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
Not Yet Rated

Wednesday - December 03, 2008

From: San Antonio, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Understory shrub for shady area in San Antonio
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We would like to plant a small understory tree/shrub in an odd space that our new deck has created between our fence line and the house. A mature mountain laurel would be our dream but I think there is too much shade. Also since this would probably overhang the deck at some point, it might be kind of messy. Our next door neighbors' large red oaks branches extend over the fence and over our deck. This tree would be under their "umbrella". We would like this tree to reach about 10-12' high. What would you suggest?

ANSWER:

We'd like to start this by discussing that red oak hanging over the fence. There are a number of oaks referred to by the common name "red" oak, but we're assuming you probably have Texas native Quercus shumardii (Shumard's oak) in your neighbors' yard. Shumard's Oak dislikes the competition of understory plants, and, at maturity, will retard the growth of competing understory vegetation, apparently by allelopathic effects. Allelopathy involves the emitting of chemicals produced by the tree that will damage the growth of plant materials beneath it. Most oaks have this ability to some degree, with the Shumard's Oak being moderate in this respect. This, along with the shade involved, is the main reason it is difficult to grow grass or flowering plants beneath an oak. So, before you put a great deal of effort into planting a shrub there, you might consider that possibility. If your neighbor would be willing to do so, and certainly you have the right to ask that it be done, trimming of the tree overhang might help both with the shade and the allelopathy issues.

Now, on to the possibilities for this space.  You are correct that the Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain-laurel) ordinarily needs more sun than it sounds like you have, and that all those flowers, followed by seeds, can make quite a mess. Moreover, the seeds, which grow in long pods, are bright red, attractive and very poisonous. Two of our other suggestions also have poisonous parts; you might consider the safety of having that kind of plant in an area where families and pets might gather. Follow the plant links to a complete webpage on each plant to learn other details of its growth and bloom. At the bottom of that page you will find a link to Google for more information on that plant.

EVERGREEN 

Ilex vomitoria (yaupon) - 12 to 25' high, bright red berries on female plants

Rhus virens (evergreen sumac) - 8 to 12' tall

DECIDUOUS

Amorpha fruticosa (desert false indigo) - 6 to 10'

Ilex decidua (possumhaw) -15 to 20' tall, clusters of persistent winter berries on female plants

Bauhinia lunarioides (Texasplume) - 6 to 12', fast-growing

Cercis canadensis var. texensis (Texas redbud) - 10 to 20'

Diospyros texana (Texas persimmon) - 12 to 36'

Prunus mexicana (Mexican plum) 15 to 35', like all members of Prunus genus has poisonous seeds

Ungnadia speciosa (Mexican buckeye) - 8 to 12', seeds poisonous


Sophora secundiflora

Ilex vomitoria

Rhus virens

Amorpha fruticosa

Ilex decidua

Bauhinia lunarioides

Cercis canadensis var. texensis

Diospyros texana

Prunus mexicana

Ungnadia speciosa

 

 

More Shade Tolerant Questions

Plants to disguise plastic rainbarrels in dry shade
April 29, 2008 - What plants would you recommend to disguise blue plastic rainbarrels in dry shade?
view the full question and answer

Low-growing plants for a slope in the shade
July 08, 2013 - Hello, I'm looking for native plants to put in the shade (within the drip-line) of a well-established American Holly. The area gets deep shade; it is also on a very gentle north-exposure slope. We ...
view the full question and answer

Privacy hedge for shady area
March 27, 2009 - We are looking to plant a privacy hedge around the perimeter of our yard that will grow to 6 or 8 feet tall - some of the perimeter is exposed to sun and we will likely go with evergreen sumac - howev...
view the full question and answer

Spring blooming plants for spring sun and summer shade
July 03, 2007 - I live in San Antonio. I'm faced with a dilemma. I've got mature native pecans. In the summer they provide beautiful full shade. However, in the winter and even into the late spring, my yard is ...
view the full question and answer

Native ground covers for shade in East Texas
June 06, 2008 - I live in Mount Pleasant, Texas which is in northeast Texas. I would like a list of ground covers that would do well in our area. The place I want to put it gets a lot of shade. The ground is clay. Th...
view the full question and answer

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