En Español

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?


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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
6 ratings

Monday - March 21, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Deer resistant, drought and shade tolerant plants to go under oak tree in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


What is the best deer resistant, drought resistant native plant to grow under my huge Oak tree? Grass does not grow. Will iris bloom?


Would you like whipped cream with that? Sorry, but when we get these designer plant questions, we wonder if there could possibly be anything else they could ask for. We will start with the problems involved in growing plants under oaks. Oh, while we're thinking about it - we found no iris native to Central Texas that would grow in the conditions described.

We don't blame you for wanting something colorful, but that is going to be a problem. Most colorfully blooming herbaceous plants and shrubs need a good quantity of sunlight to fuel their blooms. We consider full sun to be 6 or more hours of sun a day, part shade 2 to 6 hours of sun, and shade less than 2 hours of sun a day.There are other factors besides heavy shade that might be causing problems in getting plants to stay alive, including the fact that oak roots tend to be in the upper 12 inches of the soil, and form a mat that would be discouraging to other plant roots. In addition, there is the question of allelopathy. From the University of California Cooperative Extension article Landscape Notes by James Downer, Farm Advisor, we have extracted this paragraph about the allelopathy of oaks:

"Various studies have demonstrated that oaks can have allelopathic affects on surrounding plants. Allelopathy is the production of plant inhibiting chemicals by one plant to regulate the growth of others in its vicinity. One important group of chemicals produced by oaks is tannins. They are produced in leaves and litter and also directly by root systems in soil. Tannins are inhibitory to many organisms. Salicylic acid and other organic acids are also produced by oaks and are toxic to other plants. Allelopathy is species specific for the oak in question and the species that is inhibited."

In other words, it depends on which plant and which oak, and we don't have lists of plants that will grow under specific species of oak.

Now we'll talk about Deer Resistant plants, and see what of those are native to Central Texas, drought resistant (most plants native to Central Texas have to be) and go from there.We went to our Deer Resistant Plant List and selected on Texas, part shade to shade and dry soil to see what we could get. We selected only those that said their deer resistance was high. Follow each plant link to our page on that plant to find out bloom time and color, projected size and growing conditions.

Deer resistant plants that might grow under oaks in Austin:

Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii (Flame acanthus)

Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed)

Melampodium leucanthum (Blackfoot daisy)

Monarda citriodora (Lemon beebalm)

Nolina texana (Texas sacahuista)

Salvia coccinea (Scarlet sage)

Salvia roemeriana (Cedar sage)

Tetraneuris scaposa (Four-nerve daisy)

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:

Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii

Asclepias tuberosa

Melampodium leucanthum

Monarda citriodora

Nolina texana

Salvia coccinea

Salvia roemeriana

Tetraneuris scaposa




More Shade Tolerant Questions

Native shade-loving container plant for Austin
May 02, 2009 - What is a good plant that works well in a container, is shade-loving and produces some blooms?
view the full question and answer

Hedge shrub for shade in Jacksonville FL
January 17, 2013 - Looking for shrub or hedge ( no Azaleas please )to line front of house that is full time shade in Jacksonville Florida ( something different, on the lines of tropical if possible).
view the full question and answer

Small, drought and shade-tolerant perennials for Austin, Texas
March 22, 2010 - We need suggestions for small, drought- and shade-tolerant perennials to be planted in Austin, Texas, please.
view the full question and answer

Shade trees for horses in Merced, CA
January 21, 2011 - I would like to plant some trees to provide shade for horses in the pasture. What native trees are drought resistant (water may be spotty in the summer) yet safe for the animals? I live in the Calif...
view the full question and answer

Plants for oak shade from Whitney TX
December 24, 2012 - I live in Whitney, Texas and have a number of beautiful Live Oak trees in a portion of my yard providing deep shade. Asian Jasmine grows in about 5 ft circle around them and then nothing! I have walk ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center