Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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

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

QUESTION:

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?

ANSWER:

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

Stabilizing a sand bank in VT
August 13, 2011 - We have a summer cottage in Burlington, Vt. and need to stabilize a mound of sand. The "bank" we are trying to stabilize has partial sun and faces south. It measures approx 4' high and is 30' long...
view the full question and answer

Clay hill with erosion problems in Reedsport OR
July 10, 2009 - We have a very steep 35-40' clay hill subject to erosion in the Oregon rainy season. How or what do we do to get some kind of vegetation/grass, etc to grow without washing away? We have had mudslides...
view the full question and answer

Failure of tall garden phlox buds to open in St. Louis MO
July 30, 2009 - Why won't the buds of my tall garden phlox open? Plants are apparently healthy, no powdery mildew or visible insects, foliage looks great and buds are profuse but they don't open. I have two clumps ...
view the full question and answer

Transplanting a Texas redbud sapling
July 27, 2008 - I've just discovered a Texas red bud sapling (baby tree)that decided to grow next to our fire pit. Although there's no reason for us to sit around the campfire in 100 degree weather, I would like to...
view the full question and answer

Living fence of native plants for Ojai, CA
September 20, 2008 - I would like to build a "green fence" about 10-15 feet tall. I live in Ojai, CA where we have VERY hot summers and it goes below freezing every winter. The soil does not seem to drain well..it is e...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.