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Friday - August 29, 2008

From: Helotes, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants
Title: Something to grow under a chinaberry tree
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I have a huge Chinaberry on the west side of the house. We enjoy the shade it provides and have it limbed up pretty high, but it's located between two 2-story houses and of course drops buckets of its berries. The grass died underneath the tree because the ground basically receieves zero light, and because the soil pH is so off/toxic (the tree was producing berries when we built the house, and we've been here 10 years, plus you just can't rake up every single last berry). SO! My question is - is there any kind of shade loving ground cover that I can plant underneath this tree that won't keel over and die because of the horrible conditions? If possible, I'd rather not amend the soil. But, if I need to, what would be best to amend with?


Mr. Smarty Plants says your best solution is to get rid of that chinaberry tree!  Melia azedarach (chinaberry) is an invasive plant from Asia that outcompetes native species. Here is more information about its invasive properties from the Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, University of Florida and from Plant Conservation Alliance's Alien Plant Working Group. The leaves and roots are allelopathic—this means that they release compounds that keep other plants from germinating and growing—therefore, you aren't going to be able to amend the soil so something will grow underneath.  Additionally, it grows quickly and produces huge quantities of berries that are poisonous to humans and small mammals. 

If you are looking for a relatively fast growing shade tree, Mr. SP would recommend one of the following:

Quercus muehlenbergii (chinkapin oak)

Fraxinus texensis (Texas ash)

Ulmus americana (American elm)

If you like the look of the chinaberry, Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii (western soapberry) is a native tree that has a similar look.  Its berries are also poisonous, but the plant is not allelopathic.

Quercus muehlenbergii

Fraxinus texensis

Ulmus americana

Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii





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