Late fall through early spring is the best time to plant trees and shrubs in South Texas.  The plants have time to develop roots in the cool soil before they face the stress of a hot, dry summer. The process of selecting and planting a tree or shrub is not overly complicated, but it deserves some thought.  If you select well and care for the plant adequately, it could be providing benefits for a long time.

Here are some recommendations that will help make the tree or shrub an asset rather than a burden.

  • Determine where you want a tree or shrub and what you want to accomplish with it.  Shade is one reason to add permanent plants, but you will not accomplish your goal if you plant the shade tree on the North side of the house.
  • Determine what size tree or shrub you want to fill the available space.  Select the species and variety based on mature size not the size that the plant is in the nursery.
  • Despite our belief that plants grow slowly, most grow quickly and can outgrow their spot in the landscape unless you have selected well.
  • Determine which plant you want by doing some research.  Notice what looks good in the neighborhood or at the Botanical Garden.  Visit and/or obtain a resource book like Neil Sperry’s, “Complete Guide to Texas Gardening.”  The Texas Agrilife Extension and the Express-News also provide information that helps you decide what is the best choice.

Shade tree Be sure to select trees and shrubs that perform well in our area.

  • A tree such as a sugar maple that is a premiere shade tree in New York, will not survive in San Antonio.  Trying to keep a poorly adapted plant alive wastes water and time.
  • The SAWS’ website ( has a good plant list and the SAWS’ Landscape Care Guide provides information that will help you make the choice.
  • Many nurseries have sales in the autumn and winter.  Planting now allows you to take advantage of the promotional prices.
  • Allow plenty of space between shade trees and buildings or other infrastructure.  Allow at least 10 feet space for a small tree and 20 or 30 feet for a large shade tree.  Keep sidewalks and driveways clear.
  • Purchase a reasonable size tree or shrub.  Small plants are less expensive and easier to plant.  Sometimes they even reach mature size before larger more expensive specimens because they become established more easily.
  • Select the right plant for the amount of light that is available.  It takes a shade-tolerant plant such as viburnum to produce a nice plant in deep shade.
  • Dig the hole as deep as the container and two or three times as wide.  The top of the root ball should be even with or higher that the surrounding soil.
  • It is generally better to refill the planting hole with the native soil or compost.  The plant will have to grow in the native soil if it is to survive, and it is less likely that the hole will form a well that holds water if the soil is consistent with the adjacent soil.
  • It is not necessary to place fertilizer in the hole at planting.  Apply lawn fertilizer to the tree or shrub next spring when the plant can utilize it.
  • What does contribute to fast growth is an application of mulch applied on the surface of the soil over the root ball.  Use leaves, bark, shredded brush, or any available organic material.
  • Firm the soil around the root ball by soaking the area with a slow running hose.  The water will help to eliminate air pockets.


Green Shade Tree
CPS’ Green Tree Rebate Program will reimburse customers $50 per trees for approved trees planted between Oct 1, 2017 and Apr 30, 2018. CLICK HERE for complete information and Application forms, instructions.

Written by Calvin Finch
Dr. Calvin Finch is the retired Urban Water Program Director for the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources.You can ask Calvin question and hear his answers on the air as he co-hosts the Gardening South Texas on the air at KLUP (AM 930) Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 to 2:00pm.