For The Answer
Saturday, March 20, 2004
By Calvin Finch, Conservation Director, SAWS, and Horticulturist
SPRING BLOOMING PLANTS
This is a particularly good spring for Texas mountain laurel bloom. The purple blossoms are prominent in many neighborhoods. Take a little walk near the plants so that you can enjoy the grape bubble gum fragrance. Texas mountain laurel likes full sun and is one of our best xeriscape shrubs. The evergreen plant reaches 15 or 16 feet on some sites and can be trained to a single stemmed tree. Use it for a natural shaped screen (6 to 8 feet between plants); it does not respond well to shearing or excessive shaping.
The blue flag and white cemetery iris are blooming in many of the same landscapes as the Texas mountain laurel. They also do best in full sun. Iris and Texas mountain laurel are both passed up by deer in most neighborhoods. I think iris are underutilized. The blooms are beautiful in the spring, and the foliage makes a tough low-water-use groundcover for the rest of the year. The rhizomes must be planted flush with the soil level. Plant them too deep and they will rot. Mulch is not recommended either. Iris is one of the few plants where mulch does not improve survivability. Containerized iris are available in containers at most nurseries now or plant the excess rhizomes harvested from a friend’s garden in the autumn.
Loquat (Japanese plums) are loaded with fruit in most locations this spring. The fact they survived through the winter indicates how mild the weather was this year. The fruit is very tasty, but the loquat’s main claim to fame is that it is a great addition to our landscapes. It is evergreen and has a distinctly tropical look, which belies its drought tolerance. Use it for a specimen tree or as a tall screen (20 feet). Loquat is shade tolerant and makes a good understory tree. When the fruit makes it through the winter it is a favorite of birds, squirrels, opossums, and raccoons.
Texas Gold columbines are blooming now. The yellow shooting star-like flowers rise above the foliage on 2-foot stalks. Use this native plant as a groundcover under deciduous trees or even open live oaks. The foliage is beautiful with light green color and mounding growth pattern. Texas Gold columbine is a perennial that spreads by reseeding. The books say it is deer proof. Unfortunately, the pests have learned to eat it.
Larkspur reseeds just like Texas Gold columbine, but it is an annual. So far, the deer will not eat the plants. Plant a few transplants in full sun this spring and it will naturalize. The seed can also be spread in the fall. If you want larkspur and other reseeding flowers to return each year they must be allowed to mature the seed and, when it drops, it must reach bare soil—no mulch or thick sod on sites where you want larkspur or wildflowers to naturalize. I have both the purple doubles and pink and white singles returning each year to my raised bed garden. They will decline quickly when hot weather arrives and can be cut back about June 1. Until then, the blooms are beautiful and are favorites of butterflies and hummingbirds.
The plant with a waxy yellow flower growing on cascading dark green foliage is probably primrose jasmine. I say “probably” because the yellow flowered Lady Banks rose looks similar and both are blooming now. One test to determine which you are seeing is to determine if the neighborhood has deer. Primrose jasmine is not eaten by the deer and flourishes in many “deer blessed” neighborhoods because there is not much with which it must compete. The jasmine will grow 10 feet around and 8 feet tall. Besides being deer resistant, it is a very drought tolerant plant and does well in full sun or partial shade.
Lady Banks rose is also blooming now. It does best in full sun but old plants that grew up next to shade trees (especially mesquite) will find their way up into the crown where they bloom. Like primrose jasmine, they can make a huge plant. They are completely covered with blooms for about two weeks every spring. For some reason they are not relished as much by deer as most other roses and many old specimens exist where the new low growth is eaten every year but the stems survive and a crown exists above the reach of the deer. There is yellow Lady Banks and white flowered selections.