Q: I have a perennial garden in the shade of a mulberry tree and a crabapple tree. The garden looks great in the spring, but by the first stretch of hot weather, everything in the vicinity of the trees starts to wilt. I assume that the greedy tree roots are drinking up all the moisture, even though I mulch the area every year. Come spring, we're planning to take down the mulberry (it's ratty and drops messy berries everywhere) and plant a tree that will eventually grow 40 feet high. Is there anything you can recommend that won't suck my garden dry?

— Barbara, Fairfield, CT

A: Roger Cook replies: Why replace it? Your perennial garden would flower better without the shade. Besides, the root competition from any tree is hard on perennials and will cause anything growing underneath them to wilt during a drought. It's the tree's way of eliminating competition for nutrients. The larger the tree, the larger the root system, and any tree that will grow to 40 feet will develop a root system of massive proportions. Or perhaps you'd settle for a smaller tree with a less dense root system. Mimosa, Eastern redbud, weeping cherry, Japanese maple, or an oxydendron all might work for you. But If you absolutely must have a larger tree, then consider a white oak or thornless honey locust — both have deep, more garden-friendly root systems. And if locust gets your nod, make sure it's a variety like "Halka" that doesn't drop big, messy seedpods.
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