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Wednesday - April 13, 2011

From: Rockwall, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shrubs
Title: Trees and shrubs for Rockwall, TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Hi! I've been advised to contact you regarding my dilemma. Please rsvp asap. I'm ready to plant. 1)I have a small backyard with full, hot, Dallas sun and cold winters, many times below freezing. I'm looking for a "pretty" tree, small for my small 40 or 45x 70' backyard. The nurseries have not been helpful and all the trees I like they say won't do well. I need advice .what looks pretty and flowering and may give a bit of shade..I've been told maybe Goldentree (but I need it small), Texas Buckeye, Nyssa-sylvatica black tupelo, eastern redbud, maybe some type of maple. Can you help? The soil is terrible, clay like soil. (Also--same question for flowering shrubs about 4-7 feet tall..) I NEED help!

ANSWER:

ASAP, when Mr. Smarty Plants is in the middle of the Spring rush, is not always possible, but we will try to help you. You can answer all these questions for yourself by learning to use our Native Plant Database. Since we promise we are not trying to sell you something, you can probably judge better for yourself. First of all, 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. A plant native to an area has been accustomed by millennia of experience to the climate, rainfall and soil conditions in that area and will be able to grow with less water and fertilizer, thus preserving valuable resources, like money and time. This means you want to find plants that are native to North Central Texas in USDA Hardiness Zone 7b, and probably in a clayey, slightly alkaline soil.

We will begin by addressing the trees you mention to see which might suit your purposes.

Goldentree - we found no plant, native or non-native by this common name. Perhaps Leucaena retusa (Goldenball leadtree)? This is a very nice tree native to Texas, presently blooming on the grounds of the Wildflower Center; however, according to this USDA Plant Profile Map, it doesn't grow anywhere near North Central Texas and is much better suited to the Edwards Plateau, West Texas and New Mexico.

Nyssa sylvatica (Blackgum) - according to the USDA Plant Profile, this comes closer to growing natively where you are. You should follow the plant link and go to our database to read all about its growing conditions. We would especially like to quote this from the Growing Conditions:

"Conditions Comments: This is a wide-ranging tree, found in a variety of habitats, so plants of local ecotype are necessary to ensure success. It is slow-growing. This species tolerates drier sites than N. aquatica and also tolerates poor drainage. Black gum transplants poorly due to a fleshy, non-fibrous root system. Move up to 4 in. caliper trees in the spring before onset of growth. Black gum does not age gracefully and is occasionally troubled by insect and disease problems." Whether this would be acceptable, only you can decide.

Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud) is shown on this USDA Plant Profile as growing in your part of the state. There is also the Cercis canadensis var. texensis (Texas redbud), which is shown as growing in about the same place in Texas. You should read both pages, following the links, on these two trees to see if there is anything which counter-indicates their growth in your area. The following paragraph pretty well sums up the differences (if any) in the two:

"Three geographic varieties are recognized, with Cercis canadensis var. canadensis properly referred to as Eastern Redbud and occurring from the Atlantic coast to central Texas. It reaches the largest size, requires the most water, and has larger, less glossy leaves than the other varieties. Variety texensis, Texas Redbud, has smaller, glossier leaves with slightly wavy edges, a generally smaller form, and more of a tendency to have red seedpods than variety canadensis. It ranges from Oklahoma south through central Texas to northeastern Mexico. The smallest variety is C. canadensis var. mexicana, Mexican Redbud, with small, very glossy, wavy-edged leaves and a smaller, shrubbier stature than the others, occurring in west Texas and adjacent Mexico. All varieties are popular as ornamentals because of their brilliant early spring flowers, displayed en masse on the bare branches before the plant has leafed out. The flowers can be eaten as a salad or fried."

We will show you how to evaluate or get growing conditions on various plants by using the "some sort of maple" as an example: First, go to our Native Plant Database, and in the Combination Search section, select on Texas and "tree" under General Appearance. You can also select on the amount of sun, soil moisture and so forth; click on "Submit Combination Search". Then, you will get a list of the trees that grow natively in Texas. These are listed alphabetically by genus and then species. Acer is the genus name of maples, and you find a list of 11 members of the Acer genus that are native to the whole state of Texas, which has many different climates and habitat types. Another way to search is to go to our Recommended Species. Click on North Central Texas on the map, which will give you a list of 105 plants of all types that are native to North Central Texas. On the sidebar on the right-hand side of that page, select on "tree" under General Appearance, and Narrow Your Search. This will yield a list of 30 trees native to North Texas, of which only one maple, Acer negundo (Ash-leaf maple), is native to North Central Texas, and this USDA Plant profile map bears out the fact that it does grow in your area. Be sure and follow the plant link to that page and see if that is really the tree you would consider.

So, if none of those trees will work for you, go back through the routine above of finding the 30 recommended species of tree suitable for North Central Texas. Of those, we found these that we liked:

Diospyros texana (Texas persimmon)

Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon)

Prunus mexicana (Mexican plum)

Ungnadia speciosa (Mexican buckeye)

Now, on to the flowering shrubs. Use the same procedure, except put "shrub" under General Appearance, and then read the resulting pages to see which fit your specifications. We like:

Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii (Flame acanthus)

Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry)

Mahonia swaseyi (Texas barberry)

 Salvia greggii (Autumn sage)

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:

 

 

 

 

 

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