TREES & SHRUBS
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Small Trees to Balance the Landscape
By Dr. Calvin Finch
Too often when we think about landscaping we only consider lawns and shade trees. It is important to balance the landscape between shade trees and lawn with perennials, shrubs and small trees. In addition to the aesthetics involved, the perennials, shrubs and small trees allow you to increase color in the landscape and habitat for wildlife such as birds and butterflies. There are a number of small trees to consider.
Crape myrtles are a favorite way to add small trees to the landscape. There are 2 main arguments for using crape myrtle in the landscape. They offer long periods of summer bloom and you can pick the size of crape myrtle that fits exactly into the space or gap that exists in your landscape. Among the colors to choose from are lavender, pink, red, and white. Pruning has been de-emphasized as research indicates bloom performance is just as good without heavy pruning each year. Grow crape myrtles as specimen plants or in rows or groupings in full sun. Visit plantanswers.com to view the size and flower color options that exist. The lists also provide information on disease and insect resistance, bark characteristics, and fall leaf color.
Vitex is also called Texas lilac or chaste tree. The deciduous tree will grow to about 25 ft. in full sun. The attractive lavender blooms are produced on stalks that emerge all over the sprawling crown of this especially drought tolerant tree. Butterflies and hummingbirds use vitex as a nectar source. Deer do not eat vitex. Some gardeners avoid using vitex because in some habitats it has been identified as an invasive plant. On the other hand the Texas A&M Agriculture Extension Service has designated vitex as a Texas Superstar because of its attractive bloom, drought tolerance and pest free growth.
Loquat (Japanese plum) is an evergreen tree that grows to 25ft tall in sun or shade. Because of its shade tolerance it can be used on the edge of the landscape under the crowns of large shade trees. The well-shaped tree with large leaves also makes a distinctive specimen plant and works well in rows. Loquat bloom occurs in early winter and is not very showy but if the winter is mild, the fruit can make quite an impact. Eat it fresh or in preserves. Loquat fruit is also a favorite food for birds. Production can be high so you may not want to plant loquat on the edge of the driveway where the fruit will fall on the car.
Mexican plum is similar to loquat in that it produces a fruit and has shade tolerance but it only grows to about 15ft tall. The bloom in February is short-lived but showy. The fruit is again a favorite of birds but the quantity is not overwhelming and it ripens in late spring. Mexican plum forms a very compact crown that is attractive as a specimen tree and is also attractive to nesting birds such as cardinals and mockingbirds. Mexican plum is very effective when planted in groups to form a thicket that becomes a center of bird activity. Deer do not seem to browse on Mexican plum.
Mexican plum, crape myrtles, and loquat are available at every nursery, Texas persimmon is harder to find. You may have to visit a nursery that specializes in native plants or watch for native plant sales. Texas persimmon is a deciduous native tree that grows to about 15 ft. tall on most sites. The sexes are on separate trees so if you have a male there is no fruit. The species resembles Mexican plum but the crown is not as compact and the foliage is more gray-green. Use Texas persimmon as an understory wildlife tree. When the female is loaded with fruit it often appears to be in motion because of the birds. It is especially attractive to golden-fronted woodpeckers in my neighborhood.
Anaqua may eventually grow to 35 ft. tall but it is not a fast growing tree. Some gardeners know anaqua as sandpaper tree because of the texture of the leaves. It is evergreen and grows a very dense crown. Anaqua blooms in early summer and produces a sticky yellow fruit in August that is a bird favorite but not a favorite of homeowners trying to keep a patio clean. Deer do not seem to eat anaqua and it is relatively easy to find at area nurseries. Grow it in full sun.
Mexican olive is not related to the olives that produce olive oil and fruit for the table. It is called an olive because it does produce a small round fruit every summer that does not rate very high in its noticeability or value as a wildlife food. What you do notice about Mexican olive is the 3 inch white blooms that cover the tree for most of the growing season. Grow Mexican olive in full sun where it may reach 25ft. tall and nearly the same size in diameter. Of all the small trees described, it is the most cold sensitive. In winters where temps reach 24 degrees, the top may die back but existing trees grow back quickly from the roots.
Kathy Finigan, My Productive Backyard
Citrus are one of those plants that I think are a must in the garden. They have beautiful dark green foliage all year, sensuously perfumed flowers at various times of the year and then produce fabulously colorful edible fruit. They really are the most perfect garden specimen. Citrus grow well in containers which gives you the ability to move them to different places in your landscape or your deck. Potted up citrus can be moved to protected areas to avoid freezes.
Like all other plants, citrus trees grown in containers plants need more watering than in ground plants because of their restricted root run and although citrus like a hot and sunny position, they also require good soil moisture levels to stay healthy and produce well.
You will need to feed your potted citrus: they are prone to micro nutrient deficiencies, which is exacerbated by the constant watering, so you need to ensure that you apply a fertilizer with a variety of trace elements especially iron manganese and zinc. For citrus in containers I like to apply the rule “A little often” In spring and early autumn I apply slow release organic pellets and then supplement this with regular liquid feeds from early spring through to late autumn. The type of liquid feed I use is dependent on the growth stage of the plant. When the plant is young, I use a high nitrogen ratio fertilizer to encourage plenty of growth which will develop into a strong branch structure. High nitrogen ratio fertilizers also discourage flower and fruiting which is necessary until the tree is large and strong enough to hold full sized fruit.
Unless you are espaliering or standardizing your citrus trees will require very little pruning. All I do is Tip Pruning in spring to encourage bushiness. Prune to shape by removing wayward growth. Remove any dead or diseased wood.
The Versatility of the Oleander
Oleander plants are among the most versatile of shrubs, with dozens of uses in southern and coastal landscapes. They tolerate a wide range of conditions, including difficult soil, salt spray, high pH, severe pruning, reflected heat from pavements and walls, and drought. But the one thing they can’t withstand is winter temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
Oleanders bloom from summer to fall, with fragrant flowers in shades of apricot, copper, pink, lilac, red, purple, salmon, yellow, and white, depending on variety. The plants are best adapted to the west coast, southern states, Florida, and Texas and will withstand dry conditions and wind, as well as salty, marshy soils, making them popular in coastal regions. Oleanders grow 6 to 12 feet tall and wide, and some varieties can be trained to grow into small trees up to 20 feet tall. The flowers are very fragrant. All parts of plant are poisonous to humans and animals if ingested; the plant’s sap can cause skin irritation in some individuals.
Even in the garden, oleander shrubs require minimal care. Although the shrubs are drought-tolerant, they look their best when they are watered during dry spells. However, take care not to over water them. Yellowing leaves indicate that the plant is getting too much water.
When planting an oleander select a site with full sun to light shade and well-drained soil. However, oleanders are adaptable and will withstand dry conditions as well as marshy soils. Plant in the spring or fall. Space plants 6 to 12 feet apart, depending on variety. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. Prune oleander after the main bloom period to encourage bushier growth and more flowers, and to reduce the size of the shrub.
From the August 2015 Issue of the Milberger Gardening South Texas newsletter.