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Saturday - December 04, 2010

From: Katy, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: A Tree for Infant Daughter in Katy, TX
Answered by: Marilyn Kircus


Mr. Smarty Plants, We would like to plant a tree to "grow with" our infant daughter. We think she will enjoy measuring herself against it year after year, and will feel a sense of pride as we care for it and watch it grow. I am searching for something hardy (we get both droughts and hurricanes), medium sized (not too wide or else the electric company will have to cut it away from the power lines), long lived (how sad if the tree doesn't last long!) and attractive! A crape myrtle would be perfect, but we've already got a bunch of them on our property, so we're looking for something else. Maybe a leyland cypress? We live in the Houston area. The space we will dedicate to this tree is about 25' in diameter, full sun, moderately moist. We've got about two feet of soil in our yard before the ground is primarily clay. What can you recommend?


What a great idea to have a special tree for your daughter.

I can't recommend Leyland cypress because it is not a native (and Mr. Smarty Plants only advises on native plants), it outgrows its space quickly, is shortlived, will be among the first to fall in a high wind, and is susceptable to seiridium canker.

But I can recommend some native trees that should fit the bill. I think a tree for a child should have flowers and fruit so it will be interesting in all times of the year. And if it attracts birds or butterflies, that would be even better.

Here is a link to a list of small trees for Houston that will also work for Katy. Several of these are understory trees and would like more shade then you have. Here are my personal suggestions. Some of the others will not do well in moist soils so be sure and check the soil requirements of any other trees you consider.

1)  Morella cerifera (Wax myrtle) This grows from a shrub to a small tree.  The good news is that it has fragrant flowers and foliage, is host to a couple of butterfly species, and birds eat the berries. There is even a little bird named myrtle warbler because it is so associated with this tree.  And it is evergreen. AND you can make wax from them for a fun activity with your child. It is also drought and flood tolerant after the first two years. The bad news is that it is dioecious which means it has to have a male plant nearby in order to make berries. And you will have to keep it constantly damp until it has been in the ground a couple of years. After that is is very flood and drought tolerant.  And to make a pretty, multitrunked tree, you will have to prune it annually.  Otherwise it will grow into a large screening shrub.

2) Ilex decidua (Possumhaw) This is another wonderful tree which you will soon be noticing as it is the only tree I know that drops its leaves and is covered with red berries in the winter. Birds don't eat the berries until the end of winter so you have a wonderful winter show from it. And it grows naturally in your soils so should do well for you. It also is dioecious but you probably have a better chance of a male nearby.

3) Prunus mexicana (Mexican plum) I love this tree because it has such beautiful blooms before the leaves appear, followed by fruit that changes colors from yellow to mauve to purple, as it matures. It is very attractive to birds and butterflies and small mammals eat the fruit.  And you can make jelly from the fruit which would be fun to do with your daughter. It grows in all kinds of soils and takes sun to part shade.

4) Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon) This plant grows in almost any kind of soil and occurs naturally in your area. It makes a beautiful little tree IF you keep it pruned. It is also dioecious - but wouldn't two trees be better than one?

If you don't like these trees, there are a couple more recommended for your conditions.  Just check for light, water, and soil requirements.

Here are pictures of the four trees:

Morella cerifera

Morella cerifera






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