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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.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - April 05, 2011

From: Plano, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants
Title: Tropical plants for pool landscape in Plano TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have a small yard with a pool that I would like to tropically landscape. It faces west (lots of direct sun) and there is about a 3 foot parameter between the fence and the coping. Currently I have 4 windmill palms (lost my mexican palm last year due to all the snow). I would like to fill it with plants to surround the pool and give it a more (filled in) jungle type look. I have had my pool for 10 years and continually have to replant things. Also, I have a Bradford Pear Tree in a small grassy area next to my house and I can't seem to get grass to grow there. I have tried St. Augustine & Bermuda and it never takes off. I do have two dogs who use that area as well .. not sure if that's the problem. Any advice/help you could give me would be greatly appreciated! I can supply pictures of the yard if that will help.

ANSWER:

Maybe you just can't get there from here. We have to be honest with you, we may not be able to help you very much. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is dedicated to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the areas in which those plants grow natively. There are very few "tropical" plants that are native to North America and those are mostly confined to Southern California, South Florida and perhaps the very southern tip of Texas. Most so-called tropicals are hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 10 to 11. Collin County, on the north central edge of Texas, is in Zone 7b, which can produce temperatures down to zero, as you no doubt know. So, in a way, you found the answer to your own problem, that you had to replant your pool area continually.

This Floridata article on Trachycarpus fortunei, Windmill Palm, will give you some more information on it, including that it is native to Southeast Asia, and prefers part shade and rich soil. Another Floridata article on Washingtonia robusta says it is native to northern Mexico and naturalized in Florida and California. Both of the palms are referred to as "cold-hardy" palms, but Florida cold is probably not the same as Texas cold. The article on Mexican palm also says it is not suitable for small residential gardens, as it gets very big and has those hanging fronds down the trunk that are a fire hazard and a nice place for things like rats to hide.

We would suggest that you stop fighting nature, and let Texas look like Texas. If you go to our Recommended Species section and click on North Central Texas on the map, you will get a list of 105 plants that are native to your area and well adapted to your temperatures, rainfall and soils by millennia of experience.

On to your other questions about the Bradford Pear and the problems with grass under the tree and under the dogs' feet. For openers, none of the three - tree, St. Augustine nor bermudagrass - are native to North America, and bermudagrass has become one of the most invasive weeds in the South. From Dave's Garden, you might want to read this article on Pyrus calleryana: Bradford Pear, To Plant or Not to Plant?

Then, the grass, the shade and the dogs. Here is a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer on that subject. You may have to choose, What comes first, tree, grass or dogs?

 

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