“By planting and caring for trees, you help improve your surroundings, reduce pollution, lower energy costs, improve the appearance of your community and increase the value of your property.” (North Carolina Cooperative Extension). Trees offer environmental benefits by providing food and shelter for birds and insects and sequestering carbon, monetary benefits by lessening summer cooling costs with their shade and health benefits including reducing pollutants and providing oxygen.
Most of North Central Texas is part of the cross timbers ecoregion. Many tree varieties are native to this area and thrive even under challenging environmental conditions and soil types. The Texas Forest Service has an interactive guide for tree selection to help choose the right tree for a given location and landscaping purpose. Input conditions (sunlight, soil conditions, height, etc.) to receive a list of suitable trees.
Special collections for North Central Texas from the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center
Texas Tough Plants — Natives located in Handouts and Presentations
Denton County Extension Agent Emeritus, John Cooper, has taken the mystery out of tree planting. His article, Tree Planting and Care explains how to prepare the soil, which tree to select, and how to plant and irrigate young trees. Texas Forest Service guide to Tree Planting to help you select a site, plant and maintain your trees.
Pruning Trees: For landscape shade trees, pruning is only necessary to remove dead limbs. Should you choose to prune for other reasons, remember that the tree does not require it. Trees need leaves, so be cautious before pruning. In particular, do not top a tree unless you want to permanently stunt its growth. The most common victim is crape myrtle (it is sometimes called crape murder). There are legitimate reasons for pruning, such as aesthetics or to be able to mow underneath a tree. Reducing shade so that grass will grow is not the best option for the tree, although you might decide it is the best option for you. If it is too shady for grass, then planting a shade-tolerant ground cover is preferable to lifting the canopy year after year.
Pruning is part art, part science and usually completely confusing for homeowners. There are some tricks to doing it properly. Go to these links for more discussion:
Fertilizing Trees: Before fertilizing trees, lawn, or any other plant, find out what the soil needs. You can download forms and instructions for a soil analysis. To give the soil what it needs, at the right time, and prevent runoff, follow these instructions. Most of the time, trees do not need supplemental fertilization. If you fertilize your lawn, that may be plenty for the trees as well. Do NOT fertilize a sick tree. Get the problem properly diagnosed before performing any type of treatment, including fertilizer.
Watering Trees: Even established trees need water during periods of drought, especially in hot weather. This Tree Watering Tips video will help you know when and how to water your trees.
Most tree problems seen by Master Gardeners are not diseases but abiotic factors, meaning improper planting, watering, weather damage, etc. When trying to diagnose a tree problem, first consider the age of the tree. If it has been planted within the past two or three years, it may be that the tree has not overcome transplant shock. The tree will look thin, and the top may not have leaves at all. Another very common problem is underwatering. A new tree needs infrequent but deep watering. In the absence of rain, water the tree once a week. Give it at least 1 to 1-1/2″ of water; the ideal is to use a soaker hose. The regular irrigation system may not provide enough for a new tree. Conduct a water audit to find out. A very simple way to audit the sprinkler system is to put out tuna cans (or similar size) and run the system for 30 minutes. Measure the water in the can to figure out how long to run the system to get one to 1 1/2 inches each time you water.
If there is a disease process, fungal diseases are the most common. The Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab will diagnose diseases for a fee. Look at their Plant Disease Handbook for a description of common diseases.
For professional help, consider hiring a certified arborist to diagnose and possibly treat the tree. The International Society of Arboriculture (Texas) “Find a Tree Care Service/Verify an ISA Certification” page can help you find an arborist based on your zip code.
One of the most common native trees in Denton County is the post oak. These lovely natives do not transplant well, so if you are lucky enough to have them in your landscape, take good care of them. John Cooper, Denton County Extension Agent Emeritus, wrote an extremely helpful article called, “The Care and Feeding of Post Oaks.” It is well worth reading. He also wrote “Care and Feeding of Pines in Denton County.”
Homeowners are concerned about oak wilt due to heavy media coverage about the condition. Denton County has had very little trouble with oak wilt to date. Chances are good that is not what is bothering your oak tree. However, read this article from the Texas A&M Forest Service “Forest Health: Identify and Manage Oak Wilt.”
If you know what type of tree you have, the IPM Online site from the University of California Davis can help you find out what diseases may be afflicting it.
This is a good article about oak tree diseases.
Storm Damage: When storms come, limbs or sometimes entire trees are damaged. Check the AgriLife Extension Tree Care Kit for tree first aid, as well as storm damage prevention. The Texas Forest Service After the Storm: Can My Tree Be Saved page has excellent information on pruning trees with illustrations, along with information to help you determine if your tree can be saved.
For varieties recommended in North Texas, check these lists: Fruit Trees for North Texas
If you think it is not possible to grow citrus trees in Denton, think again. This article by a Denton County Master Gardener will help you get started: Growing Citrus in North Texas
Successfully growing peaches in Denton is a daunting task, but many try. Here is the definitive guide to insect control on peaches, pecans and plums.
- Afghan pine
- Bird of paradise
- Chinese pistache
- Leatherleaf Mahonia
- Possumhaw deciduous holly
- Small redbud and smoketree
- Texas Mountain Laurel
How often do you think about your shrubs? We are all pretty good at keeping an eye on our trees for broken branches or other signs of distress. We love to walk in the garden and enjoy the flowering plants from early March through December. But somehow that level in between – shrubs – just doesn’t get the same love and attention!
When we first landscaped our house, the best advice we got was to plant shrubs first. Shrubs form the backdrop, the foundation, for all the rest of the landscape. They also provide birds and other creatures the best food and shelter. And they can be real stunners on their own, if selected and placed with care.
Late mid-October-late January is the best time to plant trees and shrubs, so let’s get busy and beautify our landscape!
Shrubs are generally planted in an existing bed, but look carefully at that bed and where you want the shrubs to be. It’s best to provide an 18-24” gap between any structures and the shrubs. This will provide room to get between them for maintenance. Another good practice is to look out the windows of your home and select plantings to give a pleasing view from the inside looking out. After all, how much time do you spend standing outside looking at your home vs. looking out from the inside?
Today’s most attractive landscapes are a far cry from the lines of privets common with builder “landscapes”. More often we strive for a sense of natural growth, so plant shrubs in odd number groups or drifts – not in a straight line around your foundation. Plant a variety of shrubs in each drift to avoid disease problems and provide biodiversity in your yard.
Shrubs are often seen as “fillers.” With proper locations and plant selection, they can be much more than that. When thinking about installing a new shrub, consider the alternatives. Are you trying to fill a specific space, conceal an unappealing feature or add more beauty? As a shrub alternative, could you use a large bunch grass or a vine on a trellis? How about a boulder with grasses planted around it? Your decisions can totally change the look and maintenance requirements of a landscape.
Shrub Species Selection
Now that you are ready to plant those new shrubs, it’s time to select our plants. This is where many gardeners lose sight of their long-term vision. We all just want to get in the garden and dig! A little research before selecting your plants will make a huge difference!
So, do a little research and make notes about the species of interest, and of those to be avoided. There are two major issues to be considered:
- Will this plant grow to provide the features I value – beauty, low maintenance, shelter and food for wildlife and pollinators, and at its mature size will it be the right fit in my yard?
- Is this plant likely to be invasive? Many common shrubs have been identified as invasive species by TexasInvasives.org meaning they are harmful to our environment. Invasive plants are characterized by:
- Thrive and spread aggressively outside of their native range, choking out native species on which wildlife depends;
- Almost always are introduced (non-native) species;
- Decrease natural biodiversity
- Costly to prevent, monitor and control
A list can be found in the TEXASINVASIVES.ORG database.
Two good sources of lists of shrubs well-suited to our soils and climate are:
The AgriLife EarthKind Plant Selector at: http://ekps.tamu.edu/ Each species has a link that gives additional info for that type of plant. This info cites both the good and some of the not so good aspects of the plant. Plants are given an EarthKind rating from 1-10, so ensure your picks are on the positive end. Make sure you review this info before deciding on a specific species. This site does include some very hardy, but also invasive species, so check your favorites against the TexasInvasives.org list.
The Native Plant Society of Texas, Trinity Forks chapter website has lists of native landscape plants that will thrive here at: https://npsot.org/wp/trinityforks/plant-lists/
Here are a few really good options recommended by both the Texas AgriLife EarthKind program and the Native Plant Society of Texas:
- American Beautyberry, Callicarpa Americana – graceful arching stems produce clusters of tiny white flowers in spring, white berries in summer turning bright fuschia in early fall. No maintenance required, but can be cut back in early spring if needed for control.
- Coralberry, Symphoricarpos orbiculatus – graceful arching branches produces small round-ish leaves for a delicate texture and small red berries in winter. No maintenance required, but can be cut back in early spring if needed for control.
- Flame Acanthus, Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii – butterfly and pollinator magnet! Bright red blooms mid-summer-first freeze. No maintenance required, but can be cut back in early spring if needed for control.
- Pavonia (Rock Rose), Pavonia lasiopetala – beautiful small pink hibiscus-like flowers on long arching branches. Needs some control to stay in its space. Water intermittently to promote blooming during drought conditions. Mildew is minor and unavoidable and should be tolerated.
- Texas Sage (Cenizo), Leucophyllum frutescens – Beautiful shrub comes in dark green and silver leaf-color; blooms prolifically spring –fall proportionally to relative humidity. Selectively prune to shape if needed in winter. Does not like wet feet and is susceptible to cotton root rot. Do not fertilize. Do not overwater. Little maintenance required.
- Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis – beautiful upright shrub that also provides herbs for cooking! May need to be pruned to maintain shape and size. Drought resistant. Doesn’t like wet feet.
- American Elderberry, Sambucus Canadensis – large shrub, over 6’ tall and wide with gorgeous large white flower heads in spring and bunches of dark purple berries in late summer. Berries are good for syrup, jelly, wine. Drops leaves under extremely dry conditions and then re-grows them rapidly. Recommend planting evergreen in front of it.
- Agarito, Berberis trifoliolata – Fun smaller shrub with lots of extremely sharp barbs. Not to be planted by your mailbox, but is good in a protective bed along a fence. Lovely white flowers in early spring followed by white, then red berries in mid-summer. Excellent food source and protection for birds.
- Rough-leaf Dogwood, Cornus drummondii – Beautiful clusters of white flowers in spring producing berries in fall. Can be a shrub if multi-trunked or a tree if single-trunk. Blooms well in shade.
- Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria – Also available as dwarf version. Produces beautiful form if left un-pruned. Lots of bright red berries in fall and winter. Excellent food source for birds – not people (notice it’s Latin name).
- Turk’s Cap, Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii – Hummingbird magnet! Arching branches with bright red hanging blooms throughout the summer. Requires pruning to stay in its space.
- Texas Mountain Laurel, Sophora secundiflora – Can also be a small shrub. Blooms large groups of bright purple blossoms early spring followed by seed pods and red seeds. Known for its strong “grape soda” smell. Seeds are toxic to animals and humans.
The following shrubs are non-native, but are EarthKind selections and well worth a little garden space:
- Oak-leaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia – large white blooms in early summer, bright red foliage in fall in shade-part shade.
- Dwarf Pomegranate, Punica granatum var. nana – Single red-orange flowers set fruit prolifically. Fall color can sometimes be a nice yellow.
- Bay Laurel, Laurus nobilis – The classic laurel of antiquity used to fashion victory wreaths for ancient Greek and Roman generals and athletes. It also serves as a handsome upright growing evergreen larger shrub to small shrub. The foliage is often used in cooking to flavor stews and other meat dishes.
The following plants are commonly sold and planted, but are listed on one or more invasive plant lists and should be avoided:
- Chinese/European Privet, Ligustrum sinense/L. vulgareL. – listed by USDA Forest Service, and the Invasive Plant Atlas of the US
- Japanese / Glossy Privet
Ligustrum japonicum/L. lucidumAit. f. – listed by USDA Forest Service, and the Invasive Plant Atlas of the US
- Nandina, Sacred Bamboo, Nandina domestica – listed by USDA Forest Service, and the Invasive Plant Atlas of the US
- Bush Honeysuckles – listed by USDA Forest Service:
Amur honeysuckle, Lonicera maackii (Rupr.) Herder
Morrow’s honeysuckle, morrowii Gray
Tatarian honeysuckle, L. tatarica L.
Sweet-breath-of-spring, L. fragrantissima Lindl. & Paxton
Picking a Shrub at the Nursery
Now the fun of hunting for your ideal shrub begins. Depending on the species you want, “good” shrubs are available from numerous sources, including big box stores, if you take the time to evaluate them.
Selecting and planting shrubs is much like selecting and planting a tree. The Agrilife website has several good tips at http://texastreeplanting.tamu.edu/PickTreeAtNursery.html . The accompanying video is also a good reference. Keep in mind pulling a shrub out of its pot to check the condition is very important. If a retailer doesn’t want you to pull the plant out of its container or the shrub has severely girdled roots, don’t buy that shrub.
Shrubs are generally sold in pot sizes from 1-10 gallons. In general, it is better to plant a larger shrub. Shrubs will make an immediate impact on your landscape.
Planting the Shrub
Returning, once again to the Agrilife website, at http://texastreeplanting.tamu.edu/PlantTreeProperly.html, there are several points to remember when planting the shrub.
- The hole depth and width are important to establish the shrub properly.
- Refilling the hole with the same soil that was removed also helps establish the shrub. If the hole is terribly sticky clay, you may need to amend the entire bed with organic matter before proceeding.
- Mulch retains moisture and slows weed development around the shrub. It should not, however, touch the shrub, but should be pulled away from all trunks at least four inches.
- Most important is proper watering. Watering of about a gallon is necessary at least once a week. In hot, dry periods this may increase to two times per week. Native plants also require this watering to recover from the transplant shock and get their root systems going. This should be maintained for the first two years after planting until they are ready to survive on rainwater alone.
- Trimming during the first year of a newly planted shrub should be limited to removal of dead or broken limbs.
- While nurseries will plant shrubs all year round (particularly potted shrubs), planting should be done when the shrub is dormant (late Fall through early Spring).
Pruning Your Shrubs:
After their first growing season, shrubs may need a little pruning for aesthetic purposes. Do not be tempted to get out the hedge clippers! Using good bypass action pruning shears, selectively remove branches as needed. There are excellent instructions at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkind/landscape/proper-pruning-techniques/.
If the shrub is already too big for its location, consider moving it. Most shrubs have a mature size provided and if you plant properly, you shouldn’t have this problem, but occasionally one will outgrow even our great expectations. With proper planning, selection and planting, the lowly shrub will become a star in your landscape. Spend a little time now for big payback later.
Texas A&M AgriLife EarthKind Landscaping: https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkind/
Native Plant Society of Texas, Trinity Forks Chapter: https://npsot.org/wp/trinityforks/plant-lists/
USDA Forest Service: https://www.invasive.org/eastern/srs/
Texas Invasives.org: https://texasinvasives.org/plant_database/index.php
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Earth-Kind Landscaping: https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkind/
Native Plant Society of Texas, Trinity Forks Chapter “Plant Lists”: https://npsot.org/wp/trinityforks/plant-lists/
USDA Forest Service “Nonnative Invasive Plants of Southern Forests”: https://www.invasive.org/eastern/srs/
TexasInvasives.Org “Invasives Database”: https://texasinvasives.org/plant_database/index.php
Selecting a shrub: Outstanding Shrubs for Texas