around Tree

Brick is also cheap, durable, and has many of the same advantages as concrete. However, it has the added benefit of being more aesthetically pleasing.

There are a ton of flexible design options with brick.

You can decide both their alignment pattern and orientation, along with the actual shape and width of the border itself. The standard shape of brick makes it a highly reliable and flexible building material.

Rouge brick color is also a classic contrast to a green yard or garden. Although of course, you can find good natural brick in almost any color.

#4: Edging Stones

Α next step from brick is natural stone. This is probably the preferred tree border material.

Stone of course is durable and reliable. Like brick, it can easily be maintained, modified, and rearranged.

Its disadvantage to brick is that the shape and size of edging stones are usually not uniform. This means that it can be more difficult to standardize a pattern.

However, the trade-off is that with stone you actually get a natural look. Stone can be arranged into almost any shape or border and look right at home.

The other benefit stone has over brick is color. It’s rare that anyone would choose a multi-color brick arrangement for their yard.

However, with stone, multi-color collections are very common and very appealing. Slight blues greens and reds can make your garden space much more visually interesting and inviting.

Stone edging around trees, with its diverse color variation, combined with variations in shape and size is what makes natural stone probably the best choice for garden tree borders.

How To Landscape Around a Tree With Exposed Roots (Tree Edging)

Exposed roots, or tree roots above ground, are sometimes called girdling roots. But the term girdling roots technically refers to roots that wrap or spiral around the stem of a tree.9

These often rise above the soil line. But sometimes roots rise above the soil for other reasons.

A mature tree with thick trunk and visible roots in a grass field.

(Image: Antranias21)

Many tree species have roots that are naturally shallow sitters. Soil level or growth changes can easily expose them to the surface.

Regardless of whether the exposed roots are girdling or not, special considerations should be taken for them when landscaping. You will probably want to cover the roots for the health of the tree, depending on the species.

There are several materials to use for this.

Mulching and Common Types of Organic Mulch

The first, the classic, is mulch. This is best for roots that are just barely exposed because mulch should be only a shallow layer.

Too deep a covering of mulch will prevent nutrient and water penetration. When adding mulch just be sure not to mound a cone of it up against the tree stem, this will expose it to disease.

When mulching trees to form an edge it is important to have an understanding of what mulch is and how it works.10 Simply speaking, mulch is just something applied to sit on the surface of your soil.

It can be intended to hold moisture, decrease erosion, provide nutrients, inhibit weeds, provide a nice consistent aesthetic to an area, or perform many other functions. Usually, a good mulch will be made of organic matter, although some are made of plastic or petroleum.

Landscape edging of trees in a garden lawn next to a street.

(Image: Paul Gillett12)

Often, mulch is seasonally applied. For instance, many planters use it at the beginning of the growing season to retain heat in the spring months which can still be cold, and do the same in the fall.

The issue is that, while mulch can increase soil moisture content by reducing evaporation, it can also block water from penetrating deep into the soil. So the most common time to apply fresh mulch is usually late spring when the soil is moist.

As for materials, there are many choices. Various residues, such as lawn clippings, straw, hay, dried bark or leaves, wood chips, and sawdust are all common choices.

These will give nutrients to the soil and retain a good amount of water.

They are an excellent way to recycle gardening by-products, and as a result, can often be found at high quality for a relatively affordable price. They usually decompose at a steady rate and can in fact work as a direct composting method.

Of course, another method is to apply compost itself. This should be free from seeds though and fully composted to prevent organic chemical imbalance issues in the soil.

Alternatively, gravel or other small rock can be used. These have different qualities in that they will not decompose, absorb moisture, or give nutrients to the soil.

Their most distinctive function is that they will retain large amounts of heat from the sun, and therefore can be used to extend growing seasons. Below will be discussed briefly some different kinds of organic mulch.3

1. Leaves

Tree leaves are often dried and chopped up before being used as mulch. As these leaves decompose they can stick together while still allowing water permeation.

In the winter, chopped dry leaves can protect the ground from frost. However, large leaf layers can impede plant growth.

Close-up of dried leaves scattered on the ground.

(Image: JamesDeMers15)

Close-up shot of a garden lawn and grass clippings in a bag attached to a lawn mower.

(Image: furbymama16)

2. Grass

Grass clippings can be recycled as an excellent mulch. When piled up, they tend to be quite dense, so they are often mixed with other forms of compost to prevent forming a mat on the ground.

This also reduces the smell of decomposing grass which can be unpleasant.

Still, rotting grass can damage plants or soil beneath. They have enormous amounts of nitrogen, so you may want to add and mix in dried grass to the grass clippings.

3. Wood Chips

Wood chips are an excellent way to recycle bulk tree waste. As you can imagine, they are formed by forcing tree stems and branches through a wood chipper.

When applied, they will perform extremely well as mulch. There have been some myths that they hoard nitrogen from the soil, however, these have largely been debunked.

Top-down view of wood chippings scattered on the ground.

(Image: Olichel17)

They are a popular choice for applications from tree edging to flooring trails. Just make sure the wood chips you are using come from recycled tree waste and not from farmed or wild-harvested trees.11

Close-up of scattered bark chips on the ground.

(Image: Monsterkoi18)

4. Bark Chips

Much like wood chips, bark chips are made from crushed trees, however, as their name suggests, they are made exclusively from bark. The chips can vary widely in size.

Finer chips will decay faster. Bark chip decay does not take many nitrates from the soil.

5. Straw/Hay

If you didn’t know, hay is basically cut and dried grass (or similar herbaceous plant). It is often rolled and used for livestock feed.

Straw is basically the same, only it has had the grain and chaff removed, leaving only the stalk. It is also often rolled into bales and can have many uses.

Close-up of a stack of hay in a field with tall trees on the background.

(Image: JamesDeMers19)

Either straw or hay can be used as mulch.

Usually, straw is preferred, to avoid planting grass seeds and because there is no reason to include the grain seeds. The straw will protect the soil, retain moisture and stabilize temperature.

It will also inhibit weed growth. All in all, it is a fantastic mulch choice.

Close-up of pine straws and pine cones scattered on the ground.

(Image: Kaden_Rushton20)

6. Pine Straw

Pine straw is simply fallen pine needles.

They have an extremely aesthetic look and can naturally interlace and weave together, providing protection against soil erosion and mulch movement.

7. Cardboard or Newspaper

Sometimes, cardboard and or newspaper will be laid down in a lawn and or garden as semi-organic mulches. Most commonly they are used as a base layer when creating a new planting area.

They can act as a barrier, inhibiting weeds. Then soil or compost is placed on top for the planting.

Piles of newspapers tied using strings which will be used for mulching around trees.

(Image: Pexels22)

They can be used as surface mulches, however they are unsightly and frankly less effective than the other types described. There is probably no reason to apply them around a tree.

Also, cardboard and newspaper, while technically considered semi-organic are in fact nonorganic. Newspaper is treated with various chemicals and the inks of course are toxic.

Cardboard is considered better; it is even commonly featured in compost. However cardboard can also be chemically treated, contain inks, and often toxic tape residues.

Often these layers are not necessary for mulching and are usually best ignored.3

Tree Edging Cost (Lawn Edging)

The cost of edging trees can vary greatly based on your location, the type of work, and the quality of work desired. The best estimates will be obtained by calling landscapers in your area.

However, some estimates can be given for laying down tree ring borders or lawn edging and things like this.

For most high-quality edging applications you can expect to pay between $250 and $300 per 10 linear meters. It is likely worth paying for high-quality service, as edging maintenance can cost up to or as much as the initial installation.

Some landscapers will also offer warranties on their work which is certainly worth inquiring over.4

Types of Trees

Lastly, when landscaping trees, it is important to consider the various types of trees and their unique forms that may require edges.

Espalier Trees

Espalier trees are specially landscaped to produce fruit. Often they are shaped into a specific form, for example along the side of a wall or fence.

It is suspected that the practice began in antiquity and was developed in the middle ages to cultivate fruit plants on the inside of castle courtyards while maximizing space. The word comes from the Italian term “spalliera” referring to something on which one can rest a shoulder.

Initially, this referred to the thing the plant was set against (fence, wall, etc). However, over time, it began to denote the plant itself of the style of horticulture.

Often espalier plants will be shaped into straight two, dimensional growth patterns. There are many potential reasons for this.

It could be simply ornamental, designed to look good against a wall. It could also be a space consideration.

It could also be to control the amount of heat and sunlight the plant gets in order to grow healthy despite sub-optimal growing conditions. Espaliered trees can increase fruit production.

Obviously, certain types of plants accommodate espalier style better than others, but most wood plants can be shaped into a line by simply pruning away as it grows. The Apple Tree or the Pear tree is especially suited for this.

Topiary Trees

Topiary trees simply refer to the practice of shaping plants into very specific and very clear shapes. Usually, this is specifically done by clipping, but steel frames can also be employed.

It can be done for a highly manicured regal appearance on palace grounds, or cartoon-shaped animals at amusement parks.

The most suitable topiary trees have dense and intense green foliage; Trees that have small leaves are good choices, too.

Pleached Trees

Sometimes, when planted adjacent to each other, live or dead branches in trees may actually grow or graft together, forming a sort of hedge or lattice.

Such trees are referred to as plashed or pleached trees, and the effect is often deliberately cultivated as part of a landscaping effect.

Historically this technique was used for hedging and one of its most common applications was as a barrier for animals or livestock.

In gardens, plashing is used to create aesthetic shapes, or structures to provide shade or protection. This technique is commonly used to line driveways.

Trees that respond well to this type of planting and are commonly used for the technique are Linden or Hornbeam.

However, such an advanced landscaping technique is probably not practical for the average home gardener and unnecessary to have a strong understanding of tree edging.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tree Edging

Should I Consider Tree Edging for My Tree?

Separating your tree from the rest of your yard can be a good idea, although it is not necessary.

Do I Need a Tree Ring?

You can place a substrate like mulch around your tree area without necessarily adding a border around the mulch. However, many gardeners like the sharp look of a border by adding tree rings around the tree.

Can I Plant Shrubs in the Mulch?

Absolutely. For those who want to go above and beyond, planting symbiotic shrubs inside the tree edging area is a great way to raise your yard above the common standard, both with look and health.


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