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Mr. Smarty Plants - Native understory plants for shade under live oaks

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Monday - June 09, 2008

From: Richland Hills, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Native understory plants for shade under live oaks
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have large live oak trees in my front yard. I would like to start North Central Texas native landscaping under them, where no grass will grow. Do you know of some plants that would do well in full shade and are drought resistant so that they would not compete too much with the live oak trees for the water.

ANSWER:

Before you start, read this article from the University of Minnesota on Planting Under Existing Trees. Just remember that this is from Minnesota, and the plants they mention probably don't apply in North Central Texas. But the suggestions, instructions and warnings are excellent. Your live oak trees are very valuable in themselves, so your first priority must be to disturb those roots as little as possible. Among the suggestions this website made were start out with small (4" pots) plants so you need smaller holes; don't be tempted to build up the soil to make more room for understory plants, that will suffocate the tree roots; and be prepared to water your new plants until they get established, they will be competing with all those tree roots for moisture.

When we ran a Search in Recommended Species for North Central Texas, asking for herbs (herbaceous plants), perennial, sun less than 2 hours a day (our definition of shade) and dry soil, we got exactly one plant, columbine. They are lovely, but you probably want more variety in your garden. So, we amended that to sun 2 to 6 hours a day, which is "part shade." That gave us more to choose from, so we have six herbaceous plants, two groundcovers, three grasses and one fern, all perennial and all native to North Central Texas. Read each webpage linked by the Latin names below to help you decide what fits your area and ideas. When you are ready to look at plants, go to our Suppliers section, type in your name and town in "Enter Search Location" and you will get a list of native plant nurseries, seed companies and landscape consultants in your general area.

HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS

Aquilegia canadensis (red columbine)

Callirhoe involucrata (purple poppymallow)

Penstemon cobaea (cobaea beardtongue)

Salvia azurea (azure blue sage)

Salvia roemeriana (cedar sage)

Wedelia texana (hairy wedelia)

GROUNDCOVERS

Calyptocarpus vialis (straggler daisy)

Hydrocotyle bonariensis (largeleaf pennywort)

GRASSES

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama)

Poa arachnifera (Texas bluegrass)

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem)

FERNS

Pteridium aquilinum var. pseudocaudatum (western brackenfern)


Aquilegia canadensis

Callirhoe involucrata

Penstemon cobaea

Salvia azurea

Salvia roemeriana

Wedelia texana

Calyptocarpus vialis

Hydrocotyle bonariensis

Bouteloua curtipendula

Poa arachnifera

Schizachyrium scoparium

Pteridium aquilinum var. pseudocaudatum

 

 

 

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