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Mr. Smarty Plants - Problems with Texas Ash and non-native Bradford Pear in Hutto TX

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Thursday - January 27, 2011

From: Hutto, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Compost and Mulch, Transplants, Trees
Title: Problems with Texas Ash and non-native Bradford Pear in Hutto TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We have planted two trees in our back yard. The first one(a Bradford Pear) died and the second one (a Texas ash) doesn't look like it's doing very well. Our back yard is mostly black clay about 1 foot down. What kind of tree can I plant back there? or should I just give up on getting any shade from the sun? Thank you,

ANSWER:

The clay in your soil certainly doesn't help a lot, but everywhere around you no doubt has the same clay soil, and still trees grow and flourish. About the best we can do is ask you some questions (don't send us the answers) to help determine why these trees have not done well and make some recommendations for the next trees you plant.

To begin with, the Bradford Pear is a selection of Pyrus calleryana, native to Korea and China. The selection called the Bradford Pear was released into the retail market in 1963, with a lot of attention. However, as the trees first planted have begun to mature, a number of problems have appeared, the main one being weak trunks and branches, very susceptible to storm damage. Since this tree is not native to North America and certainly not to Texas, we would not recommend replanting under any circumstances. A tree native to an area always has a higher likelihood of being well-adapted to the soil, rainfall and climate conditions. This article from Floridata will give you more information.

Which brings us to Fraxinus texensis (Texas ash). This tree is native to Texas, although it likes a slightly acidic soil, which you probably don't have in Williamson County. However, this USDA Plant Profile map for Texas Ash shows it as being native in your area, so perhaps that is not a big factor. Here is a note from the Growing Conditions on our webpage on this plant:

"Soil Description: Rocky soils. Limestone-based, Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay, Caliche type
Conditions Comments: Texas ash is a small tree with an attractive, densely branched canopy. Pinnate leaves have brilliant fall color. Long-lived and healthy. Very drought-tolerant. Low water requirements."

This brings us to another possibility for the problems both trees have had: planting practices. In Texas, trees should be planted in late Fall or Winter, when the tree is semi-dormant, and the sun will not burn the little new tree. We found a very complete set of instructions on planting a tree from TreeHelp.com A Step by Step Guide to Planting a Tree. The only thing we disagree with is putting peat moss into the dirt mix, we prefer a good compost. Note especially their recommendations on how to deal with a clay soil so the sides of the hole don't "glaze." Watering should be done by sticking a hose down into the soil and letting it dribble slowly until water appears on the surface of the soil. A thorough watering once a week is better than depending on sprinkler systems or rain. Of course, if there has been a lot of rain recently, don't water.

Drainage is very important for all tree roots, they cannot thrive in a clay soil that does not drain. The addition of compost will greatly aid in helping the little rootlets access the nutrients in the soil, as well as improving drainage. Mulching over the roots is also a good idea to protect from extreme heat and cold, but do not pile it up next to the trunk, as that could be a shelter for insects and fungi harmful to the tree.

Since we have no idea exactly what could have caused you the problem you have described, we can only suggest that if you plant more trees, you plant those native to your area, plant them in the cool weather, and water gently. Here are some trees native to Central Texas that could be good selections; follow each plant link to each webpage and read the expected size, light and moisture requirements, and description to determine if that is the right tree for you.To make your own list, go to our Recommended Species section, click on Central Texas on the map, and select for "trees" under Habit or General Appearance.

Cercis canadensis var. texensis (Texas redbud)

Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow)

Quercus macrocarpa (Bur oak)

Taxodium distichum (Bald cypress)

From our Native mage Gallery:


Cercis canadensis var. texensis


Chilopsis linearis


Quercus macrocarpa


Taxodium distichum

 

 

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