Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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?

Share

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
3 ratings

Tuesday - April 22, 2008

From: Detroit, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Soils, Trees
Title: What can be planted under a pine tree in Detroit, MI?
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

What type of plant would you suggest I plant under my big (Blue bruce) pine tree? It's about 25 ft high and the branches are trimmed to about 4 feet up, so it does get some light but mostly shade.I am having trouble keeping anything alive, I was told that was because of the acid in the pine needles,is this true? What would you suggest I plant, that is strong enough?

ANSWER:

We went looking for a "Blue Bruce" pine, but could not locate one. We did, however, find Picea pungens (blue spruce), which is a native of North America. It is mostly found in Colorado, but since it has a "Christmas tree" shape, it is widely sold in the nursery trade. The blue spruce is in the genus Picea, and one of about 35 species of coniferous evergreen trees in the family Pinacea. There is a lot of confusion about which trees are really pines, and which are firs or spruces. Read this Gardenline webpage on Fir, Pine, or Spruce - Which do I have? In terms of your question, it really doesn't matter a whole lot what it is, as they all share the same characteristics of creating acidity in the soil beneath them.

So, the problem is not the strength of the plant that goes beneath the tree.The problem you are having is due to the acidity of the soil. The acid-loving plants are rhododendrons, including azaleas, blueberries, blackberries and hydrangeas, as well as many types of evergreens and conifers. All of these are considered moist woodland plants, but they all require some sun. Leaf drop from deciduous trees, and especially conifers, will raise the acidity in the soil underneath. Really, if you value your tree, and you certainly should, you need to leave it alone, and not try to grow anything until out beyond the drip line of the tree. And don't clean those needles up-the tree needs them for continued nutrition. Here is a page of Images of the blue spruce.

 

More Soils Questions

Acidity of soil for blueberry plants
May 11, 2007 - We have 8 blueberry plants and we have just taken out several Juniper shrubs. How will this effect the acidity of the soil for the blueberries? Do we need to add more acidity? We heard that the junipe...
view the full question and answer

Damage to native elm in Texas
August 20, 2008 - We had a major landscape renovation done over the winter. One of the trees, an elm about 10 yrs old, remained in the bed although plants around it were removed. The tree has suddenly started turning...
view the full question and answer

Chlorotic Texas Mountain Laurel in Benson, Arizona
May 04, 2014 - I've planted a Texas Mountain Laurel in heavy clay soil in Arizona. It's been in place for 3 years and flowers each spring. However it's leaves are a shade of medium, yellowish green nothing like t...
view the full question and answer

Soils for spiderwort from Round Rock TX
August 08, 2013 - We have spiderworts growing naturally in our backyard. We put a large circle around them them with limestone rock (as our beds have) to make their own bed as they clumped in one area. What kind of s...
view the full question and answer

Plants adding calcium to soil
June 08, 2006 - Hi, I am looking for a resource to help determine the functions of native plants. For instance, nitrogen fixing can be found in Indigo, Lead plant, lupines. Are there other plants that add back cal...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.