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?


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

Saturday - September 01, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Planting, Trees
Title: Disagreement on amending soil for planting from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


In today's newspaper column, you answered a question about transplanting a redbud. You said to follow the instructions on the WFC web site, except you recommended adding compost to the backfill soil. As an arborist for 20 years, I have been taught repeatedly and consistently that amended backfill creates a challenge for the plant because disparate soil types drain at different rates, making it difficult for the new roots to transition from the planting hole into the native soil. Every research study I've seen backs this up. The International Society of Arboriculture continues to recommend unamended backfill when transplanting trees. So why did you alter these instructions for this situation?


Here is the previous question you are referring to. You should know that we do not write those articles directly for the newspaper, but they are taken from our Ask Mr. Smarty Plants site. We get questions, quite literally, from all over the world, and we try to make our answers general enough that everyone can possibly use the information, but also specific enough to address the conditions at the place of origination of the question.

You are correct, the standard instructions, including that taught Master Gardeners, which I also am, is to put it in the hole and force the roots to live with it. I have been a Texas gardener for about 60 years, and I have found that living in dry, hot times has  caused me, personally, to change my tune on that. We deal, in Central Texas, with alkaline clay soil, and probably we should tell the baby trees to just "suck it up" as new military recruits are; however, we are noticing from the many questions we get that transplanting in the heat and without allowing for drainage frequently results in transplant shock. Since you can't very well go back and unplant a tree, and losing one is a big loss in resources, we don't think it can do any harm to coddle the baby tree a little bit. Mr. Smarty Plants by no means is the final word, we are just a team of volunteers that try to help inexperienced gardeners do the best they can, and we do that without ever seeing the gardener or the garden. Since you are a professional and obviously on the site where trees are being planted, you should certainly maintain your own standards, and we respect that. Most of our questions are from people who freely admit they are new or inexperienced or reluctant gardeners. There are no doubt soils in our territory, which is North America, that are ideal and you can just pop a new plant in the ground and it will flourish, but that is NOT in Central Texas.


More Compost and Mulch Questions

Ailing Tecoma stans from Phoenix AZ
August 24, 2012 - I have several young Tecoma plants in my Phoenix, AZ garden. I planted them in June and have tended to them over the summer. They are watered twice daily. On some of the plants, I've noticed two oddi...
view the full question and answer

Moving a volunteer holly from Springfield IL
October 11, 2010 - When would be the very best time to move a volunteer holly? I would say it is 3 years old, it stands about 5 feet tall, shaped like a very nice tree and it keeps its leaves. Thank you. Karen
view the full question and answer

Flowering vine for trellis behind fountain in Anaheim Hills CA
June 05, 2010 - We are looking for a flowering vine to plant on a trellis surrounding a water fountain. The fountain splashes leaving the soil constantly wet. We have tried numerous vines, but they all die due to t...
view the full question and answer

Soil for native Chilopsis linearis and Salvia greggii
February 08, 2010 - I want to plant a desert willow and a salvia greggii in my small lot. The developer used sandy loam to fill in the small garden in the front. I am 73 and a bit impaired. Do I really need to remove ...
view the full question and answer

Esperanza failing to bloom in Odessa TX
September 01, 2009 - I have 3 Esperanza plants that have not bloomed this spring/summer. I live in Odessa, TX. We had about 5 inches of rain in July in one week (very unusual), but they have not bloomed-before or after. ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center