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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.

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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.

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Wednesday - April 02, 2014

From: San Angelo, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Watering, Drought Tolerant, Trees
Title: Mulching tree root in San Angelo, TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

San Angelo, Texas is in a drought stage. Will it help our trees to mulch the base of them?

ANSWER:

Hello, San Angelo, we feel your pain. Travis County, where the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is located, is also very thirsty, and constantly looking at ways to help our native plants, not only in our own gardens and in the Center's gardens, but those of our visitors, both online and on foot.

So, first please read our How To Article on Under Cover with Mulch. The first two lines of that article are:

"Plants have the unfortunate condition of not being able to walk over to a shady spot when the sun gets too hot. But you can help them out by providing root protection in the form of some kind of mulch."

That article pretty well answers your question, but we would add another few provisos, garnered from experience:

1. Use an organic mulch, preferable a good quality of ground up tree bark or cuttings. This should have been composted for a while to allow it to break down and be more receptive to the moisture the trees do get. This, then, will slowly decompose and add  nutrients and improve the texture of the soil.

2. When a tree is small and new, we recommend sticking a hose down in the soft, fresh dirt around the roots and allowing it to drip slowly until moisture comes to the surface. This gives some tender loving care to the new baby rootlets. Sprinklers running against the trunk of the tree is counter-productive. Much of the water will evaporate before it ever gets to the roots.

3. Once the tree roots have extended out (did you know that roots can go out underground as much as 3 times the circumference of the tree?) you may not want to mulch out that far, but a soaker hose on the ground out there will still help maintain the roots without throwing water into the air.

4. Do not pile up mulch against the trunk of the tree, whether it is a baby or fully grown. This can cause fungal problems and harbor insects that can damage the tree.

Do you know any rain dances?

 

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