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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.

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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.

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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!

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Tuesday - March 05, 2013

From: Budd Lake, NJ
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Plant Lists, Shade Tolerant, Trees
Title: Foundation Landscape Tree Suggestion for New Jersey
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

I need to replace a shrub (boxwood) in a landscaped area directly in front of my house. I would like a tree that grows about 10-15' maximum. However, I have a drainpipe that runs from the house to the curb that is within about 5' and I'm worried about the roots invading the pipe. A shrub does not seem the solution as the exhaust from a tankless water heater exits the house within a foot or so of the planting area and I'm convinced the exhaust is what killed the previous boxwood. Since the area is north-facing, whatever I plant has to deal well with morning sunlight only. I live in northern NJ so I have a somewhat limited growing season. I had tried a peach tree (it was supposed to be dwarf but wasn't) which has grown well, but the roots ran straight to the pipe. What would you suggest I plant?

ANSWER:

The first place to go to find a list of potential plants is our Native Plant Database. Use the Combination Search feature instead of Recommended Species. This will provide a bigger selection with much more choice to narrow down. The volunteers and staff at the Wildflower Center who maintain the database have partners in different regions to help with these recommended species lists based on what is easy to access in local nurseries.

Under Combination Search, select the following categories: New Jersey, habits – tree, duration – perennial, light requirement – part shade, and height – 6-12 ft. You can narrow down this search further by indicating blooming time and soil moisture specifics.

Follow each plant link to our webpage for that plant to learn its growing conditions, bloom time, etc. At the bottom of each plant webpage, under Additional Resources, there is a link to the USDA webpage for that plant. Take a look there for more specific details about suitability before you put them on your final planting list. Think about picking a tree that has interest during a variety of seasons and with more than one attractive feature (flower, fruit, foliage, bark, etc.) so you can get more benefits out of one plant.

The native plant database search identified four small trees (or large shrubs) to consider:

Cornus rugosa (roundleaf dogwood)

Hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel)

Ilex verticillata (common winterberry)

Sambucus racemosa (red elderberry)

 All of these plants will have a tendency for their roots to gravitate toward your drainpipe. The most often recommended plant type for planting over septic systems (which is similar to your situation of being near a drainpipe) is perennials since their roots do not extend down as far. Here is an article from Purdue Extension about landscaping over septic systems with native plants that might give you some ideas for this situation or an adjacent planting.

Also, hot exhaust gasses from your tankless water heater will harm plants if they are close enough. Evergreen plants will be more susceptible to leaf damage (especially during winter). One suggestion that you might consider is an air deflector to help protect the plant.  

 

From the Image Gallery


Witch hazel
Hamamelis virginiana

Witch hazel
Hamamelis virginiana

Common winterberry
Ilex verticillata

Common winterberry
Ilex verticillata

Red elderberry
Sambucus racemosa

Red elderberry
Sambucus racemosa

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