Plant Answers  >  Best Trees for Texas and Topping Trees


Since trees are the largest and most permanent plant form, they represent a huge, long-term investment of time, effort and money. Knowing the proper care for trees is essential in protecting this investment.

Along with proper care, special attention needs to be taken in selecting trees for the landscape.

First of all, have an overall plan or objective for planting a tree. Do you need shade, protection from wind, screening, a pedestrian barricade, or a colorful accent-

When planning remember to consider the tree's ultimate height and spread. Beware of planting too close to the houses, buildings, streets or power lines.

Know your soil and climatic conditions. In our alkaline, rocky, caliche soils, many tree species that do excellent in other areas of Texas, do very poorly. Our sudden temperature fluctuations in the spring and fall kill many non-adapted trees each year.

In the nursery, small trees (6-8 feet height) may be your best investment, since they recover more quickly from transplant shock than larger specimens. Container-grown stock is generally the quickest to re-establish, followed by balled-and-burlapped and bare-rooted trees.

Whether planting bare-root or balled-and-burlapped trees or shrubs, the first step is to dig a hole of sufficient size. As far as depth is concerned, plant the tree or shrub about the same depth it was growing in the nursery. On a bare-root plant, the trunk or main stem is often discolored at the original soil line. This may be several inches above the upper-most roots. Plant a balled-and-burlapped plant so the top of the soil ball is at the soil surface or several inches above the soil surface--error on the side of planting too shallow rather than planting too deep. Trees will die because of wood rotting caused by soil being piled on the trunk.
It doesn't matter what type of tree - bare root, B&B, or container- you have, the width of the hole must be at least 2 times the diameter of the ball. Again, the depth should be the same or slightly less than the depth of the ball.

After setting the tree or shrub in the hole, always use the same soil which was dug out of the hole as backfill. Adapted trees and shrubs do not need soil amendments to help them become established. Water the plant thoroughly after planting with a slow flow into the planting hole to settle the soil fill around the root system and remove all air pockets.

Fertilizer should not be used on new plants. It should be used only after the plant has become well established in the new location which takes 6 - 8 months.

Rather than planting a new tree, maybe you just want to make the existing trees in your lawn more attractive. Some homeowners decide to "stimulate" growth by topping or dehorning their old tree. I have only one comment to make.

"Brother, don't top that tree!" That's some pretty sage advice I recently overheard a veteran nurseryman giving one of his customers. "That topping's a bad deal," he continued. "It can ruin your trees faster than anything else around." And he's so right. Topping trees is not pruning, it's butchery - - "tree slaughter," if you please.

In addition to ruining the natural shape and beauty of large shade trees, topping invites problems - - real problems. Severe pruning, like an illness, weakens the plant and lowers its resistance to insects and diseases. These pests can easily enter through open pruning wounds. So what's the answer- Three ideas come to mind:

-Select and plant only well adapted trees. Most of the trees that fall victim to the pruner's saw in the home landscape are the fast growers, such as mimosa, ash, mulberry and china berry. These trees are noted for their rapid growth, not necessarily their attractive growth habits.

-Homeowners often become discontent with their appearance, resorting to topping as a last-ditch effort to overcome a bad situation. Selection of better quality trees at the outset can avoid a number of problems later.

It's best to avoid the really fast growing trees, since most are quite prone to pest problems. Included are willows (borers, cotton root rot, heat stress), cottonwood (borers, heat stress, cotton root rot), Arizona ash (borers), sycamore (lace bugs, heat stress, anthracnose), mimosas (mimosa webworm, mimosa wilt), and fruitless mulberry (borers, cotton root rot, heat stress).

Some of the best Large Trees (greater than 50 feet tall) - "Texas" Shumard Red Oak, Live Oak, Chinkapin Oak, Monterrey Oak, Montezuma Cypress, and Bur Oak.

Some of the best Medium Trees (30-50 feet tall) - Chinese Pistache, Texas Red Oak, Cedar Elm, Lacey Oak, and Bradford Pear.

Some of the best Small Trees (less than 30 feet tall) - Crape Myrtle, Texas-Oklahoma-Mexican Redbud, Texas Mt. Laurel, Yaupon Holly, Loquat, Vitex, Windmill Palm and Possumhaw Holly

For a complete list of recommended landscape plants for south central Texas and their ultimate height and spread, see:

-Don't overplant. Sure, it would be nice to have shade tomorrow, but don't plant a forest for quick shade. Remember, those small trees will grow up and will need adequate space. Two or three well-spaced trees are usually plenty for a front or back yard.

-The third way to sidestep topping your trees is through proper pruning techniques. Start pruning your tree when it is young, then prune a little each year, or as needed. Growing a beautiful tree is a little like raising children. You want to start your corrective measures at an early age.

Proper pruning techniques can help any tree. By gradual and selective limb removal, you can accomplish the same goal of producing a healthier, more beautiful tree, without the devastating effects of topping.

As one final word of caution, choose the person who will work on your tree very carefully. Every year hundreds of Texas homeowners pay their hard-earned money to people who just happen to appear at their doorsteps offering to prune their trees. Pruning is a sophisticated art. Consult a reputable, qualified arborist who understands proper pruning. You and your tree will be glad you did. Don't be afraid to ask for local names and telephone numbers of people they have worked for. Then don't hesitate to call them before allowing anyone to work on your trees.

Water your shade trees slowly and thoroughly during dry spells. Fertilize in late October with a complete and slow-release fertilizer such as 19-5-9. Use ten pounds of this fertilizer per 1000 square feet of canopy area.



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