En EspaŅol

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?


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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Monday - November 18, 2013

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Planting, Trees
Title: Need a shade tree to plant in Houston, TX
Answered by: Jimmy Mills


Hi, i'm looking for a shade tree to plant on the southwest side of our house, both to make our backyard more enjoyable and to improve energy efficiency. We really like Live Oaks, but they just take too long to grow big enough to provide shade. Can you recommend a relatively fast growing shade tree that would do well in The notoriously alternating drought and flood conditions of Harris County. We don't have a preference between deciduous and evergreen, as long as it's a Texas native. Bonus points if the branches will one day be strong enough to climb. :)


There are several reasons to plant a tree, and you have touched on a couple of good ones. SInce there is a lot of time and labor involved in planting a tree, the project should be approached carefully with a great deal of thought being given to the various stages; planning, selection, purchasing, planting, and continued care.

I’m going to provide several links to resources that address these aspects in the process.

The first link is to Colorado State Extension and it discusses the selection process and factors that should be considered. The list of trees may not all be suitable for Houston, but we’ll get to that later.

The Texas Tree Planting Guide  is an interactive guide that is fun to use. The “Tree Planting Tools” section is very helpful for the planning phase,  and the ”The Custom Tree Selector” shows you several possibilities for you area.

Our Native Plant Database  can provide you with a list of plants for your consideration. Go to the Combination Search box, and select Texas under State, Tree under Habit, and Perennial under Duration. Check Sun under Light requirement, and Dry under Soil moisture. Click the Submit Combination Search button, and you will get a list of 74 commercially available native species that can be used in Texas landscapes. Clicking on the scientific name of each plant will bring up its NPIN page that has the plant’s characteristics, growth information, and in most cases, images. Changing the selection criteria will bring up different lists.

Closer to home, the Houston Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT)  has a Native Plant Guide that should prove helpful in your search for the right tree.

This article from the Houston Chronicle reinforces our penchant for the use of native plants.

One last link is to our Step by Step Guide “How to Plant a Tree”.


More Trees Questions

Dealing with live oak suckers in Central Texas
March 05, 2015 - Hi, I have a couple huge Live Oak trees in my back yard. Trunks are 4' in diameter. These Live Oaks produce a lot of root sprouts/suckers. I had always head that a tree's roots feed on water/oxyg...
view the full question and answer

Best time to trim oak trees to avoid oak wilt
June 08, 2008 - When is the best time to trim oak trees? Concerned regarding oak wilt if cut at wrong time. Ball moss is not harmful but will it help or harm if trees trimmed. These are large oak trees. Thank you.
view the full question and answer

Deer-resistant plants for under cedar and oak trees in Austin
June 22, 2010 - I have about 1.5 acres in southern Travis county. It's full of mature live oaks and cedar trees, and the soil is full of limestone. I've been gathering the limestone and using them to create raise...
view the full question and answer

Care of desert willows
September 10, 2007 - We have three desert willows. Two are doing well, but the third, which was planted at the same time as the others, is about 1/3 the size of the other two, the foliage is thin, and the leaves have dry...
view the full question and answer

protecting native trees during drought
June 07, 2011 - We are very concerned about our mature live oaks and cedar elms because they are so stressed due to the drought. We have lost several of our mountain juniper and I really don't want to lose our more...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center