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

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Saturday - May 04, 2013

From: Bastrop, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Seeds and Seeding, Privacy Screening, Trees
Title: Screen of Thuja Occidentalis on fire-damaged property in Bastrop TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I want to plant a screen of Thuja Occidentalis on the east side of our driveway. It is in the burn area of Bastrop, TX. None of our trees survived. Will Thuja Occidentalis grow here? I saw some specimens at the Christmas Tree farm in Elgin. That gave me the idea that they would grow here. I want a fast growing screen. It used to be a dense pine forest. Only sapling pine trees, oak "shrubs" from the roots and charcoal stumps grow there now. thanks.

ANSWER:

Here is a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer on Thuja occidentalis  in Houston.

According to this USDA Plant Profile Map Thuja occidentalis (Arborvitae) does not even grow naturally in Texas, nor in any state very close to it. By following the above plant link, we can look at Growing Conditions for the plant:

"Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
Soil pH: Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
CaCO3 Tolerance: High
Soil Description: Moist, well-drained alkaline soils.
Conditions Comments: Arbor vitae can be used as a specimen or as a hedge. Plants are susceptible to strong wind, snow, and ice damage, and young plants need protection from winter browsers. The species tolerates air pollution and heat as long as it is rooted in cool, moist soil. The highly aromatic plant provides food and cover for birds."

The moist, well-draining soils will probably be the sticking point. It sounds like the arborvitae can take alkaline soils, but if you have clay soils and cannot water it could be a real problem. We would hate for you to spend a lot of money and discover there is a reason why this tree is not native to Texas.

Please read this article from the Lost Pines Forest Recovery Campaign. Then, we suggest you read The Bastrop Gardener, from which we extracted this:

"Please do not re-plant non-native species. Also, do not buy pine tree saplings or seedlings that are not native to Bastrop County. The native loblolly pines are called “drought hardy loblollies” and that’s why they are here – because they can take dryer conditions than the loblollies that grow 100 miles east of here in East Texas."

And, finally, Bastrop Lost Pines Habitat Recovery Project Master Plans. We know you are probably aware that seedings of the genetically-special Pinus taeda (Loblolly pine)  are being sprouted and prepared for transplanting by several facilities, including the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. We very much hope you will have the patience to wait and restore the native pines to your property instead of planting plants not native to Texas and not very likely to survive here.

 

From the Image Gallery


Loblolly pine
Pinus taeda

Loblolly pine
Pinus taeda

Loblolly pine
Pinus taeda

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