Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

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?

Share

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

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!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
1 rating

Thursday - December 17, 2015

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shrubs, Trees
Title: Narrow, Small Tree for Austin, Texas Yard
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

I need recommendation on what type of tree to plant between our neighbors and our home. The wall to wall space is 15 feet at best, with a fence in between. Currently we have a young mulberry but are being told the space is too small for it.

ANSWER:

Careful consideration should be given about the ultimate width of your tree in the space between your two houses. Many a dispute has been waged about the branches of a neighbors tree that grows over a communal fence and into another yard. Your next door neighbor may be in favor of having a tree close to the property line today but several years later may feel differently (or may have even moved away and you are now dealing with a different perspective).

The safest choice is to plant a small tree (or large shrub) that will stay mostly on your side of the property and be one that will tolerate a few branches being pruned if they grow over the fence to your neighbors side.

You didn't mention which mulberry you have currently growing in your garden. If it is the Texas mulberry (Morus microphylla), this is a shrub or small tree and could grow to 36 feet tall. Judicious pruning could keep it within bounds if you are so inclined.

Some tall, native shrubs (or small trees) to consider include:

Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon)

Native from southern Virginia south to Florida and west to southeast Oklahoma and central Texas, Yaupon is a picturesque, upright, single- or multi-trunked shrub or small tree, growing 12-45 ft high but usually no higher than 25 ft. Female plants produce prodigious amounts of bright red, persistent berries. The leaves are dark green and small, usually less than 1 1/2 in. long. The pale gray bark is marked with white patches.

Yaupon Holly is often grown in residential landscapes and trimmed into hedges, with many cultivars popular: weeping forms, columnar forms, and dwarf forms. The ornamental twigs with shiny evergreen leaves and numerous red berries have been used as holiday decorations and make cheerful accents in the winter landscape. The leaves and twigs contain caffeine, and American Indians used them to prepare a tea, which they drank in large quantities ceremonially and then vomited back up, lending the plant its species name, vomitoria. The vomiting was self-induced or because of other ingredients added; it doesn't actually cause vomiting. Tribes from the interior traveled to the coast in large numbers each spring to partake of this tonic, and it was also a common hospitality drink among many groups. It remained popular as such among southeastern Americans into the 20th century and is still occasionally consumed today, with a flavor resembling another holly drink, the South American yerba mate, from Ilex paraguariensis. Yaupon is slow-growing and tends to get thick and twiggy on the inside, making it ideal for dense hedges but requiring careful pruning to shape it into a tree. You must have both a male and female plant to have berries. Nursery plants are typically female (fruiting) and are propagated by cuttings.

Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain laurel)

Mescal bean or Texas mountain laurel is an evergreen, usually multi-trunked shrub or small tree ranging from just a few feet tall to more than 30 ft. in height, though its usual height at maturity is 10-15 ft. The dense, dark green, and glossy compound leaves are composed of 7–9 shiny, leathery leaflets that are rounded on the ends. The leaflets are up to 2 inches or more long, tapering more gradually to the base than to the tip, and arranged along an axis terminated by a single leaflet. The bluish lavender flowers, in 3-7 in. drooping clusters, are very showy and fragrant. The fruit is a semi-woody pod with bright red poisonous seeds.

Sophora secundiflora is very popular as a native evergreen ornamental tree within its range, valued for its handsome, dark green foliage and lush early spring blooms. It is drought-tolerant, prefers rocky limestone soil, and is native from central Texas west to New Mexico and south to San Luis Potosi in Mexico. Like many woody plants native to rocky soils, it is slow growing. The fragrance of Texas mountain laurel flowers is reminiscent of artificial grape products. The brilliant, lacquer red seeds were valued by indigenous people for ornament and ceremonial use; they contain the highly poisonous alkaloid cytisine (or sophorine), a substance related to nicotine and widely cited as a narcotic and hallucinogen.

Forestiera pubescens (stretchberry)

Desert olive/stretchberry is a multi-branched, deciduous shrub, 4-9 ft. tall, with smooth, gray bark; arched branches; spiny branchlets, and light-green leaves. Flowers are inconspicuous but fragrant. Tiny, blue fruits occur in clusters on the female plants. This is a thicket-forming, deciduous shrub.

This drought-tolerant plant is well-suited for use as a spreading background plant or ground cover where grass wont grow. It is widely adaptable – tolerating dry or moist soil, sun or shade.

 

From the Image Gallery


Yaupon
Ilex vomitoria

Yaupon
Ilex vomitoria

Yaupon
Ilex vomitoria

Texas mountain laurel
Sophora secundiflora

Texas mountain laurel
Sophora secundiflora

Stretchberry
Forestiera pubescens var. pubescens

Texas mulberry
Morus microphylla

Texas mulberry
Morus microphylla

More Shrubs Questions

Seven foot privacy fence in Tucson
November 25, 2014 - I am looking for a privacy hedge for a home in Tucson, Arizona that will be in full sun. Needs to be at least seven foot tall and low water and maintenance. Any suggestions.
view the full question and answer

Low cost landscaping in Federicksburg VA
February 22, 2009 - Hello, I live in Fredericksburg Va and I rent a townhome with a small yard. My back yard is almost completely mud and my front yard has a hideous square shrub. So my question is do you have any plant ...
view the full question and answer

Native plants for screen in Colleyville TX
March 12, 2009 - My soil is pure sand that goes down as far as I can dig. I am needing native plants to use as a screen, that grow to be 6-10 ft. tall. Also, since my plantings dry out so quickly, would it be helpfu...
view the full question and answer

Planting shrubs on a rocky slope
September 13, 2008 - I need to plant a rocky slope, facing south and west, to cut down erosion. Other than creating terraces, are there tricks for securing individual shrubs or trees to a slope when planting? What plant...
view the full question and answer

Problems with blueberries from Kernersville NC
April 29, 2012 - My blueberry plants have no leaves or scrawny ones. I have 13 plants, 5 of them are like this.
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.