En Español

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

Revegetating a hillside in western Washington state
October 10, 2012 - Removing several downed trees across my dock demolished the native plants growing on the hillside and the contractor pulled out their remains. The area faces east on an open freshwater bay. Close to...
view the full question and answer

Native Plants by Soil Type
June 17, 2015 - Can't find an appropriate place to ask this - would love to be able to search for plants that do best in acidic soil (soil pH) another filter on the search screen. May not be there because the data...
view the full question and answer

Best mulch from Cedar Hill TX
June 10, 2010 - What is the best mulch to use around trees,azaleas and plants in Cedar Hill, Tx?
view the full question and answer

Source for information on Habiturf from Utopia, TX
February 25, 2014 - During a recent Central Texas Gardener TV show, someone from the Center mentioned that your Habiturf was going to be available as sod from someone in the San Antonio area this spring. Is that true an...
view the full question and answer

Adapting to clay soils in British Columbia
April 11, 2006 - What can I use to break down the clay content in my flower bed. It has a high concentration of clay and I want to plant treat it so I can plant flowers in it.
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center