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Mr. Smarty Plants - Wildlife garden for Austin

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Sunday - May 19, 2013

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Wildlife Gardens, Poisonous Plants, Shade Tolerant, Grasses or Grass-like, Herbs/Forbs, Trees
Title: Wildlife garden for Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I am trying to make my backyard more wildlife friendly. I have pecan trees for the canopy and some understory shrub/trees like rough leaf dogwood and redbud. I am having a really hard time finding suitable forbs. The area is in blazing full sun until the pecans leaf out and then it becomes -full- shade. We are in east Austin so the soil is clay based and quite degraded. I have been adding compost regularly but it is a slow slow process. Would a mix of spring ephemerals with full shade plants that leaf out later work? I love color and fragrance. Maybe there are no native plants that fit this situation. I realize this setting looks nothing like the original mixed prairie. Thanks in advance for your consideration.

ANSWER:

Begin with some of our How-To Articles:

Wildlife Gardening

A Guide to Native Plant Gardening

Butterfly Gardening

In terms of what to plant under your pecan trees, we are afraid you have more problems than the alternating sun and shade, that of allelopathy of the pecan tree. Please see this previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer on the allelopathy of the pecan tree. This answer was to a question from Maryland but the information about Carya illinoinensis (Pecan) is still apropos.  You are going to have some difficulty growing any herbaceous blooming plants beneath those trees. There are a few plants known to be able to survive beneath pecans, especially grasses. We will list a few of those native to the Austin area. Also, we will suggest a couple of shade-tolerant plants that could live under the trees. However, bees and butterflies mostly prefer flowers that bloom in full sun. Follow each plant link on our list to read the growing conditions, how much light, water and what soil types each plant tolerates. Beyond that, it is going to be trial and error.

Carex texensis (Texas sedge)

Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats)

Elymus canadensis (Canada wild rye)

Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud)

Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper)

Malvaviscus arboreus (Turkscap)

Ruellia nudiflora (Violet ruellia)

Viola missouriensis (Missouri violet)

 

From the Image Gallery


Texas sedge
Carex texensis

Inland sea oats
Chasmanthium latifolium

Canada wild rye
Elymus canadensis

Gulf muhly
Muhlenbergia capillaris

Eastern redbud
Cercis canadensis

Virginia creeper
Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Turkscap
Malvaviscus arboreus

Violet ruellia
Ruellia nudiflora

Missouri violet
Viola missouriensis

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