En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Sunday - December 08, 2013

From: San Antonio , TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pruning, Trees
Title: Pruning lower branches of Cordia Boissieri from San Antonio
Answered by: Barbara Medford


My Texas Wild Olive Tree is about 6 feet high now. I bought it at the 2012 plant sale. This past summer it put on new branches near the base of the tree which I would like to cut off (to encourage upward not outward growth). I read that the Texas Olive does not tolerate pruning very well. Is it okay to prune the new lower branches and if so, is winter the best time of year to prune it?


Cordia boissieri (Mexican olive) is endemic to Texas and, as you can see from this USDA Plant Profile Map does not grow natively in Bexar County. We say this because of the very cold weather we have had in Central Texas the last week or so, and we wonder if you may be having worse problems than whether to prune,  but we hope your tree has managed to survive. It is supposed to be all right as far north as Austin but this has been most unusual weather. For this reason, we recommend you do nothing for a month or so. It is good to do any pruning of a woody plant (trees and shrubs) in the winter, but waiting until January and assuring the tree is alive might be a good idea.

The research we found indicated that it should be pruned only for shape, but did not say it disliked pruning. We also learned that some gardeners prefer to leave lower branches and allow it to be a bush. All indications are that if it loses some leaves because of frost that they will quickly reappear. In January, if you are unsure if it is alive, give it the thumbnail test. Starting at the highest branch you can reach, scratch off a small thin sliver of outer bark. If there is a thin layer of green beneath that, the whole tree is alive. If not, work your way down until you find some green. We suggest this test before you remove those lower branches just in case that is all that is alive and need to be left so the leaves can make nourishment for the tree and permit it to grow. If higher branches are dead, they will not regrow.

If you have established you have a living tree that does not require retention of lower branches, there should be no problem with cutting off those lower branches.


From the Image Gallery

Mexican olive
Cordia boissieri

Mexican olive
Cordia boissieri

Mexican olive
Cordia boissieri

More Trees Questions

Cedar Elm trees for Rockport, TX
January 08, 2010 - Cedar Elm trees for the Gulf Coast area? I live alongside a fresh water lake with sandy soil that is 2 miles from the bays. Along the shoreline, I'd like to replace a Weeping Willow that is in decl...
view the full question and answer

Need fast growing deciduous trees for Austin, TX
February 14, 2015 - We'd like to plant several fast growing deciduous trees in a full sun yard with a hard alkaline soil in the western edge of Travis Heights in South Austin. I've noted several locations in our neighb...
view the full question and answer

Transplant shock in my Nuttall Oak tree in Moore, OK.
July 23, 2009 - I had a Nutall oak tree planted; it is 5 inches in diameter and about 24 feet tall. It was planted in March of this year, leafed out ok; now since June 20th I have had a large quantity of the leaves t...
view the full question and answer

Can hazelnut trees grow in South Florida?
January 30, 2010 - Can Hazelnut trees grow in South Florida?
view the full question and answer

Replacement evergreens under power line in Wisconsin
April 11, 2013 - I have to replace evergreen trees in a privacy screen due to borer damage. The screen is below power lines so the replacements cannot be tall. I would like use bird and pollinator friendly replaceme...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center