Explore Plants

Share

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
    
 

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
2 ratings

Friday - January 27, 2012

From: Llano, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Propagation, Trees
Title: Can trees survive if trunks are buried under 3-5 ft of soil?
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

We have two cedar elms and a mesquite that I protected from backfill as our Texas Hill Country lot was leveled in preparation for building a house. The bulkheads are now holding back 3' to 5' of material. The yard is contoured such that runoff flows into these containments and the trees have survived the above average moisture of '09/'10 winter and drought conditions since then. Am I committed to maintaining the bulkheads "forever" or are there alternatives?

ANSWER:

According to all the arborists I have consulted you do indeed need to maintain these bulkheads to assure your trees' good health.  Tree trunks and roots need a good supply of oxygen, and this is threatened by a thick cover of soil over the tree's base.  It is true that different tree species differ in their ability to withstand stress. Ulmus crassifolia (Cedar elm) is generally very stress tolerant, and Prosopis glandulosa (Honey mesquite) will also survive many stresses (but not chronically wet soil).  However, without sufficient soil oxygen growth is likely to gradually decrease, perhaps over several years, and it is likely that the trees will finally die. 

You might consider constructing or purchasing a metal or wooden platform surrounding the tree trunks at the current ground level to disguise the cavity below. In the case of your mesquite, some diversion of runoff or drainage from the cavity should be put in place to prevent lengthy soil saturation after rains.

Some creek bottom tree species, such as Taxodium distichum (Bald cypress) and Juglans microcarpa (Little walnut), have evolved to survive being buried beneath several feet of gravel deposited by storm water.  If you are a gambler and determined to level the yard you can try to copy that scenario.  Place two or three open two-inch pipes vertically in each containment and then fill the containment with coarse gravel.  This will maintain a somewhat aerobic environment at the base of the tree.  Prevent fine soil from being washed into the gravel by runoff.  There is certainly no guarantee that this will satisfy the tree's needs for oxygen.  One way to monitor the health of your trees is to compare the length of new twigs added each growing season with that of twigs on comparable trees not buried.  If twig growth is sharply decreased steps must be taken to achieve better aeration.

Good luck in solving your problem!

 

More Propagation Questions

Starting transplants of native Pleopeltis polypodioides
January 15, 2009 - I would like to know how to start Pleopeltis polypodioides (resurrection fern) growing in my oak trees. I have a source for the plants but do not know how to start the transplants on the limbs of the...
view the full question and answer

Making Ruellia nudiflora thicker in pot from Tucson AZ
June 25, 2012 - Can Ruellia Nudiflora be propagated in the same pot as the parent plant? Can it be cut back to stimulate a denser plant? I have plants in several pots and would like to 'thicken' the plant. Tha...
view the full question and answer

Rooting hybrid Savannah Holly from cuttings from Gainesville FL
March 04, 2011 - I need instructions on rooting the Savannah Holly from cuttings. I understand that seedlings will not be true to the parent..is this true? Please help. What type of soil mix should I use?
view the full question and answer

Redbud tree propagated from root sprouts in Greenwood IN
June 20, 2009 - Our Red Bud tree broke down to ground level and before we dug up the root several new sprouts have started growing out of it and all around the perimeter(they are approx. 4" high). My question is, c...
view the full question and answer

Propagation of non-native Selenicereus Antonyanus from Warwick RI
March 24, 2012 - I just purchased a Selenicereus Anthonyanus, Rick Rack Cactus unrooted. I have searched on the web of the proper way to root the plant and have had no luck except it says easy rooting but not how to r...
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.