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

Monday - March 21, 2011

From: Lathrop, MO
Region: Midwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Planting, Soils, Trees
Title: Native plants for clay soil in Lathrop MO
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

My family just moved to the north Kansas City, MO area and would like to know what native species, both perennial and tree, will do best in the clay soil. It has already proven problematic as we have managed to make large mistakes. We planted a row of Eastern White pines that died; most likely all from root rot. After talking to a neighbor, he informed us that we should next time place the tree on a rock/improved soil bed..then plant with several inches of the root ball ABOVE ground (incorporating both improved and local soil to fill and cover). I just don't want any further decisions/purchases to go wrong. Thanks in advance for any help you can send my way.

ANSWER:

You have been suffering from what we call the "leap before you look" syndrome, in which you spend a lot of time and resources planting plants that are very likely doomed from the start. Just because you can buy something locally doesn't mean it will survive locally. Allow us to introduce you to our Native Plant Database and all the ways you can get information on plants native to your area and get back to "look before you leap."

To start on learning how to use our database, we will use the tree that died, Pinus strobus (Eastern white pine) as an example. Follow the plant link to our webpage to learn more about that plant. Read the whole page, but especially note the Growing Conditions:

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist , Dry
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
CaCO3 Tolerance: None
Soil Description: Fertile, moist, well-drained soils.

There are two clues in those Conditions that we regard as crucial in your case. First, the tree likes an acidic soil. We don't know what acidity your soils have, but areas in which leaves (and pine needles) have fallen from native forests for generations usually have a somewhat acidic soil as a result of the decomposition of those leaves on a forest floor. The other point you need to consider if you have a clay soil is the comment on "Fertile, moist, well-drained soils." A clay soil is made up of very tiny particles, which swell as they absorb water, and become almost impervious to oxygen. Clay soils often are quite fertile, but the nature of the soil prevents the access by tiny rootlets of necessary nutrients in the soil. Worse, the roots can end up actually standing in water because the clay will not allow the moisture it has absorbed to drain away. This could be a clue to the root rot possibility you mentioned.

The last factor that should have been checked in advance was whether or not that plant already grows in your area, which would indicate whether or not your area had hospitable conditions for it. We went to the USDA Plant Profile map for Pinus strobus and discovered that is found only in 6 counties in southeastern Missouri, while Clinton Co. is in northwestern Missouri.

Now that you have seen what kind of information you can get from our plant pages, we will walk you through making your own searches for trees native to your area. Using the same method, you can search for shrubs, herbaceous blooming plants, vines, succulents and ferns, selecting plants that have the Light Requirements and Soil Moisture you have available, as well as soil types those plants prefer. Begin by going to our Recommended Species, click on Missouri on the map, which will give you a list of 157 plants native to Missouri and are commercially available; to narrow the list down, use the sidebar on the righthand side of the page, indicating "tree" under General Appearance, as well as the other conditions where you will be planting, such as Light Requirements and Soil Moisture, then click on "Narrow Your Search." 

We went through the resulting list and chose those that tolerated clay soils. To be even more sure these were good tree choices for you, we went clear down the plant page to "Additional Resources" and clicked on the scientific name for each plant on the USDA line. This will give you a map of North America with the states where that plant grows in green. Click on the state (Missouri) and you will get a map of that state with the counties where that plant grows. We have selected only those plants that grow in northwestern Missouri. Also, virtually every one of these trees were said to need "deep, moist, well-draining soils," which, as you heard above, are not easy to come by in clay, but amendments and special preparations can be made. We find this article from TreeHelp.com How to Plant a Tree very useful; we would only suggest that you use compost instead of peat moss-this will help with both the plant nutrition and with the needed drainage.

Trees for Northeastern Missouri in Clay Soil:

Aesculus glabra (Ohio buckeye)

Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud)

Crataegus crus-galli (Cockspur hawthorn)

Ostrya virginiana (Eastern hop-hornbeam)

Malus ioensis (Prairie crabapple)

Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore)

Quercus macrocarpa (Bur oak)

Tilia americana (American basswood)

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Aesculus glabra


Cercis canadensis


Crataegus crus-galli


Ostrya virginiana


Malus ioensis


Platanus occidentalis


Quercus macrocarpa


Tilia americana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Compost and Mulch Questions

Controlling erosion in Leburn KY
July 21, 2009 - I would really appreciate advice on controlling a serious erosion problem in eastern Kentucky. The slope is north facing, shady and moist with rich soil. Would prefer to use native Kentucky plants. ...
view the full question and answer

Chlorosis on plants in Austin
April 09, 2013 - I have several plants that have chlorosis on the new growth. I did an at-home basic soil test. Ph came out at 7.5 (the highest the scale went, so it could be higher than that). Nitrogen and phosphorus...
view the full question and answer

Ants in the compost pile from Georgetown TX
March 09, 2012 - Can you give me any suggestions for ridding my compost pile of ants?
view the full question and answer

Planting a Texas Persimmon in rocky soil in Krum TX
March 27, 2009 - I have recently purchased a 10 gallon Texas Persimmon plant that I want to put as a highlight plant in my yard. According to the nursery, it has been in the pot for 2 years. I have been "blessed(or...
view the full question and answer

Lawn Maintenance in Colorado
March 20, 2010 - When do I begin to fertilize and water my grass in Colorado Springs? I am selling my house and want my lawn to look green?
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