By Lorissa Grymes, Victoria County Master Gardener Intern
Edited by Charla Borchers Leon

February 8, 2007

The winter months are most often thought of as a time for staying indoors.  I think of it as an opportunity to go outside and get some planting done.  Now is a great time to get trees into the ground.  While one may think that nothing is growing during the winter months, we must remember that roots are still active.  By transplanting trees now, roots can begin to grow and get a head start before vegetative growth begins in the spring.  Careful planning can benefit the survival and appearance of your tree.  Success starts with selecting the right tree for your location, so do a little homework first.


The group of shade trees recommended in this article for Victoria County was chosen because of their ability to withstand various obstacles in our area.  They are able to tolerate heat, wind, some drought, and our variance in soil type.  Soil type is one of the most important considerations when choosing an appropriate tree species.  Soils vary throughout Victoria County, but are usually considered poorly drained, loamy or clay soils.  Most of the trees discussed in this article are able to adapt to most of our local soil conditions.
Available growing area is also important.  My list of trees includes some large shade trees.  Some of these can get quite large and overwhelm a small lot.  Larger trees need room to spread out without taking over an entire yard.  You will need to consider a smaller tree if you are not on a large lot or on one acre or more.


Let’s begin with the oaks.  They include bur oak, Chinquapin oak, lacey oak, live oak, Shumard oak, and Texas red oak.  These have all proven to be dependable trees in our area.   All are considered to be large in size with the exception of the lacey oak and the Texas red oak, which are classified as medium sized trees.  Acorns are produced in all varieties.  However, the bur oak produces the largest acorns of the bunch, some as large as 2 inches long and wide.  The acorns are beautiful but can be a nuisance when mowing.  Not only are the bur oak acorns large, but the leaves are as well (6 – 12 inches long).  This makes for lots of leaves to rake in the fall.

Texas A&M considers the Chinquapin oak and the lacey oak as Texas Superstars.  Both trees are seldom troubled by disease or pests.  The Chinquapin develops an open rounded crown.  Its rich green leaves have a distinctive saw-tooth shape that turn yellow to orange-brown in the fall.  Lacey oak has an irregularly rounded crown with leaves emerging as a soft pink color which turn to blue-green as they mature.  Fall color varies from brown to yellow.

Everyone is probably most familiar with the live oak.  This is one of my personal favorites.  When most other trees have no leaves in the winter, you can count on this one to provide green color in the landscape, as it is the only evergreen in the group.  It is tolerant of poor soils, but does not like poorly drained soils.

Shumard oak and Texas red oak are probably the showiest of this selection in the fall.  The lobed green leaves turn to a nice red and orange color towards the end of the year.  They are somewhat similar in appearance, with the Shumard being the taller of the two.

The only real threat to our oaks, with the exception of the bur oak, would be their susceptibility to oak wilt.  Oak wilt is a disease caused by a fungus.  There are varying degrees of susceptibility and resistance to this disease among oaks.  However, the disease is yet to be verified in Victoria County.  Proper pruning (in late December – February 1st) will help prevent the spread of the disease to our area.  Oaks pruned at any other time should be treated with a wound paint.  Latex paint works best!

Lacebark elm and cedar elm are also reliable trees.  Who could resist the peeling, flaky bark of the lacebark elm?  This special feature creates an interesting mottled look on the trunk and branches.  The cedar elm provides great shade with its tall, upright growth habit.  It is, however, susceptible to Dutch elm disease.  Both trees are deciduous, providing some yellowish to reddish purple in the fall.

Another preferred species is the bald cypress.  Its dark green needle-like leaflets provide a feathery-fine textured feel in the summer, turning to a rich, brown color in the fall. The main drawback of the bald cypress is the “knees” formed from the roots that stick up in the lawn.  These usually develop on yards that are over-watered and too wet and can become a nuisance when mowing.

Now, we can’t forget about the honey mesquite. The look of the mesquite makes me think of a Southwest theme.  The fruit resembles a waxbean that is tan in color. Aromatic creamy flowers are displayed in spring, summer, and fall.  Its attractive foliage, flowers, and fruit display somewhat of a graceful appearance in the landscape.

Last, but not least, is the Chinese pistache.  I hesitate to recommend this tree simply because of its looks for the first 5 to 10 years.  It is sometimes referred to as the “Ugly Duckling” until it reaches some maturity.  If you can wait out the straggled look in the beginning, you will have a nice tree later on.  It is also one of the most dependable trees for displaying its color in the fall for the South.  Its high resistance to insects and disease make it almost pest free.  It doesn’t like to be wet, so make sure it is planted in a well drained area.

Well, it’s time for me to tell my husband to go dig a hole in the back yard.  At least he can’t say it’s too hot outside.  I wish you the best planting weather.


                               Height               Width
Bur Oak                   60-70ft              60-70ft
*Chinquapin Oak       50-90ft             20-40ft
*Lacey Oak              30-35ft             30-35ft
**Live Oak               40-50ft             80-100ft
Shumard Oak            75-90ft            50-60ft
Texas Red Oak          30-50ft            50-60ft
Lacebark Elm            40-50ft            40-50ft
Cedar Elm                 80-90ft            70-80ft
Bald Cypress             50-70ft            20-30ft
Honey Mesquite         30-40ft            30-40ft
*Chinese Pistache      40-50ft            25-30ft

*Designated Texas Superstar by Texas A&M University



Mexican Plum
Crape myrtle
Bradford Pear
**Possumhaw Holly (pruned)
**Yaupon Holly (pruned)
*Shantung Maple

*Designated Texas Superstar by Texas A&M University

“The lacebark elm takes its name from its peeling, flaky bark that creates an interesting mottled look on the trunk and branches. It is deciduous, providing some yellowish to reddish purple in the fall.”
“The Texas red oak  and the Shumard  oak are probably the showiest of the oak trees in the fall.  The lobed green leaves turn to a nice red and orange color towards the end of the year.  They are somewhat similar in appearance, with the Shumard being the taller of the two.  The Shumard is classified as a large tree while the Texas red oak is a medium size.
Photos re-printed with permission from Benny J. Simpson, TAMU – Dallas.  Visit link here.