Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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

Tuesday - March 29, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Trees
Title: Smaller trees for limited space in yard in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Follow up to "I have a choice of three shade trees from the city of Austin. They are Live Oak, Elm, Cedar. Although I am happy to have a free tree, I think the choices are not the best for my home. I have a small area in the front yard about 12 feet by 14 feet. But, due to pipes, etc the place they chose to plant the tree is about 8 feet from my door, 1 foot from the driveway, 1 foot from a fence, and 5 feet from the street. Wouldn't these type of trees end up causing foundation problems? And also problems with the driveway and fence? I'm thinking I shouldn't accept any of these trees. But, then what type of tree can I plant in that small area?" I recently asked a question on trees and I wanted to reply, but I didn't know how, so her it goes- with another question. First, THANK YOU for your help. I was looking all over the internet to find an answer to my question and I was also confused as to why they would suggest a to plant a tree so close to other structures. But, that's where my little yellow flag ended up on my driveway. I was thinking of a planting a crepe myrtle. The previous owner had planted a peach tree, but it died (it was also a small tree). I really need something for shade. I don't have any trees in my front yard and the heat is unbearable in the summer. I've been thinking also of making some sort of carport canopy type thing and adding a vine to grow along top of it (the metal carport things don't look too nice). I want something that looks pretty. What do you suggest? Any ideas?

ANSWER:

The little yellow flag may have just been stuck there so the workers would know you were going to get a tree. Anyway, I think we're agreed that those trees are all too big for your small yard. Both of your alternate ideas are trees not native to North America. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is dedicated to the growth, use, protection and propagation of plants native not only to North America but also to the area in which those plants are natively growing.

Lagerstroemia indica, crape myrtle, originated in Asia, and has been extensively hybridized and introduced, especially in the South. There are a number of species of the Prunus genus (from Botany. com), including plums, cherries and peach. Only a few, including Prunus caroliniana (Cherry laurel), Prunus mexicana (Mexican plum), and Prunus serotina var. eximia (Escarpment black cherry) grow natively in Central Texas. Prunus persica is believed to originate in China and needs a more acid soil than we have here. In addition to those native Prunus species, there are Cercis canadensis var. texensis (Texas redbud) and Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon), all of which are shrubs that can be trained into trees. They will not have such an invasive root structure as a tree, but still need to be placed far away enough from other features in your yard that their branches will not impinge on space needed for outfoor recreation, etc.

While these smaller native trees may not grow up to be the lovely old shade tree with a tire swing in it, none of which you have room for, they will be fairly rapid growers and will cast some shade and some cooling influence on your front yard. Be sure and follow each plant link to learn about that particular tree/shrub. If you hurry, you might still be able to plant these shrubs now, before it gets any hotter. Ordinarily, we suggest planting woody plants in Central Texas in winter or very early Spring. From North Dakota State University Extension, we consider this article on Transplanting Trees and Shrubs one of the best. We would only add that you should work some compost into the dirt you return to the hole for the tree to assist in good drainage and permitting the tiny new rootlets to access nutrients in the soil.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Prunus caroliniana


Prunus caroliniana


Prunus mexicana


Prunus mexicana


Prunus serotina var. eximia


Prunus serotina var. eximia


Cercis canadensis var. texensis


Cercis canadensis var. texensis

 

 

 

More Compost and Mulch Questions

Decline of Japanese ferns in Austin
June 16, 2008 - I've enjoyed beautiful Japanese ferns in my shaded garden for about ten years. They are looking spent and straggly, despite fish emulsion, compost,and lots of mulch and soaker hose watering in the s...
view the full question and answer

Time to mulch without inhibiting seeds in Hitchcock, TX
March 17, 2010 - When would be the best time of year to put down mulch, if I want my native plants to re-seed? I don't want to bury the seed under mulch layers or new dirt. Thank you.
view the full question and answer

Failure to bloom of lantanas in San Antonio
July 22, 2010 - Mr. Smarty Plants, We have lantanas in our front yard. This summer the leaves have turned white and they die to a brown color all the while the leaves are "crispy". At the beginning of the season...
view the full question and answer

Non-native, invasive creeping fig in Webster TX
May 26, 2013 - We've recently moved into a new home in the southeast Houston area. The back of our property has a long concrete wall (gets quite a bit of sun), which we thought we could cover with a spreading vine....
view the full question and answer

Using seaweed in compost
October 05, 2015 - What do you think about using seaweed in compost? I live on the Gulf Coast
view the full question and answer

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