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Sunday - March 27, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Tree (evergreen) to grow in area with high water table
Answered by: Nan Hampton


Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, We live in central Austin, Tarrytown specifically, just blocks from the aptly named Spring Lane. (sometimes we hit water in our back yard within 2 feet of the surface.) We lost a big tree (a Chinese tallow) on the west side and desperately need a replacement because that side of the house becomes uninhabitable most summer afternoons. It's a high-traffic area of deck and driveway, so we'd like a tree not as messy and hard on bare feet as the tallow–also, maybe an evergreen 'cause some winter days can be pretty hot, too. Do you think a Mexican white oak a good choice? From what I've read, I can't tell if they can withstand having wet feet for periods of time. Might something else be a better choice? Thanks.


Well, I think it depends on how wet your yard really is.   Does it often stand in water in the area where you want to plant the tree or is the ground often squishy underfoot when you walk on it?  If the answer is 'yes', then the answer to whether a Quercus polymorpha (Mexican white oak) would thrive there would be 'no'.  If the high water content in the soil is a couple of feet down, it might do just fine.   However, the Learn2Grow and Mountain States Wholesale Nursery websites does say that it needs well-drained soils and the City of Austin Native and Adapted Landscape Plants says that it prefers deep soils.

An obvious great tree for your soil that has so much underground water would be  Taxodium distichum (Bald cypress).  It is a beautiful tree, but it's not evergreen.  It is shown as prefering acidic soils.  Most soils around the Austin area are not acidic, but it is probably more adaptable to Austin's soil pH than the recommended pH would indicate.  You do see them growing in various places in the city usually beside ponds, lakes or other waterways.  The Austin City Arborist Program has Bald Cypress on its list of Adapted Trees for the Austin Area.  You probably want to consider that its female cones (~3/4" in diameter) will fall under the tree.

Here are a few other trees, tall to small, that will tolerate moist soil—only one (yaupon) is evergreen.

Fraxinus pennsylvanica (Green ash) grows to 75 feet and tolerates wet, moist and dry soils and will grow in limestone soils.  Female trees produce lots of winged seeds that can litter the ground, but there are seedless male varieties available.

Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore) loves moist soils and can grow to 100 feet.  Here is more information from Ohio State University that gives assets and liabilities of this tree.

 Ulmus crassifolia (Cedar elm) grows 50 to 70 feet high, is reasonablly fast-growing and grows in moist soils.  It doesn't produce any considerable litter except its small deciduous leaves and small fruits/seeds.

Prunus mexicana (Mexican plum) grows 15 to 35 feet in dry or moist soils.  It produces beautiful fragrant flowers in the spring that become small plums.  The plums make wonderful jams and jellies and are nice to eat of the tree if they are completely ripe.  These plums would fall on the ground under the tree if not harvested.

Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon) usually grows to about 25 feet high but can grow taller.  It is evergreen and the female plants produce bright red berries that birds love.  The trees are either female and male—so if you don't want berries, there are varieties you can buy that are guaranteed to be male (e.g., Ilex vomitoria 'Dewerth').

You can search for more possibilities by going to our Recommended Species page and choosing Central Texas from the map.  This will give you a list of plants native to the area that are commercially available for landscaping.  You can use the NARROW YOUR SEARCH option to limit the list to 'Trees' and limit soil moisture to 'Moist' and/or 'Wet'.  You can also set other criteria (e.g., Height).  Also, if you scroll to the bottom of the Recommended Species page you will find "Just for Central Texans" with additional lists of plants for the area that you can search.

Quercus polymorpha

Taxodium distichum

Fraxinus pennsylvanica

Platanus occidentalis

Ulmus crassifolia

Prunus mexicana

Ilex vomitoria




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