Trees and Shrubs forum: Best Small Tree for Central Texas

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vurbil
Dec 14, 2017 9:20 AM CST
I'm in central Texas, just outside of Austin.

The builder installed 2 live oaks in my front yard. Which is good; I love live oaks. I just don't love them in a small front yard where I'm trying to grow bermuda. They are great now, but I've seen mature ones completely kill off the grass below. Plus my front yard is actually on the north side of the house, so the beneficial aspects of the shade aren't as great anyway.

Luckily I have a new home for the 2 live oaks, so don't you worry, tree lovers. They are going to the border of a large plot of land I own elsewhere in central Texas.

But to the question at hand here, what tree would you recommend to replace them? Something that stays small, so as not to shade out the grass, and looks nice. From my own research I'm leaning towards either a Choctaw or Natchez Crape Myrtle or a Yaupon Holly shaped as a tree. But I'm wondering if there may be other suggestions out there or maybe even warnings against my selections.
Name: Porkpal
Richmond, TX
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Keeper of Poultry Farmer Roses Raises cows
Garden Ideas: Level 2 Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
porkpal
Dec 14, 2017 10:15 AM CST
Chittamwood trees look quite a lot like Live Oaks but stay small. They are semi-evergreen here.
Porkpal
Name: Mary
Lake Stevens, WA (Zone 8a)
Near Seattle
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Pistil
Dec 14, 2017 11:35 AM CST
How interesting, I had to look that one up- It's native there. Check out all the names people use for it (from TX Native Plants Database):
Chittamwood, Gum Bumelia, Woolybucket Bumelia, Gum Elastic, Wooly Buckthorn, Gum Woolybucket, Wooly Bumelia, False Buckthorn, Shittamwood, Ironwood, Coma Bumelia
I think I like "Gum Wooleybucket" best.
Anyway I think Crape Myrtles do really well in that area, and of course they are lovely.
I found this link from the Aggies, I had no idea there are so many cultivars:
https://aggie-horticulture.tam...
Name: Mary
Lake Stevens, WA (Zone 8a)
Near Seattle
Bookworm Garden Photography Plant and/or Seed Trader Plays in the sandbox Region: Pacific Northwest Seed Starter
Winter Sowing
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Pistil
Dec 14, 2017 11:37 AM CST
That is strange my link is incomplete, I will try again.
Also did you know our intrepid leader Dave has been breeding these, looking for dark foliage? there is a thread about it somewhere.
https://aggie-horticulture.tam...
Oh rats this is strange, well just google " Crape Myrtles for Texas" and you will see it.
Name: Sue
SF Bay Area, CA (Zone 9b)
Container Gardener Canning and food preservation Dog Lover
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Zuni
Dec 18, 2017 12:34 AM CST
If it's the north side of the house, you might rather have a deciduous tree than an evergreen. I vote for the crape myrtle. if you don't want it to get really big, there are nice dwarf varieties. I'm waiting for a sale at the end of the month at my favorite local nursery to buy a Zuni dwarf crape myrtle to put in a large container on my balcony. Pretty lavender color that looks like lilacs (which I love, but can't grow here) and it blooms a really long time - from early summer to frost.

I love jacaranda trees and there is now a dwarf jacaranda that was really tempting, but here, at least, they are evergreen, and I want the sun on my balcony in winter. So, I'm going with the deciduous crape myrtle.

Either of those would probably grow where you are, too.

Flowering trees are messier, so it depends if you care about that. But, my vote is for a deciduous tree on the north side of the house - if it will affect getting sun in the house in winter.
[Last edited by Zuni - Dec 18, 2017 12:35 AM (+)]
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North Central TX (Zone 8a)
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tx_flower_child
Dec 19, 2017 2:12 AM CST
I used to live in Austin and think a Yaupon Holly would be great. Not sure why you'd want Bermuda grass. You might check out some native grasses that would do well. But back to trees, I can think of some other options. The first one that comes to mind is a Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora).
https://www.wildflower.org/pla...

Try this link for more suggestions. It's a Q&A so scroll down a little and you'll see a nice list provided by Mr. Smarty Plants. Note the inclusion of Yaupon Holly and Mountain Laurel.
https://www.wildflower.org/exp...

But wait! Here's a really comprehensive list for Central Texas. You can view all of it or narrow the search criteria. Give it a try.
https://www.wildflower.org/col...
North Central TX (Zone 8a)
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tx_flower_child
Dec 19, 2017 2:40 PM CST
I know a lot of people are not going to be happy about the next thing I'm going to say, but I gotta say it anyway. Crape Myrtles are not native trees. It's taken me way too long to appreciate the importance of 'going native'.

I agree that Crape Myrtles are very pretty. But trees/shrubs/plants/grasses that are native to your neck of the woods are going to thrive. They will require less of everything -- less water, less or no fertilizer, etc. Why? Because it's where they want to be. And less work sounds good to me.

One other plus for going native is that the birds and butterflies will thank you.
Name: James
Anacortes, WA (Zone 8b)
(Heat zone - 1, Sunset zone - 5)
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JamesAcclaims
Dec 19, 2017 2:49 PM CST
I would go with tx_flower_child suggestion of Mountain Laurel. I simply love them. Haven't seen any since I left Texas.
I am not an early bird or a night owl--I am some form of permanently exhausted pigeon
Texas (Zone 8a)
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GrammaChar
Dec 19, 2017 4:27 PM CST
I agree with @tx_flower_child

So many options that aren't prone to powdery mildew and some benefit wildlife (bees, birds, or butterflies). Carolina Buckthorn, Mexican Buckeye, Texas Persimmon (has bark much like a crepe myrtle), Arroyo Sweetwood, Mexican redbud, Red Buckeye, Eve's Necklace, Goldenball Leadtree, Huisache, Kidneywood, Desert Willow, Cherry Laurel, or Anacacho Orchid.

GrammaChar
North Central TX (Zone 8a)
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tx_flower_child
Dec 19, 2017 4:47 PM CST
Have you considered planting some large native shrubs? Bet we could recommend some nice ones.

BTW, is your house built or still unfinished? I'm sure that you probably know not to plant when there's going to be large machinery compacting up the grounds. Tree roots don't take very well to that sort of thing.
Name: Porkpal
Richmond, TX
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Keeper of Poultry Farmer Roses Raises cows
Garden Ideas: Level 2 Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
porkpal
Dec 19, 2017 8:26 PM CST
I'd pass on the Huisache.
Porkpal
Name: Sue
SF Bay Area, CA (Zone 9b)
Container Gardener Canning and food preservation Dog Lover
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Zuni
Dec 19, 2017 11:24 PM CST
tx_flower_child said:I know a lot of people are not going to be happy about the next thing I'm going to say, but I gotta say it anyway. Crape Myrtles are not native trees. It's taken me way too long to appreciate the importance of 'going native'.

I agree that Crape Myrtles are very pretty. But trees/shrubs/plants/grasses that are native to your neck of the woods are going to thrive. They will require less of everything -- less water, less or no fertilizer, etc. Why? Because it's where they want to be. And less work sounds good to me.

One other plus for going native is that the birds and butterflies will thank you.


I don't know how well crape myrtles do in TX, so forgive me if the suggestion was for a tree that would not be healthy in TX. They do great in CA, and they're on my mind, as I'm planning on buying one this weekend.

I am familiar with the idea of only using native plants where a person lives. But, sigh, have you seen what native California plants look like ? LOL. Plants, for the most part, only Mother Nature could love :-)

And heck, if we were truly purists, we probably wouldn't be able to eat spaghetti, which was actually originally from China....but, that won't stop me from eating pasta either, which I think we can all thank Marco Polo for bringing back as an invasive food stuff from his travels. Green Grin!

I do agree that you should look for plants that will be happy, though, so they won't be prone to diseases or pests, and won't require conditions that aren't natural, and you certainly don't want to plant an invasive species. Well, unless it grows pasta, maybe.
[Last edited by Zuni - Dec 19, 2017 11:27 PM (+)]
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North Central TX (Zone 8a)
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tx_flower_child
Dec 20, 2017 12:13 AM CST
So could I talk you out of planting Bermuda grass?
North Central TX (Zone 8a)
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tx_flower_child
Dec 20, 2017 2:19 AM CST
Post made in error.
[Last edited by tx_flower_child - Dec 21, 2017 12:09 AM (+)]
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vurbil
Jan 2, 2018 10:47 AM CST
Hey guys, thanks for all the suggestions. I actually forgot about this post and just remembered to come back here. I have tentatively chosen to go with Texas mountain laurel. The reason why my choice isn't final is the incredibly slow growth of TML. Having gardening as a hobby and also being cheap, I like to propagate all my own plants. In the case of TML, that would mean that a full 2 years from now, the thing may still be no higher than my knee. That obviously creates some aesthetic problems, but also possibly some issues with the HOA.

The bermuda came with the house, just like the live oaks. What are your objections to it specifically? I know it is not native and has fairly high maintenance requirements. The biggest positive with bermuda in my mind is also the biggest negative, and that's the aggressive spread. It's nice to never have to overseed, and if you do something like level out a low spot, you also don't have to seed the area. However, keeping the stuff out of your landscape beds is a full time job.

I'm pretty big on using native plants, conserving water, and using organic methods of amending soil and fertilization. But I guess I'm not as dogmatic about it as others. What I mean by that specifically is that if there is a compelling reason NOT to use a native plant, I am not religiously against doing so. In the area of trees and shrubs, it is easy to use native plants. Sure, there may be some non-natives that are tempting, but there are plenty of natives that do the job very well. When it comes to grass, not so much.

[Last edited by vurbil - Jan 2, 2018 10:49 AM (+)]
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North Central TX (Zone 8a)
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tx_flower_child
Jan 4, 2018 11:48 AM CST
I haven't been back here either and wondered if you'd made any decisions or if my posts freaked you out or whatever. I'm not going to respond much now while using my phone. Typing takes me way too long.

Have you looked into how easy (or not) it is to propagate Yaupon Holly and also its growth rate? I think it was on your list. If not, it should be.

More thoughts later.

vurbil
Jan 5, 2018 6:33 AM CST
Yaupon holly is my other choice actually. And I may very well go that route because of the slow growth of the mountain laurel.
Name: Mary
Lake Stevens, WA (Zone 8a)
Near Seattle
Bookworm Garden Photography Plant and/or Seed Trader Plays in the sandbox Region: Pacific Northwest Seed Starter
Winter Sowing
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Pistil
Jan 5, 2018 11:07 AM CST
Got room for both?
Also, here in Washington, my conservation district has a big early spring sale of native plants, dirt cheap. Like 5 Paper Birch bare root saplings for $8, and $8 for a bundle of 3 Cornus canadensis. You might see if there is anything like that near you. It's quite a sale. You can pre-order on-line, or just go. They have massive table heaped up with natives.
North Central TX (Zone 8a)
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tx_flower_child
Jan 5, 2018 8:08 PM CST
@Pistil -- Those prices are pretty hard to beat! And getting to pre-order online really sweetens the deal. We have good sales as well, but not to that extent. Most if not all are fundraisers. I would think that Austin also has some good plant sales.

@vurbil -- Now, back to the issue of Bermuda grass. I think that you've probably covered most of the negatives. It's a shame that it came with the house. Is it a small patch right now or a full blown lawn? I don't have much experience with grass (ahem) but I have heard that both maintenance and removal can be overwhelming. I do think that if you can remove and replace it with almost anything else, it would be a good project to get going. Actually, if you can remove it then you could use a good cedar or native hardwood mulch to cover the area temporarily. This would give you some time to look at other choices. You might even find that you like the mulch. I'm only mentioning it because Mother Nature doesn't like to be naked, thus you wouldn't want to keep the area bare, assuming that you've removed the Bermuda grass. Native mulches do have one negative in that they periodically need to be replenished. But because they're native, they can be beneficial to the soil.

I'm really liking the choice of Yaupon holly. Left to its own devices it can grow quite large. However, it can also be kept as a small tree.

Have you looked around your neighborhood to see what's successfully growing there? When I bought my house and did some planting, I liked the idea of doing something completely different from everyone else. I guess if I had known about 'natives' that it might have worked. But I didn't and it didn't.

I know I've referenced the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. I do think since you're in the area that you might want to go there for a stroll. If you go now you'll learn what can handle the weather y'all are having.

Someone from Austin should jump on to this thread and give you more to consider and more local resources. Been too many years since the last previous time I lived in Austin.

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