Express-News Weekly Column Saturday,
November 4, 2000 Submitted by Calvin Finch, Ph.D.,
Director of Conservation, SAWS, and Horticulturist
Fall color is not one of our
claims to fame in the San Antonio area. We can visit Lost Maples
State Park (located 5 miles north of Vanderpool, TX, on Ranch
Road 187 or visit the web site at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/lostmap/lostmap.htm
and see good fall color from the big tooth maples most years,
but the show at the park is an exception.
If you select well, however,
you can have a landscape that offers some decent autumn color.
Texas red oak (up to 70 feet tall, usually 45 to 50 feet) is
one of the best shade trees for South Texas and it can also
offer red leaf color before the leaves fall. Now through early
spring is the best time to plant shade trees. The acorns that
are planted for the red oaks in the nursery are selected from
mother trees with good color, but there is considerable variation.
If you see a Texas red oak in the nursery that shows good color
this autumn, pick that one.
Red oaks do have some susceptibility
to oak wilt, so you may want to select another species if your
neighborhood is dominated by live and red oaks. Even in the
worst case scenarios, however, only 5 percent of the red oaks
get the disease. Paint all fresh wounds in the neighborhood
and the oaks should be safe.
Texas red oak is a good xeriscape
tree; it can tolerate recurring periods of drought. Like most
drought tolerant plants, however, it is sensitive to over-watering
when it is newly planted. To avoid having the roots drowned
the first growing season, dig the planting hole only as deep
as the tree in the container and 2 or 3 times as wide. Do not
add organic material or sand to the soil that is put back in
the hole. Fill the planting hole with the native soil so that
water enters the hole at nearly the same level that it can drain
out. The rule is that organic material is wonderful when spread
and incorporated over a large planting area, but can be deadly
in a planting hole in our poorly drained clay soils.
Apply 3 to 4 inches of mulch
over the roots of your newly planted trees and water when the
soil dries to 1 inch under the mulch. If you allow the lawn
grass to grow right up to the trunk of the newly planted tree,
the growth rate can be reduced by 40 percent.
Texas red oak is a high-quality,
fast-growing shade tree that provides good fall color. Chinese
tallow is usually short-lived and has some characteristics that
merit its description as a weed tree, but it can provide some
spectacular autumn leaf color. Chinese tallow is less red and
more purple-bronze than red oak. The white seeds are also attractive
and provide food for birds in late winter and early spring.
The tree can reach 40 or 50 feet on good soils, but on typical
South Texas soils reach only 30 to 35 feet before cold weather,
wind, borers, and other ailments end its life.
Most nurseries do not carry
tallow to sell; but, if you have the species in your neighborhood,
you can easily find a seedling to transplant. They grow very
fast, so pick a small seedling or just bury some seed in a container
or corner of the yard.
Sometimes we forget that some
selections of crepe myrtle also have good fall color. Natchez
(white flowers) at 20 to 30 feet, Tuscarora (pink flowers) at
20 to 25 feet, and Basham's Party Pink at over 25 feet, have
among the best fall color. All crepe myrtles have good summer
bloom when planted in full sun and may also have attractive
colorful bark that is showy in the winter landscape.
Crepe myrtles are good xeriscape
plants for maximum bloom. They do require one deep watering
per month during the summer.
Big tooth maple, the star of
the Lost Maples State Park autumn leaf color show, unfortunately,
is not easy to grow in the flatlands and rarely makes a good
color show. Our poorly drained soils and high night temperatures
seem to reduce its enthusiasm for growth and color in the San
For a shrub, check the standard
nandinas. When grown in the sun, the drought resistant shrub
can have spectacular leaf color all winter.