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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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Sunday - May 04, 2014

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Aging Arizona Ash in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Mr. Smarty Plants! I live in South Austin and just bought a house with a large, 30-40 year old Arizona Ash in the backyard. When I moved in, most of the lower branches were bare and dead and so I had the canopy raised. I expect that this tree is nearing the end of its life. Knowing that it's not native to Austin, at what point do I decide to remove this tree or at what point does it become a danger to my house (in terms of falling limbs or the entire tree falling itself)? Thank you!


The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, home of Mr. Smarty Plants, is committed to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but also to the area in which the plant is being grown; in your case, Travis County, TX.

According to this USDA Plant Profile Map, Fraxinus velutina (Arizona ash) does not grow natively in Travis County at all, which is the first strike against it. From our webpage on this plant, here are its growing conditions:

"Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Dry
CaCO3 Tolerance: None
Soil Description: Rocky soils.
Conditions Comments: F. velutina is an extremely variable species. F. velutina var. coriacea grows in CA; F. velutina var. glabra grows in TX. All varieties are fast-growing and relatively short-lived."

Note the phrase "relatively short-lived" which indicates to us you have probably made an astute diagnosis of the situation. What we don't know if we can help you with is how to know when the "zero hour" will come when you will wish you had cut it down the day before.

Frankly, we would suggest that you contact a professional, licensed arborist, not someone that knocks on your door and tells you your tree looks terrible and he will cut it down for you, cash in advance. You are about in as much jeopardy from that kind of service as you are from just leaving it alone and letting it fall apart on its own schedule. But, either way, you are liable to roof damage (and maybe not just your roof), windows breaking and injury to innocent bystanders.


From the Image Gallery

Arizona ash
Fraxinus velutina

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