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?


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

Tuesday - March 29, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Trees
Title: Smaller trees for limited space in yard in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Follow up to "I have a choice of three shade trees from the city of Austin. They are Live Oak, Elm, Cedar. Although I am happy to have a free tree, I think the choices are not the best for my home. I have a small area in the front yard about 12 feet by 14 feet. But, due to pipes, etc the place they chose to plant the tree is about 8 feet from my door, 1 foot from the driveway, 1 foot from a fence, and 5 feet from the street. Wouldn't these type of trees end up causing foundation problems? And also problems with the driveway and fence? I'm thinking I shouldn't accept any of these trees. But, then what type of tree can I plant in that small area?" I recently asked a question on trees and I wanted to reply, but I didn't know how, so her it goes- with another question. First, THANK YOU for your help. I was looking all over the internet to find an answer to my question and I was also confused as to why they would suggest a to plant a tree so close to other structures. But, that's where my little yellow flag ended up on my driveway. I was thinking of a planting a crepe myrtle. The previous owner had planted a peach tree, but it died (it was also a small tree). I really need something for shade. I don't have any trees in my front yard and the heat is unbearable in the summer. I've been thinking also of making some sort of carport canopy type thing and adding a vine to grow along top of it (the metal carport things don't look too nice). I want something that looks pretty. What do you suggest? Any ideas?


The little yellow flag may have just been stuck there so the workers would know you were going to get a tree. Anyway, I think we're agreed that those trees are all too big for your small yard. Both of your alternate ideas are trees not native to North America. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is dedicated to the growth, use, protection and propagation of plants native not only to North America but also to the area in which those plants are natively growing.

Lagerstroemia indica, crape myrtle, originated in Asia, and has been extensively hybridized and introduced, especially in the South. There are a number of species of the Prunus genus (from Botany. com), including plums, cherries and peach. Only a few, including Prunus caroliniana (Cherry laurel), Prunus mexicana (Mexican plum), and Prunus serotina var. eximia (Escarpment black cherry) grow natively in Central Texas. Prunus persica is believed to originate in China and needs a more acid soil than we have here. In addition to those native Prunus species, there are Cercis canadensis var. texensis (Texas redbud) and Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon), all of which are shrubs that can be trained into trees. They will not have such an invasive root structure as a tree, but still need to be placed far away enough from other features in your yard that their branches will not impinge on space needed for outfoor recreation, etc.

While these smaller native trees may not grow up to be the lovely old shade tree with a tire swing in it, none of which you have room for, they will be fairly rapid growers and will cast some shade and some cooling influence on your front yard. Be sure and follow each plant link to learn about that particular tree/shrub. If you hurry, you might still be able to plant these shrubs now, before it gets any hotter. Ordinarily, we suggest planting woody plants in Central Texas in winter or very early Spring. From North Dakota State University Extension, we consider this article on Transplanting Trees and Shrubs one of the best. We would only add that you should work some compost into the dirt you return to the hole for the tree to assist in good drainage and permitting the tiny new rootlets to access nutrients in the soil.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:

Prunus caroliniana

Prunus caroliniana

Prunus mexicana

Prunus mexicana

Prunus serotina var. eximia

Prunus serotina var. eximia

Cercis canadensis var. texensis

Cercis canadensis var. texensis




More Trees Questions

Problems with Live Oak in Boerne TX
April 24, 2011 - I had my large Live Oak trimmed last year. This spring there seems to be a problem with leaf growth. Most leaves are small in nature and appear to have been attacked possibly by bugs. Many of the bran...
view the full question and answer

Source for Hickory in Texas
March 25, 2015 - I'm looking for a nursery in Texas that sells hickory trees. I've used your supplier links and gone through many, many websites of suppliers. However, the only nut tree anyone sells is pecan. I'...
view the full question and answer

What's causing holes in trunk of white oak tree in SouthBend IN?
June 10, 2013 - We have a huge White Oak in our backyard that is approx. 130 years old. This evening I became aware that there are several small holes around the trunk that appear to be oozing a dark sappy liquid. ...
view the full question and answer

Yellowing foliage on a lemon cypress from St. Charles MO
May 22, 2011 - I recently received a lemon cypress tree as a gift. After about a month we transplanted it outside and the foliage turned from a light green to a yellow color. Is this normal? The tree doesn't app...
view the full question and answer

Trees for home in Kansas
April 01, 2012 - I am needing help planting trees in my yard. It's a new construction home and I would like a tree that won't get into the septic system easily. Also, I have to plant 3 other trees as well due to the...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center