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?

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
    
 
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

Sunday - May 20, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Shade Tolerant, Trees
Title: Trees for shade in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I live in Austin and I am looking for a good tree to plant under a large live oak I have in my backyard. Something slow-growing of course and, the garden only gets late day sun for about an hour. Filtered sun only before that. I have always liked the Japanese Maples but wonder if they will survive the heat or maybe you have a better suggestion(s). Thank you!!

ANSWER:

First things first: no planting of any tree now. We recommend that woody plants, trees and shrubs be planted in cold weather, from November to January, when the plants are dormant, and less likely to be damaged by the process of planting.

Second, planting anything under a live oak would be dangerous to both the incoming tree and the live oak. Damaging the live oak in the process of planting could leave it open to being infected with disease. And being planted under an oak will be two strikes against the incoming plant. 1. Oaks are capable of allelopathy, whereby they emit substances to discourage competition beneath them. These substances can be in the bark, the leaves or the soil. 2. An hour of sun is not going to sustain any tree, most need sun (6 hours or more of sun a day or part shade (2 to 6 hours of sun a day).

On the subject of Japanese maples, they are (surprise) native to Japan, as well as North and South Korea, China, Mongolia and Russia. From East Texas Gardening, here is an article Japanese Maples by Keith Hansen of the Smith County Extension Office. Here is an excerpt from that article: "East Texas has great conditions for growing these Asian beauties – much more favorable than the rest of the State. Our normally sufficient rainfall, acidic soils, and definite 4 seasons combine to provide great conditions for growing one of the most exotic groups of ornamental trees." That part about sufficient rainfall and acidic soils doesn't sound much like Austin, does it?

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is dedicated to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North American but to the area in which they are being grown. The reason for this is conservation of resources. You can purchase a non-native plant, spend a great deal of time and money fertilizing, watering and treating for disease and still watch the plant die.

We are going to go to our Native Plant Database and, using the Combination Search, will search on Texas, low soil moisture, height of 6 to 12 ft, and shade under Light Requirements, just to see what kind of result you might get. There were exactly two:

Hamamelis virginiana (Witch hazel) - USDA Plant Profile map showing this only grows in a few counties in far southeast Texas

Ilex verticillata (Common winterberry) - USDA Plant Profile map, one teeny-tiny spot in Orange Co. Texas on the southeast Gulf Coast.

So, scratch that. You might consider, if you are absolutely determined to plant something under that tree, going to our Recommended Species, click on Central Texas on the map, and then put in whatever characteristics, like light requirements, height, etc. that you want. Any plants you get on that search should be able to live in Central Texas. Whether they can survive that Live Oak trying to wipe them out is another question.

If you give up on that, how about a xeric bed of either decomposed granite, small gravel or shredded bark mulch under that tree? No watering, no fertilizing, no worries about sun or allelopathy.

 

 

 

 

More Trees Questions

Why do my Possumhaw Holly berries fall of in the summer in Euless, TX?
June 28, 2011 - My possumhaw holly has LOTS of green berries in the spring but they fall off in summer, so that I have only a handful of red berries in the winter. What is going wrong?
view the full question and answer

Evergreen replacement for liveoaks with oak wilt in Austin
January 26, 2008 - One day after moving into our very first home and first home in Texas (just north of the Wildflower center in Sendera Southwest Austin) we discovered that all of our Live Oaks have Oak Wilt. After tre...
view the full question and answer

Natural Privacy Planting for New Jersey
October 09, 2013 - I have a question about privacy plantings in New Jersey (Monmouth County). We have a wooden fence around the perimeter of backyard with some various older trees. We wanted to start anew and wanted to ...
view the full question and answer

Trouble with live oak in McKinney, TX
June 13, 2013 - We moved into a suburban home with a live oak tree with a trunk diameter of about 50". I noticed recently how yellow the leaves look compared to the other live oak in the yard. There is not a pattern...
view the full question and answer

Sun-scorched Cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana)
June 24, 2009 - I live in south Central Texas 30 miles north of San Antonio. I am looking for a good evergreen hedge plant that once established will not die if I forget to water it a few days and is deer resistant....
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.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center