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Sunday - May 08, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Protecting base of Texas Madrone tree in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

3 years ago, I successfully transplanted a 1-gallon Texas Madrone on the north side of an Ashe Juniper. The Madrone is thriving but the juniper, which has been a great "nurse", is dying. I am looking for suggestions for plants that will shade the base of the Madrone. I'm thinking I need plants that grow fairly rapidly; so far only Morella cerifera has come to mind. I welcome your suggestions.

ANSWER:

By coincidence, this particular member of the Mr. Smarty Plants team was touring some people around the Wildflower Center this week and observed one of the Arbutus xalapensis (Texas madrone) on-site at the Center. Because we had your question in mind, we looked it over to see what was there. Actually, there was nothing directly shading its base, which happened to be in full sun when we were there. However, it was in a corner of a wooden fence, with some low-growing perennials fairly close by, and more trees a little farther. This was a mature tree, and gorgeous, with the red bark and a curving trunk, so you are probably right that your smaller tree still needs some protection.

Then, on the Wildflower Center Garden Tour, we were greeting people at a property on the Tour that had madrone trees down in a canyon at the base of a slope. The advice from the owner of that property was "don't do a thing." Madrones don't like any disturbance, are difficult to propagate from seed and resistant to being transplanted. The madrones in the second place had come up voluntarily from seed. One of the Center horticulturists said to just leave the framework of the cedar for as long as possible, that would cast some shade, and not cause any meddling with the madrone.

And, finally, we all agreed that planting a wax myrtle there would not be the best idea. A wax myrtle is a fine, evergreen plant, but requires more water than the madrone. Having excess water in the vicinity might affect the madrone negatively and, again, digging a hole to plant a shrub of any kind would be dangerous for the madrone roots.

For more information, here is a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer on propagation of the madrone.

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