Q: We recently moved here from New Mexico, so I could teach at Georgia Tech, and bought a new house. What small trees should we consider planting under our tall pines that will attract birds? Are there special guidelines for tree planting in Atlanta’s red clay? Also, do you know what might grow easily under Magnolias?
A: The answer to your first question is easy. Dr. Mel Garber, Extension horticulturist, has written an excellent factsheet on the plants that attract birds in Georgia. You can download it from the Web address shown below.
Your second question is a basic one that all Atlanta gardeners deal with: how to help plants grow in clay. Since you are a scientist, you understand the importance of research. Dr. Tim Smalley and other investigators have shown that the most important factor in the establishment of a tree is the amount of digging you do before the tree is planted. Simply put, loosen the soil in a wide area! It should be at least five feet wide, even for small trees, and the soil should be broken up thoroughly.
The hole doesn’t have to be deep. It just needs to be wide enough to accommodate the anticipated root growth during the first couple of years.
Your third question is a stumper. The space under a magnolia tree is so densely shaded that almost nothing will grow there. If the limbs almost touch the ground, I’d leave them in place and put shredded leaves under the tree. If the limbs are higher, you can try liriope or mondo grass there but be sure to loosen the soil wherever you plant anything. Since it is so dry under a magnolia, you’ll have to water the groundcover weekly until winter.
Attracting Birds With Ornamental Plants