En EspaŅol

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.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

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.

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

Wednesday - March 02, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Butterfly Gardens, Wildlife Gardens, Planting, Transplants, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Dead woody plants in wildlife garden in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I am an enthusiastic and pretty successful wildlife gardener, have studied my Wasowski "Bible", but I can't get any evergreens established in my yard! We live on blackland clay, which I amend with leaves and lots of compost, and so far I've tried pines, native "cedars", an evergreen sumac and three wax myrtles, but all have died. Any ideas what I am doing wrong, or what I could do better? Thanks so much from me and the shivering birds in winter.

ANSWER:

Since we don't know all the answers to your question, we appoint you temporary Detective Plants. We are going to give you the questions to answer yourself, and some links from which you can get more help. The best we can tell, this is what we call a "wrong plant, wrong place, wrong time" situation. Only you, being on the spot as it were, can determine which one or more (maybe all three) has contributed to your plant failures.

Let's begin with: Is this the right plant for my purpose? This would include finding out if a plant is native to your area, that will flourish in the soil that you have. For instance, there are 10 pines native to Texas, but some of them only grow natively in far East Texas or far West Texas. Both the Juniperus ashei (Ashe juniper) ("cedar") and pines are conifers. Conifers are noted for having taproots, long taproots, even on a very small plant. Damage to this taproot can be fatal; neither tree transplants very successfully.

How about: Is this plant in the right place for its requirements? You need to go to our Native Plant Database, and search on either the common or scientific name for the plant you are considering and find out what soil types it can grow in, whether it needs sun or shade, how large it will get and will that interfere with other plants or hardscape, such as foundations and sidewalks?

Finally, was the plant put in the ground in the right way and at the right time? Especially for woody plants, planting during their dormant time, preferaby late Fall or early Winter in our climate, is crucial. Sometimes people look at a spot, decide they needed shade there, bought a tree and popped it in the ground, on an August afternoon, because that was when they needed the shade. Then, they are puzzled when that tree does not leaf back out in the Spring. Transplant shock is one of the greatest causes of death in trees, especially, and it is preventable. We think this article Transplanting Woody Plants from the University of Georgia is probably one of the best and most comprehensive instructional we have found.

One last piece of advice: Look before you leap, or perhaps research before you dig. Do all of the above things, finding out all you can about the situation and the right plants for it, before you procure the plant. That is much less expensive in use of resources, including your time and monetary outlay, fertilizer (don't, not a new plant) water and effort put into producing, shipping and marketing that plant. If you still don't have success, perhaps you should look around you and see if others are having similar problems. If so, we would suggest a soil test. You can get instructions for how to do this from the Texas AgriLIFE Extension Service for Travis County.

By the way, have you seen our How-To Article on Wildlife Gardening?

 

 

More Wildlife Gardens Questions

Wildlife garden for PA
October 12, 2010 - Dear Mr. Smarty plants, I am a student at Allegheny College, Meadville, PA. I am working on my senior thesis, and I hope to submit a successful proposal to plant a native species and wildlife garden ...
view the full question and answer

Creating a wildlife refuge
January 30, 2003 - We would like to make my yard more of a wildlife refuge by using a portion of the lawn for plants and shrubs and may afford shelter for birds and other wildlife. Can you please recommend what we shoul...
view the full question and answer

Replacing Nandina with natives for a schoolyard in Washington DC
May 11, 2011 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, Our schoolyard now has some invasive plants in the landscaping that we would like to replace with native plants. We have four clumps of Nandina planted at each pillar along a...
view the full question and answer

Evergreen plant with berries for wildlife
September 16, 2007 - We live in central Texas and I am attempting to plant for wildlife. Could you suggest an evergreen, approximately 3-4 feet tall, that would have berries for the birds in the Fall and winter? The pla...
view the full question and answer

Shade-loving plants for birds in New Jersey
March 25, 2013 - What native plants should I add to my property, Zone 6, to feed birds naturally? I have a heavily treed lot, so I'd like names of shade loving perennials. Seed or fruit bearing options would be gre...
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