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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

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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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Wednesday - August 17, 2011

From: Spring, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Planting, Seasonal Tasks, Watering, Trees
Title: Shade trees for Spring TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Dear Mr.Pants, our west-facing backyard in Spring, Tx, is unbearable in this Summer's heat. Neither us nor the neighbors has any backyard trees established yet, as the subdivision is pretty new. Considering this year's drought and heat, when would be a good time to plant a fast-growing shade tree? What would be a good deciduous, drought tolerant tree, one that reaches 30 feet within 5 years? One that attracts birds would be great. Any ideas? Thank you.

ANSWER:

Mr. Plants, PLANTS, PLANTS, if you please!

Everybody's yard, front or back, new or old, is hurting from the drought. We have had pitiful requests for help from people who have gone out in the yard, said "Whew, it's hot, I'm going to plant some shade trees."  Then, they go out and spend a lot of time and money buying and then planting the tiny little saplings that are purchased from a nursery, in August, and then the trees die. It's as simple as that-woody plants, in fact few plants, even cacti, can survive if they are planted in August in Texas. Nurseries try to discourage people from buying trees right now, but you can still get them. Whether a tree will get to 30 ft. in 5 years is something we can't determine; that is dependent on soils, water, sunlight, etc. And, we will tell you that fast-growing trees tend to be weak trees, short-lived, often succumbing to insects and disease.

If you promise just to think about the trees, and plan spots in your garden to plant them, in January, we will give you a list of trees native to your area that are relatively fast growing. Before you do that, follow this link to our list of plants native to the Gulf Marshes and Prairies. Look at the color-keyed map at the top of that page and see if that is really where you live, we think it is. Still looking at the top of that page, read the description of the soils in the various areas of that ecosystem. This will give you a list of 296 plants.  Using the sidebar on the right side of that page, narrow your search by selecting on "trees" under General Appearance, "full sun" under Light Requirement and both "dry" and "moist" under Soil Moisture. Click on Narrow Your Search, and you will have a list of 27 trees that can do well in your area, properly planted and cared for. Follow the italicized plant links to our full page on each tree, which will give you expected height, rate of growth (sometimes), cultural and soil requirements. At the bottom of that page is a link to Google, which will take you to more information for that plant online.

While you are in your planning stage, which you can do in August, read our Step by Step Guide on How to Plant a Tree, and How-To Guide on Using Native Plants.

Here is our selection of a few possibilities from the list of trees.

Fraxinus americana (White ash)

Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore)

Taxodium distichum (Bald cypress)

 

 

 

 

From the Image Gallery


Field horsetail
Equisetum arvense

American sycamore
Platanus occidentalis

Bald cypress
Taxodium distichum

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