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Sunday - July 10, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Pests, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Replacement for non-native Italian Cypress in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I would appreciate your assistance with some native plant options to replace Italian Cypress trees in the Arboretum area of Austin, TX. I have 12 of the trees on the north side of the house to obstruct a flood control ditch in Great Hills neighborhood. The trees are the height of the second story of our home (25-30 feet tall). We have been battling red spider mites for quite a few years. The mites may not be killing the trees, but the trees really do not look good. When we planted the trees 12 years ago, we did not know about the problem with the red spider mites. Can you please provide several native plant options (that get as tall) we could consider planting as replacements to these trees this fall? Thank you!


We have had questions from all over concerning the spider mite situation in members of the Conifer family, including our own Ashe Junipers, known locally as cedars. We have been told by people specializing in this sort of problem that the conifers in Central Texas are under so much stress because of the heat and the drought, the spider mites are doing a great deal of damage. It is not necessarily that there are more spider mites this year, but that the stressed trees are unable to grow healthy foliage back quickly enough to hide the mites' damage.

Another problem for your Cupressus sempervirens, of course, is that it is not native to North America and certainly not to Central Texas. It needs fertile soil with good drainage. Our area is predominantly a heavy clay (along with the solid limestone), alkaline in pH and very poor drainage. This sort of situation is one of the reasons 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 area in which they are being grown.

If you are looking for foot-by-foot near replicas of your trees, we really are at a loss. All of the conifers are going to be prone to the same problems you already have. Something that tall will be unstable in the ground and liable to wind damage, as in simply being pushed over in the high winds we have so often. There are very few trees or shrubs that will grow that tall and in a conical shape without extensive pruning and shaping which, on a 25 to 30 foot tall tree would be something of a challenge.

When you say you want to "obstruct" a flood control ditch, we are assuming you mean obstruct the view. Since there is not much likelihood of finding a plant that will give you the "wall" effect you have now, may we suggest a more informal solution? A row of trees and shrubs, some evergreen, some deciduous, some flowering and  different heights and widths would give the effect of a woodland, pleasant to look at on both sides, and effectively blocking out or softening the view of the ditch. We are going to offer a list of trees and shrubs native to Central Texas, and you can follow each plant link on that list to our webpage on that plant for expected size, bloom time and color, moisture and light needs. One of the main reasons for a mix of plantings is that when you have a monoculture, as you do now, the same pest or disease that gets into one plant will get into them all, and rather than replacing one shrub or tree that is diseased you will have to take them all out.

We suggest you engage a landscape consultant, if you have not already done so, both for taking down the existing trees and for preparing the bed and replanting the new trees. They no doubt will have suggestions of their own, but we urge you to adhere to plants native to this area. And, please, don't purchase nor plant any woody plants until at least November, preferably January. The plants will be in near dormancy then, and with any luck, the rains may have come back, because they are going to need a lot of water until they are established.

We will go to our Recommended Species section, click on Central Texas on the map, for which we will get a list of 156 plants native to this area. Going to the right-hand sidebar on the page, we will select first on "trees" under General Appearance, which will yield a list of 33, and then "shrubs," giving us a list of 28. We did not indicate Light Requirements or Soil Moisture on either, but you can narrow the selections down by doing so. Follow each plant link to our webpage on that plant to learn its growing conditions, water and light needs, projected height, bloom time and color and other facts that will help you in making your selection. We are going to give you a few suggestions, but now that you have the hang of our Native Plant Database, you can make your own searches and selections.

Trees for Austin:

Cercis canadensis var. texensis (Texas redbud)

Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow)

Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon)

Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain laurel)

Shrubs for Austin;

Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii (Flame acanthus)

Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry)

Eysenhardtia texana (Texas kidneywood)

Leucophyllum frutescens (Cenizo)


From the Image Gallery

Texas redbud
Cercis canadensis var. texensis

Desert willow
Chilopsis linearis

Ilex vomitoria

Texas mountain laurel
Sophora secundiflora

Flame acanthus
Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii

American beautyberry
Callicarpa americana

Texas kidneywood
Eysenhardtia texana

Leucophyllum frutescens

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