En EspaŅol
Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Mr. Smarty Plants - Trees for shade in Austin

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

Rocky Mountain Juniper Grazed by Deer
April 29, 2013 - I have four Colorado red cedar (Juniperus scopulorum). The deer have eaten from their height down. Now these narrow top to bottom evergreens have only tops left. Will the bottom fill in if I protect t...
view the full question and answer

Difficulty of watering at drip line of trees from The Woodlands TX
August 18, 2011 - I'm watering my couple dozen native mature trees to make sure they survive this drought and its aftermath..and I'm reading about how to water at the drip line. But..all of my trees' drip lines ext...
view the full question and answer

Need help diagnosing a problem with Bur Oak in Plano, TX
April 28, 2010 - I planted a bur oak 8 or 9 years ago. It has grown beautifully until this year. When opening, the leaves are very small (a couple inches) and there are lots of seeds (catkins?). I would hate to los...
view the full question and answer

Cold tolerance of Anacacho Orchid Tree (Bauhinia lunarioides)
January 13, 2010 - I live in Austin, and I'm considering planting an Anacacho Orchid Tree. How cold tolerant is it? Would the tree have been damaged in the recent 18 degree temperatures we experienced?
view the full question and answer

Apples, pears and geraniums in Kipling, Saskatchewan
March 30, 2013 - My geranium's leaves became yellow - Why? Where can I buy a good nice apple tree? Will apples and pears grow in south Saskatchewan?
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