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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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Saturday - March 03, 2007

From: Tyler, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Best of Smarty, General Botany, Poisonous Plants
Title: Native plants that will grow under alleopathic black walnut
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I have a large, beautiful black walnut tree in my yard and have trouble growing the annuals, begonia, impatients, etc., that I have always grown. They don't do well in the ground and I have resorted to putting them in pots in order to have some color in that shady area. Any suggestions as to what soil amendment I can use so they can be planted in the ground?

ANSWER:

Your black walnut tree (Juglans nigra) is defending its space—that's why you are having trouble getting any other plants to grow underneath it. With this defense mechanism, called allelopathy, the tree makes and releases a chemical called juglone that adversely affects many other (but not all) plants. Juglone can be found in all parts of the black walnut tree. If the roots of another plant come within 1/2 inch of the walnuts roots, they can absorb the juglone and sicken and die. Also, walnut leaf litter and walnut fruit on the ground leach juglone into the soil.

Virginia Extension Service has an excellent discussion of the black walnut and its allelopathic effects. Additionally, the article lists common plants that are affected by the juglone of the walnut. There is also a list of plants that will grow near the black walnut. Here are a few attractive native plants that will grow underneath your tree in Tyler:

Black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa)
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)

By the way, allelopathy is one of the reasons some invasive plants, such as spotted knapweed (Centaurea biebersteinii), are so successful.

 

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