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Mr. Smarty Plants - Landscaping around a pear tree in Tyler, TX.

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Wednesday - September 22, 2010

From: Tyler, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Herbs/Forbs
Title: Landscaping around a pear tree in Tyler, TX.
Answered by: Marilyn Kircus

QUESTION:

We have a large raised flower bed, approximately ten feet by ten feet, surrounding a mature flowering pear tree. Do you have any suggestions for landscaping with native plants in this bed?

ANSWER:

You can use the Explore Plants section of the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center's website, as well as the database, to answer your question.  I'll give you some examples and tell you how I got them.  Growing plants under trees will result in part to full shade.  The shadiest side will be the north, followed by the east, then west, then south. The outside edges of the sunniest sides may receive six or more hours of sun a day and while the rest will be in the shade (less than 2 hours of sun) or part shade (2-6 hours of sun).  And during the winter, all the area will be in full sun, so some early blooming, full sun,  flowers might also grow where it will become partly shady later. I'm going to make it easy on myself by selecting plants for part shade and dry soils.  Then I'll would plant the ones that use part to full shade in the shadiest places and the ones that use full sun to part shade in the sunniest places. I would also be thinking of the colors I wanted and make sure I have a couple of things in bloom at least all spring, summer, and fall. 

I went to the Recommended Species List for East Texas which is under the Explore Plants Tab. Then I narrowed my selections to Herbs, so I could get wildflowers, that would grow in dry conditions, in part shade and bloom at all different times of the year. I got seventeen flowers that should work for you. I suggest you go through this list or go back and further narrow it down to the colors you want in a given season.  I would also add some grasses for constant structure, movement, and texture. I went back and found four grasses recommended.  One is sideoates grama which will stay small while your spring flowers are blooming and then become more prominent in the summer and fall.  Another recommended grass is little bluestem, which turns a dramatic rusty color in the fall. Another grass that will grow well, and maybe too well, is Inland Sea Oats.  I particularly like to plant this grass in a patch where I can sit and watch the woven-looking seed heads backlit by the sun. It likes part to full shade and is found growing naturally at the edges of woods. It reseeds very enthusiastically so you will probably have to pull some of the babies in the spring or cut off and collect the seed heads when they start to fall off the plant.

Your planting will look best if you plant several plants of the same species close together.  This will be especially true of the grasses. Butterflies and other pollinators also can find the plants easiest if three or more of them are planted together. And you will notice, as you read about each plant that many of them are host plants for butterflies, or provide nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds so you will also have the lovely colors and movements of these creatures.   

You can also use Dwarf Yaupon,  Ilexvomitoria,'Nana' and  Turk's Cap, Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii which are small shrubs. Dwarf  yaupon is prized for its naturally rounded shape.  Turk's cap has big light green leaves and flowers that stay in the bud shape. It grows in full sun to full shade and can get several feet tall but is usually under four feet. It is attractive to hummingbirds and blooms during fall migration. The flowers are red-orange and there are white and pink cultivars. You could use one of these plants by itself or mix them with other plants.  I would put Turk’s cap near the back of the garden, if you use it. You can prune it to the size you want. Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center hasTurk's cap and Inland Sea Oats in a sor of yin-yang pattern under one tree and it is lovely.

There are many other plants that will grow in this garden, including sedges, cacti, and ferns.  If these interest you, just go select for the ones that will grow in dry, part shade conditions.  Also check to see if they like your soil type which I think is acid and sandy or sandy loam. You may have to use the database and select for Texas to get all the possibilities. If you want cactus, check the links to be sure it grows in East Texas. Since your bed is raised, it will already be drier than the rest of your property.

After you get your garden started, you will mostly have to manage it by cutting it back. For example, prairie verbena will bloom all spring, summer and fall if it gets enough water and you cut it back every two months or so.  Other plants will benefit from being cut back one third when they start looking leggy. And your grasses need to be cut to only a few inches above the ground near the end of winter. Most native annuals will re seed and you may have to thin the seedlings while you do your spring weeding.

Here are pictures of a few of my favorite plants that will work in your bed.


Echinacea purpurea


Glandularia bipinnatifida


Coreopsis lanceolata


Achillea millefolium


Asclepias tuberosa


Salvia coccinea


Coreopsis lanceolata

 

 

 

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