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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 - 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

QUESTION:

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. :)

ANSWER:

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”.


 

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