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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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Thursday - February 23, 2012

From: Lubbock, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Planting, Grasses or Grass-like, Herbs/Forbs, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Plantings for beneath a red oak in Lubbock TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

What would you recommend to plant in a two tiered raised bed facing west, totally blocked from the east, thus receiving only the afternoon sun? A 21 year old red oak sits in the middle of the upper raised bed.

ANSWER:

We're having a little trouble visualizing a two-tiered raised bed with a red oak in the top tier. The best we can figure, there are a whole lot of oak roots and shade in the bottom tier. We'll try to get you started looking at plants in our Native Plant Database and maybe that will help you make your own selection. We must tell you the the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Mr. Smarty Plants will recommend only plants native not only to North America but also to Lubbock County, because native plants can better survive environmental conditions and require less in resources, like water.

First, watch the area you are dealing with for a few days to determine how much sunlight it actually gets. It may be facing a way that gets sun all afternoon, but how about the shade from the tree or other plantings or structures? We consider full sun to be 6 hours or more of sun a day, part shade to be 2 to 6 hours of sun and shade, less than 2 hours of sun.

Now, let's start looking at some examples of plants that might work for you. You probably don't want another tree in front of the red oak that is already there, so we could start with some shrubs. Using our Native Plant Database and, using the Combination Search, select on Texas, then shrub under Habit or General Appearance, soil moisture dry and the amount of sun you calculated for where you will be planting. Since you probably don't want something growing high enough to interfere with the tree behind the shrubs, select an approximate height for the mature height of the plant in front of the tree.

From our Special Collections, we have a list of plants native to the Rolling Plains, which we believe Lubbock County belongs to. Read the paragraph at the top of the page to learn about the soils you probably have. Since there seems to be a good deal of clay in your soil, we would suggest you prepare any bed with compost or even decomposed granite to improve the drainage, so you won't have roots drowning and rotting. The compost will also help make the nutrients and water in the soil accessible to the tiny little rootlets on which the whole plant depends. To help you understand how to use these lists for yourself, we are going to search on several habit (herbaceous blooming plants, shrubs, succulents, etc) on this Rolling Plains list, and make a suggestion from each. You can follow each plant link to our webpage on that plant and find out what is the expected mature height, bloom times and color, water and light needs, etc. At the bottom of that page is a link to Google on that plant to help you search for more information and pictures of the plant you are considering.

Just coincidentally, we searched for the common name "red oak" on our Native Plant Database and found ten species with "red oak" in their common name, none of which appeared as growing natively in Lubbock County. This USDA Plant Profile map shows Quercus buckleyi (Texas red oak) growing in Lamb County in the Panhandle and in various other counties in Central and East Texas. But since it IS growing there, we will just use that species of oak as an example. We learned that it can grow as tall as 75 ft., blooms red March to June, and tolerates part shade and alkaline soil. So, when we look at possibilities to go with that tree, we will look for the same characteristics:

Small tree for Lubbock County: We found only one tree in this category, Zanthoxylum hirsutum (Texas hercules' club), which grows to 6 to 12 ft., tolerates alkaline and caliche soils as well as part shade.

Shrub for Lubbock County: Amorpha canescens (Leadplant)

Herbaceous blooming plant for Lubbock County: Melampodium leucanthum (Blackfoot daisy)

Succulent for Lubbock County: Yucca glauca var. glauca (Narrow-leaf yucca)

 

From the Image Gallery


Texas hercules' club
Zanthoxylum hirsutum

Leadplant
Amorpha canescens

Blackfoot daisy
Melampodium leucanthum

Texas sacahuista
Nolina texana

Narrow-leaf yucca
Yucca glauca var. glauca

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