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?


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

Monday - April 18, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shrubs
Title: Trees and shrubs for South Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I live in South Austin about 5 miles east of LBJ Wildflower Center. Soil: about 2" apparently amended, about 2 inches black soil, then hard caliche. What trees or large shrubs would be able to survive such conditions? The new house came with a blank slate for a backyard.


One word: NATIVE plants. Native to right where you are. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is dedicated to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the areas in which those plants are being grown. The way to find those plants is to go to our Recommended Species section and click on Central Texas on the map. This will give you a list of 133 plants that are considered native to this area, and are commercially available. Now, go to the sidebar on the right hand side of the page and select "trees" under General Appearance, which will give you 33 trees that are suitable for this area. Notice that you can select, at the same time, whether the area you are choosing a specific plant for will have sun (6 hours or more of sun a day), part shade (2 to 6 hours of sun a day) or shade (less than 2 hours of sun.) You can also select for amount of soil moisture, desired height, even bloom color and time.

Now, still looking at the list of 33 trees, start clicking on the scientific name, a link, for  each tree. Read the resulting webpage on that tree to determine if it is evergreen or deciduous, drought tolerant, expected mature size, etc. You can do the same thing by going back, and selecting on "shrub" under General Appearance or, indeed, herb (herbaceous blooming plant), subshrub, ferns, vines, or succulents. We are going to give you a list of 4 of each, walking you through the process, and from there you make your own selections. You should map out the sun you have in various parts of the yard, and for how long, in order to accurately indicate the Light Requirements on each plant. The Growing Conditions on the page on each plant will also indicate the soil(s) that plant can tolerate, and sometimes where in Central Texas it is most likely to do well. Make notes as you go and you should begin to have a list. When you feel you have settled on a plant, go to our Image Gallery, type in the plant name in the search box at the top of the page, and you will get a pageful (usually, sometimes fewer) of pictures of that plant in various stages. We will give you pictures of each of our selections, also.

Finally, don't expect to make this list and walk into the nearest nursery and find all, or even any, of the plants you have chosen. Remember that the fact that a plant is sold locally not only does not guarantee it will grow locally, or is native or will even survive locally. Never allow yourself to be sold a plant that has no name. If they only have trade names and not scientific names, write them down and go home and look either in our Native Plant Database or just online for that trade or common name. If you are having little luck finding your native selections, go to our National Suppliers Directory, type in your town and state in the "Enter Search Location" box, and you will get a list of native plant nurseries, seed companies, and landscape planners in your general area.

So, here is our practice list of trees and shrubs, begin there. And since you live so close to the Wildflower Center, go there and look at the plants; they are all identified by signs somewhere on the site. And if they are growing there, they will grow in your garden, too. Write down the names, go home and search our database and discover if they fit your Growing Conditions.

Native Trees for Austin:

Cercis canadensis var. texensis (Texas redbud) - 10-20 ft. tall, deciduous, blooms white, pink, purple March and April, sun or part shade, medium water use. Well-drained, calcareous, rocky, sandy, loamy, or clay soils, usually limestone-based.

Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow) - 15 to 40 ft., deciduous, blooms pink, purple, violet April to September, low water use. Well-drained limestone soils preferred, but also does well in sands, loams, clays, caliches, granitic, and rocky soils. Minimal organic content the norm.

Prunus mexicana (Mexican plum) - 15-35 ft. tall, deciduous, low water use, blooms white, pink February to April. Dry to moist, well-drained soils. Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay, Limestone-based.

Ungnadia speciosa (Mexican buckeye - 8-12 ft., deciduous, low water use, sun or part shade. Rocky soils. Rocky, Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay, Caliche type Limestone-based

Native Shrubs for Austin:

Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry) - 3-5 ft, deciduous, blooms white May to July, low water use, part shade. Moist, rich soils, Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay, Acid-based, Calcareous

Leucophyllum frutescens (Cenizo) - 2-5 ft. tall, evergreen, blooms white, pink, purple, violet January to December, low water use, sun or part shade. Rocky, well-drained soils. Limestone-based, Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay, Caliche type

Morella cerifera (Wax myrtle) - 6-12 ft., evergreen, high water use, sun, part shade. Slightly acidic, moist, deep sands, loams, clays.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:

Cercis canadensis var. texensis

Chilopsis linearis

Prunus mexicana

Ungnadia speciosa

Callicarpa americana

Chrysactinia mexicana

Leucophyllum frutescens

Morella cerifera






More Shrubs Questions

List of Central Texas native shrubs
October 28, 2008 - Need to find a list of Central Texas native shrubs.
view the full question and answer

Failure to bloom of Texas Mountain Laurel
April 15, 2008 - My +/- 4 yr old Tx. Mountain Laurel, has never bloomed. It is in full sun. I sometimes (minimal) fertilize it. I've pretty much planted it and let it grow. Its been pruned back last year when som...
view the full question and answer

Native trees or shrubs for containers on roof in Wisconsin
March 17, 2010 - Looking for native trees/shrubs to be planted in containers on a flat roof w/south-southeast exposure. Gets pretty warm in the summer and pretty cold in the winter. How big would the container have to...
view the full question and answer

Shrubby options for a bird lover in New Jersey
September 07, 2011 - Could you please recommend a native shrub to NJ that grows to about 3-4 feet, is very low maintenance, does well in afternoon sun and is also something the birds will like? Thank you.
view the full question and answer

Sprout from a non-native sago palm in Poinciana FL
October 16, 2013 - I have two mature (10 years old)sago palms. One of them sprouted a new "head' at the top of the trunk. It is competing with the original one. It is not a pup coming from the root area. Can I cut it ...
view the full question and answer

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