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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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Tuesday - June 22, 2010

From: Round Rock, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant, Trees
Title: Mulching in deep shade in Round Rock TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Central Texas: Problem is deep shade and high temps. I noted your advice about danger to the tree when planting beneath shade trees, but wonder if there is a substance - perhaps pine needles - that could be spread (safely) to reduce mud problems when watering. Trees are Red Oak, Chiquapin Oak, Burr Oak.

ANSWER:

Certainly, we have recommended mulch before in areas beneath trees where nothing, or nothing you want, will grow. Pine needles, if they are readily available, will be fine. As they decompose, they will add some acidity to the soil, which shouldn't hurt the trees you mentioned. Ordinarily, we recommend a shredded hardwood mulch because it tends to remain more stable and stay in place. In any case, mulch is nearly always an advantage beneath trees; it will help keep down weeds that CAN grow in that environment, hold moisture in the soil, and protect the tree roots from heat and cold. As it decomposes, it will go into the soil and help improve the drainage in that soil and assist the roots in accessing nutrients in the soil. We think it's attractive and smells pleasant. The mulch will have to be replenished from time to time, but that is much less labor intensive and expensive than constantly replacing plants that will not grow there.

 

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