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
5 ratings

Monday - September 01, 2008

From: El Paso, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Fast-growing, tall taproot tree for El Paso
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I live in El Paso Texas and would like to know what would be a good shade tree to plant. I would like this tree to grow fast and tall. I would also like the roots to go straight down.

ANSWER:

You should understand that the faster a tree grows, the shorter its life will ordinarily be. They sacrifice durability and strength for the speed in growing.The second thing you need to know is that there is no such thing as roots that go straight down. Well, in taproot trees they grow straight down, but they also grow out 6 to 12 inches from the surface of the ground, and often 2 to 3 times the width of the drip line. In other words, if you're looking for a quick shade tree that won't disturb pavements or other plants with their roots, we're afraid they don't exist. Think about it. If a tall tree had nothing but a long taproot (like a carrot) and no lateral roots, the first thing that would happen is the tree would starve to death. The nutrients and water in soil are mostly in that upper 6 to 12 inches. Second, the tree would be basically top-heavy, and would go right over in the first good wind. Those roots radiating out from the taproot are for balance as well as nutrition.

Carya alba (mockernut hickory) and Carya illinoinensis (pecan) are both native to Texas and have taproots. Both are long-lived but also very slow-growing and difficult to transplant because of their taproots, as well as being susceptible to many insects and diseases. Pinus cembroides (Mexican pinyon) has a moderate growth rate, and taproot, but only grows 15 to 30 feet tall. Pinus ponderosa (ponderosa pine) has a moderate growth rate, and grows 72 to 100 ft. 

You didn't say why you wanted trees with those particular characteristics, but if it has to do with being near paving or sidewalks, and getting quick shade, we would recommend you not plant a tree there.You really can't change the growth habits of a tree, and their roots will interfere with foundations, sidewalks and paving sooner or later.

Pictures of Carya alba (mockernut hickory)


Carya illinoinensis

Pinus cembroides

Pinus ponderosa

 

 

More Trees Questions

Problems with Shumard Oaks and Crepe Myrtle in Cooke Co. TX
September 07, 2013 - I have a Shumard Oak Tree that has been in the ground approx. ten years. It has done great, even passing up some of my older Shumards. In August it began to lose its leaves at an alarming rate. They a...
view the full question and answer

Sap flowing from live oak trees in Austin
May 08, 2010 - I have live oak trees in my backyard,17 to be exact. I live in Northwest Austin, in Williamson county. There are two live oaks growing about 4-5 feet apart in the center of my yard. One appears to ha...
view the full question and answer

Tx Mt. Laurel and Mex. Buckeye seed propagation in drought
July 01, 2011 - I live in the Hill Country near New Braunfels. Since I am only at my house in July and August, I would like to plant both Texas Mountain Laurel and Mexican Buckeye from the seeds harvested from mothe...
view the full question and answer

Trees and other plants for privacy along lake shoreline
March 09, 2013 - We are purchasing a new home that has a 2 acre lake. We would like to add some plants/trees for privacy around the shore line. Can you suggest something that would fill in nicely and is strong enoug...
view the full question and answer

Understory trees for large trees in Austin
October 18, 2010 - I'm blessed with some beautiful large live oaks, burr oaks, and cedar elms in my front yard in southwest Austin. I'd like to plant some understory trees among them. The trees would get dappled lig...
view the full question and answer

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