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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - October 08, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Select Region
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Pruning, Shade Tolerant, Herbs/Forbs, Trees
Title: Area under live oaks from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We have many live oaks in our mostly shaded half acre. While I have tried to plant mostly native plants, often beneath them, the plants are showered with leathery leaves, acorns and sap, while oak sprouts protrude. Short of putting up nets to catch all the stuff falling from the oaks, what can I do to have cleaner beds without frequent kneeling and hand raking to get up the "fallout" without damaging the plants? Can I let it just sit there to eventually turn into mulch? In one oak motte I use a hedge trimmer to turn the multitude of sprouts into a ground cover as the sprouts have outdone the Asian jasmine! Help! PS in 25% of yard, we've put ground cloth and mulch.

ANSWER:

Please begin by reading this previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer, as well as following any links in that answer to other material. Once you have read all of those anwers, we would summarize our take on this situation.

1. What do you want to keep? Our decision would be the live oaks, they are the most valuable part of your landscaping, as far as we are concerned.

2. No, untended debris will not magically turn into mulch. It will stack up, blow around, and where it piles up will attract insects, rodents, snakes looking for a snack and general trash.

3. A motte of live oaks is risky, in that Oak Wilt can not only enter a tree via damage to the bark (hedge trimmer, weed eater, pruning, etc) but if one tree becomes infected, it will travel to the other trees in the motte via intertwined roots.

Until you have read all the references and considered the options, you won't be able to make an informed decision. Since we are from West Texas where the ground cover is cactus and the trees are scraggly mesquites, we would vote for the trees and stop trying to grow stuff under them. Neither trees nor underplantings are likely to thrive under those conditions.

 

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