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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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Saturday - July 09, 2011

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant, Herbs/Forbs, Trees
Title: Plants for under live oak in Houston
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Hi, We have a live oak in our back garden in Houston and would like to plant a combination of some native shrubs and flowers near it (preferably perennial). The garden bed is about 4 metres from the base of the oak but is still under the tree canopy and is mostly in shade. Please can you advise which native plants would do well in this environment? Thanks very much!

ANSWER:

Of course, you already know that you need shade-tolerant plants, but let us tell you a little bit more about planting under a live oak. We get lots and lots of questions about plants not growing under trees and/or what plants will grow under trees. Let us refer you to a previous Mr. Smarty Plants question to keep from repeating ourselves.  Then we will suggest some shade tolerant plants native to South Texas that might do all right, but we hope you remember that the tree is probably more valuable than anything else you might plant. You may need to modify your expectations, move the shrubs, etc. farther away from the oak, or even cover the ground under the oak with mulch. The mulch is attractive, helps keeps weeds down, protects the roots from heat or cold, depending on the weather and, as the mulch decomposes, improves the soil beneath the tree.

On our Recommended Species page, we have some lists of plants just for Texans. You are in the Gulf Prairies and Marshes ecosystem in Texas. When you go to that list, you will find 296 plants that are native there. By using the sidebar on the right hand side of the page, you can select on "shrub" under General Appearance, then "part shade" (2 to 6 hours of sun a day) and "shade" (less than 2 hours of sun) under Light Requirements, then Narrow Your Search. This will give you a list of 35 possibilities; you can repeat the procedure using "herb" (herbaceous blooming plant) under General Appearance, which will result in 74 selections. Follow each plant link to our webpage on that plant to learn bloom time and color, soil needs, projected height, water use and so forth. We are going to give you some suggestions and you can go from there finding the right plants for you.

Herbaceous Blooming Plants for Houston:

Echinacea purpurea (Eastern purple coneflower)

Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal flower)

Osmunda cinnamomea (Cinnamon fern)

Phlox pilosa (Downy phlox)

Shrubs for Houston:

Erythrina herbacea (Coralbean)

Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf hydrangea)

Malpighia glabra (Acerola)

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (Coralberry)

 

From the Image Gallery


Eastern purple coneflower
Echinacea purpurea

Cardinal flower
Lobelia cardinalis

Cinnamon fern
Osmunda cinnamomea

Downy phlox
Phlox pilosa

Coralbean
Erythrina herbacea

Oakleaf hydrangea
Hydrangea quercifolia

Barbados cherry
Malpighia glabra

Coralberry
Symphoricarpos orbiculatus

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