En EspaŅol

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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Thursday - May 01, 2014

From: Lago Vista, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Planting, Seasonal Tasks, Trees
Title: Late planting plum tree from Lago Vista, TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I have two plum trees in plastic containers that I purchased in March. For a lot of reasons, we didn't get them planted. I have kept them alive by watering consistently, but I am now wondering what to do with them. Is it ok to plant them in May? Should I transfer them to larger plastic pots and try to keep them alive during the summer and plant them next fall?


First, please read this Previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer  concerning the fact that we may not have the plant you bought as a 'plum tree" in our Native Plant Database.

Since we do not know which species of plum tree you are referring to, we will go for a species of the Prunus (plum) genus native to Travis County to use as an example, since the rules for planting woody plants in Texas are pretty much the same across the board. The two plum trees with the name "plum" that are native to Travis County are Prunus mexicana (Mexican plum) and Prunus rivularis (Creek plum). You can follow those two links to our webpage on that plant to find the spot in your garden that comes the closest to matching the growing conditions of the tree (sun? soil moisture? soil?) before you ever get the shovel out of the garage.

Now, the difference between planting that tree now or waiting until the optimum time to plant a woody plant (trees and shrubs), which is December and January, is which way will there be least damage? March, when you bought that tree, was already late in the planting season. It may have stood on the nursery floor since September in that same black plastic pot. It may have roots growing round and round inside the pot, and be rootbound. Leaving it in that black plastic pot, especially in the hot Texas sun, can basically cook the roots.

Obviously, our advice is get it out of that pot and into the ground NOW. The best time for this is late in the day, nearly dark, so that in the first few hours the baby roots are trying to adjust to their new environment they are not also roasting in the sun. Read our Step-by-Step article on How to Plant a Tree. We always like to mix a little good quality compost into the extra dirt that we dig out of the hole, and return the mix to the hole around the roots of the tree. This will help with drainage and also help to make micro-nutrients in the soil available to the little new roots.

Water the tree by sticking a hose down into the soft dirt around the tree and letting it barely dribble until the surface is moist. Do this at least twice a week, unless there is some good soaking rain, for the first several weeks and then once a week until Fall.

And next time you want a tree, buy it in late Fall and plant it THEN.



From the Image Gallery

Mexican plum
Prunus mexicana

Mexican plum
Prunus mexicana

Creek plum
Prunus rivularis

Creek plum
Prunus rivularis

More Trees Questions

Growing non-native grapefruit from seeds from Austin
April 30, 2013 - Can you grow ruby red grapefruit trees from seeds?
view the full question and answer

A year and a half old live oak tree is doing poorly in Nevada, TX.
May 08, 2012 - We planted a live oak tree about a year and a half ago. the tree is still rather small. The leaves are of a vibrant green, however the leave have only grown through the center of the tree and not out...
view the full question and answer

Looking for a redbud sized tree to plant in Tulsa OK.
September 27, 2011 - I am looking for a native tree about the size of a redbud to place in my prairie bed in Tulsa Oklahoma, wildlife friendly trees preferred, thanks!
view the full question and answer

What is causing leaf drop on oak in Morgan Hill CA?
June 23, 2010 - Dear Mr Smarty Plants: We have a large, young Valley Oak (about 20 yrs) which is dropping leaves even now in early summer. I have a feeling that the problem might be an invasive weed that is flourishi...
view the full question and answer

Differences between smooth bark and rough bark Arizona cypress
March 12, 2008 - What is the difference between smooth bark Arizona Cypress and rough bark Arizona Cypress in terms of tree growth, form, foliage, etc.? Will one grow better than the other in the Waco area?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center