En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Saturday - July 30, 2011

From: Evanston, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Planting annuals around young oak in Evanston IL
Answered by: Barbara Medford


is it OK to plant annuals (i.e. salvias, impatiens or dusty millers) around the base of a young oak tree (2-3 years old)?


Sure, it's okay, but you need to remember that the health of your oak tree is your first consideration, as it is much more valuable than annual plants. First of all, don't do your planting too close to the trunk of the tree-a couple feet out in all directions would be about right. We assume you are planning to put in bedding plants; be careful digging them in because you don't want to destroy any tree roots. You might want to mulch the plants to help hold moisture in and, as it decomposes, it will add organic matter to the soil. Do not get the mulch up against the tree trunk, this will encourage insects and fungi.

We gave you the good news, here is the bad news. Oaks are not happy to have competition in their territory. Your annuals will probably be all right for a while, because oaks develop this dislike for competition as they get older and larger. Just about everyone knows you can't plant anything under a black walnut tree, because the tree emits juglones, which are substances that damage other plants around the tree. Oak trees don't do juglones, but they are capable of allelopathy, and the substance they emit can be in the soil, the roots, the bark or the fallen leaves. If the plants you put in refuse to prosper, we would recommend planting somewhere else. If you continue to fight the tree's animosity for competition, you will just be wasting resources, and could even damage the tree in the process.

And, of course, as the tree grows larger, you need to consider the shade. Very few blooming plants will bloom well in shade. The bigger the tree, the more shade.


More Trees Questions

Which plants are resistant to dog urine in Ashmore, IL??
May 21, 2012 - Which native plants are resistant to dogs urinating on them?
view the full question and answer

Trees failing to prosper from Denham Spring LA
December 23, 2013 - I live in Louisiana. Out of all of the native trees that we grow, there are two in particular that always struggle no matter what the conditions are in which they grow. The first one, sassafras, is ...
view the full question and answer

Re-landscaping neglected garden in Franklin CT
April 03, 2011 - I am starting from scratch in a yard that has no planting beds or, for that matter, plants at all. House was vacant for quite some time, grass was three feet tall when we moved in. I would like to p...
view the full question and answer

Further explanation of retaining walls and trees from Washington MO
March 11, 2013 - I had a question previously about putting retaining walls across the root system of a 40' tall bald cypress tree(not like spokes on a wheel, but concentric to tree trunk). How wide can the walls be? ...
view the full question and answer

Identification of tree blooming in Austin with yellow balls
March 21, 2012 - What is the tree/large shrub that is blooming now (mid-March) in the Austin area? It has small mesquite-type leaves, round yellow balls with fuzz on them and is fragrant. Thanks!
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center