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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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Thursday - April 28, 2011

From: Bedias, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Need a tree to replace a large oak tree that may be dying in Bedias TX.
Answered by: Jimmy Mills

QUESTION:

I live in Bedias, TX in Grimes County. One of the largest oak trees on my property looks like it's dying. It's simply not leafing out well. I literally can't afford for this to happen since I depend on it to shade my home from a very hot and direct sun exposure. What fast-growing, significant shade tree can I plant near this old one that will take up the slack should my now-existing tree pass? (The Empress Tree sounded like a dream until I read your critique.) Your response is greatly appreciated.

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants thinks that early on, you need to learn what is happening with your oak tree as this knowledge will help you make subsequent decisions. You didn’t mention the species of oak, but when we hear the words “dying” and “oak tree” in the same sentence, oak wilt comes to mind. Here are two links from the Texas Forest Service  (#1), (#2) with a lot of useful information on oak wilt. The folks at the Grimes County Office of Texas AgriLife Extension can also offer some assistance.

As for tree selection, the Texas Forest Service’s Texas Tree Planting Guide  is a useful tool that is fun to use, and lets you learn about tree characteristics, sizes, and growth rates. By choosing different criteria, you can come up with several lists of trees that could meet your needs. When the tree planting guide says that the growth rate for a tree is rapid, that means that you might get growth of 2 - 3 feet per year
To augment the information that you get from the Planting Guide, you can go to our Native Plant Database.  For example, if one of the trees that is recommended is the Bur Oak, go to the Search native plant Database box and type in Bur Oak. Click the “GO” button and the NPIN page for Quercus macrocarpa (Bur oak) will come up with a description of the plant plus other information.

Another approach is to go to the Recommended Species list and click East Texas on the map. This will bring up a list of 133 commercially available native plant species suitable for planned landscapes in East Texas. Go  to the Narrow Your Search box on the right side of the screen, and make the following selections: select Texas under State, Tree under General Appearance, and Perennial under Lifespan. Check Sun under light requirement, and moist under Soil Moisture and then click the Narrow Your Search button. The list has shrunk to 13 species that meet these criteria. Clicking on the scientific name of each plant species will bring up its NPIN page which contains a description of the plant, its characteristics, growth requirements, and photos. Between the Tree Planting Guide and the Native Plant Database, you should come up with a nice list of trees from which to choose. Going to our National Suppliers Directory can help you find businesses that sell these trees in your area.

In regards to the Empress Tree (Paulownia tormentosa), you can find people who sing its praises as well as many who have only bad things to say about it. It is a native of China, and was introduced into the US in the 1800’s  when its seeds were used as packing material in shipping containers of Chinese dinnerware being sent to this country. Once unpacked the, tiny wind-blown seeds germinated widely in the eastern US.  Other sources say that it was introduced from Europe in the 1800’s for ornamental plantings and as material for wood carving. Regardless of how the tree got here, it is listed as an invasive species in 10 states, mostly in the southeast.

Since the mission of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is to increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and landscapes, we do not recommend planting the Empress Tree as an ornamental in the US.

  

 

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