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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.

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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.

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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!

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Thursday - March 05, 2009

From: Marble Falls, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Poisonous Plants, Trees
Title: Can hackberry twigs and leaves be safely used in compost?
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

If Hackberry trees and leaves have growth inhibiting compounds, should they not be used in compost piles?

ANSWER:

The point of emitting those growth-inhibiting compounds is to protect the area around the tree from competition. When the leaves have fallen or branches have been trimmed, they are dead, and no longer have the power to emit the substances, nor the reason to do so. There are some plants that have toxic parts, or the whole plant is toxic to some degree, such as Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain-laurel) and Taxus canadensis (Canada yew). Even dead and dried up, such plants should not go into compost, nor should Toxicodendron radicans (eastern poison ivy) because the residual oils are not destroyed by the composting process.  Many other plants, including oaks, black walnuts, and pecans have this same self-protective ability and, from personal experience, make very fine compost. This article, Compost Notes by Ken Roberts, will give you some more insight on what should and should not go into your compost pile.

 

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