En Español

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

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!

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 Trees Questions

Browning of Red Western cedars in Medina, OH
April 09, 2009 - I have a row of Red Western Cedars bordering my yard. One week after my lawn people but down spring fertilizer and grub control, they began turning brown. Is there any correlation? If not, what cau...
view the full question and answer

Yellowing leaves on Mexican Plum in Salado, TX.
July 24, 2013 - I do live in Cental Texas (Salado) and I have the same problem with my Mexican Plum as the lady in Bellaire, TX. Mine was planted in June in a raised bed and receives sun all day long. Within the la...
view the full question and answer

How do you stop the bark from peeling off the tree in Amarillo?
May 07, 2012 - How do you stop the bark from peeling off the tree? I live in Amarillo, TX. If you can't stop the progression, how do you keep the tree alive?
view the full question and answer

Native magnolias in MD
March 16, 2011 - We live in Chevy Chase MD. Three tulip magnolias planted three years ago as part of a hedge died during the blizzard conditions we experienced the winter following their planting. This year as well w...
view the full question and answer

Need trees & shrubs for a 2.5x45 ft. planter box in Chatsworth. CA.
August 07, 2012 - We recently built a pool in our backyard and need to redo all the landscaping. We have a planter that is 45 feet long and about 2.5 feet wide. We'd like to put some trees in this planter that are n...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center