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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.

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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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Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

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Friday - May 25, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Planting, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Need options for smaller trees in neighborhoods in Austin, TX.
Answered by: Jimmy Mills

QUESTION:

Please discuss smaller tree options for typical Austin neighborhood yards. These houses are built close together on the sides, and only have smallish back yards. They just don't have space for big 50+ foot trees or shrubs that develop big girths. The trees need to be "child and animal friendly," i.e. NON-poisonous and without thorns. We need evergreens, but would also like one or two flowering trees. Seems like everything I've researched has problems - it's invasive or brittle-limbed, highly flammable, or they won't tolerate our caliche soil or handle a freeze. I don't mind research, but after months of it, I'm totally discouraged. Can you help? Thank you so much for your time.

ANSWER:

Let me begin by stating that the mission of the Ladybird Johnson Wild Flower Center is to increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and landscapes. This idea is more fully explained in our article  “Why Native Plants”  on the About Us page. Native plants are more likely to be adapted to the local soil and weather and less likely to be invasive.

I don’t know what resources you have researched, but I am going to suggest four that Mr. Smarty Plants finds useful. You may have used some of these before.

Lets begin with our Native Plant Database and the Recommended Species List.  Click on Central Texas on the map, and you will get a list of 156 commercially available native plant species suitable for planned landscapes in Central Texas. Since we are only interested in trees for now, let’s  go to the Narrow Your Search box to the right of the screen and make  the following selections; select Texas under State, Trees under General Appearance, and Perennial under Lifespan. Check Sun under Light requirement, Dry under Soil Moisture, and 12 - 36 under Height. Click the Narrow Your Search button, and you will get a list of 12 species that fit these criteria. Clicking on the scientific name of each species will bring up its NPIN profile page that has information about the plant's characteristics and growth requirements, and in most cases pictures. You will see that several of these plants have showy flowers, but some have thorns, and some have toxic properties. So use caution in your selection.
Scroll down to ADDITIONAL RESOURCES near the bottom of the page, and click on the plant name beside USDA. This will bring up the USDA Profile page for the plant with a distribution map at about the middle of the page. Click on Texas and it will show you the counties in Texas where the plant occurs.

Another source comes from the Texas Forest Service. This is an interactive site that has the Express Tree Selector and the Custom Tree Selector which help pick a tree that fits into the space you have available. It is very well illustrated.  However, some of the trees that are listed are non natives.

A third source for your consideration is Native and Adapted Landscape Plants produced by the City of Austin Urban Forestry Program. Scroll down to Native Tree and Plant Guide under Urban Forest. The guide’s Index indicates that it contains informations about plants that include trees, small trees /large shrubs, perennials, etc. all the way to turf, plus a section on invasives. It also has information about the plant’s nativity, water requirements, whether it is evergreen or deciduous, and if it is deer resistant. There is a lot of information here.

A final source  of information is  an article entitled Tree Selection from treesaregood.com . The article provides a series of considerations to examine when deciding to plant a tree and determining which tree to plant.

We hope these sources will prove helpful, and you can go forward with your landscaping plans.

 

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