En EspaŅol
Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Mr. Smarty Plants - Understory trees for large trees in Austin

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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Monday - October 18, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Understory trees for large trees in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

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 light all day and a little direct sun in the afternoon. I'm trying to decide between redbuds (Texas or Mexican) and Anacacho Orchids. Could you kindly tell me about their suitability for such a situation? I would also like to know which gives the better spring show of bloom.

ANSWER:

You must have a pretty big yard to accommodate large Quercus fusiformis (Escarpment live oak), Quercus macrocarpa (Bur oak)  and Ulmus crassifolia (Cedar elm). Don't get too carried away with the idea of creating a "forest" with understory plantings. The trees you already have are valuable, and you need to evaluate what it will take for each of those to have sufficient water, light and root room to thrive. Then, you can follow the links below to our pages on each of the three trees you are seeking to plant in that same space, and decide whether or not any, all or none will be good choices.

 Cercis canadensis var. texensis (Texas redbud) grows to 10 to 20 feet, blooms white, pink, purple from March to April.

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low , Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry
Soil pH: Alkaline (pH>7.2)
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Drought Tolerance: Medium , High
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Well-drained, calcareous, rocky, sandy, loamy, or clay soils, usually limestone-based.
Conditions Comments: Drought- and cold-tolerant within its range. Give dappled shade when young. A selection called Sanderson is said to be the most drought-adapted Texas redbud cultivar.

Cercis canadensis var. mexicana (Mexican redbud) - 5 - 12 ft., blooms pink, purple February to April

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low , Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry
Soil pH: Alkaline (pH>7.2)
Drought Tolerance: High
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Calcareous, limestone-based sands, loams, clays, often rocky
Conditions Comments: One of three Cercis canadensis varieties naturally occurring in Texas, the Mexican redbud is shorter and more compact in Texas than the others and is more likely to have multiple trunks. The leaves tend to be darker, smaller, and slightly ruffled along the margins. South into northeastern Mexico it reaches greater heights than it does in Texas. Like other redbuds, Mexican redbud is stunning in bloom.

 Bauhinia lunarioides (Anacacho orchid tree) - 6-12 ft., blooms white, pink March to May

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Rocky, limestone soils. Sandy, sandy loam, medium loam, limestone-based
Conditions Comments: Does best when planted on the south side of a building, protected from winter winds.

You will note that all 3 need at least part sun, which we consider to be 2 to 6 hours of sun a day. In blooming plants, generally you will get more blooms with more sun. All 3 require low to medium amounts of water and soils you would expect to find in Central Texas. We would suggest that you wait until late November to do your planting, which is usually recommended for woody plants in Texas. Dig the holes and work in some compost for each tree you are planting, and if there not regular rains, provide deep watering for them for some months.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Cercis canadensis var. texensis


Cercis canadensis var. mexicana


Bauhinia lunarioides

 

 

 

More Trees Questions

Soapberry; monoecious or dioecious?
May 26, 2009 - I have a soapberry (Sapindus saponaria L., I believe) tree growing in my yard. I planted it 3 years ago hoping for soapberries, but have not seen any yet. It has flowered each spring, but has not set ...
view the full question and answer

Safety of hyrbrid and non-native trees for dogs and horses from Lawton OK
March 25, 2013 - Are Arrowwood Viburnum tree, Sargent Crabapple tree & the Washington Hawthorn tree safe for dogs & horses?
view the full question and answer

Trees with non-invasive roots or tops in Newhall CA
November 07, 2011 - We would like to plant a tree with noninvasive roots near our garden wall and concrete driveway in a grassy area in the front yard facing west. This spot is very sunny in the afternoon with automatic ...
view the full question and answer

Spots on bark of Mountain Ash from Engadine MI
April 30, 2012 - I have a mountain ash that is about 5 years old & have just noticed white, patchy, scaly looking spots on the bark. Is this something to be concerned about???
view the full question and answer

Will wood shavings in the soil require nitrogen from Charleston MO
May 04, 2011 - I cut down a big maple tree and a lot of the wood shavings was left in the soil. I planted a flower bed over the area this spring. I later read that the wood chips in the soil would use a lot of nitro...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center