For The Answer
Prime Time Newspapers
Week of April 28, 2003
Submitted by Calvin Finch, Ph.D., Manager, Conservation Division, Water Resources & Conservation Department, SAWS, and Horticulturist
SHORT TREES AND TALL SHRUBS
When you are planting trees and shrubs, do not forget the tall shrubs and small trees. We always remember the shade trees (live oaks, Texas red oak, cedar elm, bur oak, chinkapin oak, and Chinese pistache). Foundation shrubs such as dwarf yaupon holly, compact nandina, and dwarf Burford holly are very popular for the area directly in front of the house. It is the vertical space in between the two extremes that is often neglected. The mid-level plants join the small and large plants into a unified landscape. They are especially important for wildlife if that is one of your interests. The majority of birds need small trees and large shrubs for nesting cover and sources of food.
For full sun vitex and desert willow are the most drought resistant selections. Vitex blooms with lilac-like flowers all summer as a single or multi-stem tree 20 feet tall. Desert willow reaches about the same height to form an airy tree with orchid-like blooms all summer. The selection “Bubba,” discovered by Paul Cox, has superior purple blooms. Both trees attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
If you are into a formal disciplined look, the ornamental pears are for you. They are 5 to 10 feet taller than the desert willow or vitex and form a dense, disciplined crown. Planted in a row they remind me of soldiers on parade. For a few weeks in spring they bloom spectacularly and some have good autumn color before the leaves fall.
Loquat has a formal look to its growth pattern as well, but it also looks tropical with the long furry leaves. Loquat blooms in the fall and, if the winter is mild, produces tasty fruit in the spring that are favorites of raccoons and opossums. Loquat is most useful because it can tolerate considerable shade. Use it in full sun or shade.
Yaupon holly can also tolerate some shade. It can be pruned to form a single-trunk tree to 25 feet tall or a multi-stemmed hedge plant or espalier tree 8 feet tall. Fit the standard yaupon into whatever space is available. The off-white blooms in spring are attractive but the red winter berries are the major attraction of the standard yaupon. The mockingbirds, waxwings, and other songbirds eat them by early spring. Yaupon is evergreen.
Redbud is another good tree for planting at the edge of large shade trees. It is another 25-foot tree that can tolerate some shade. The heart-shaped leaves are deciduous. In early spring, before the leaves are back, its pink blooms cover the stems. Plant the Texas, Oklahoma, or Mexican selections for best drought tolerance.
There are a number of large shrubs from which to choose. Avoid the red-tipped photinia. It is short-lived in the San Antonio area because of chlorosis and an untreatable fungal leaf spot. Hollies and nandinas are good choices. They are good xeriscape plants, are evergreen, tolerate sun or shade, and produce berries that are eaten by songbirds. The standard nandina produces colorful winter foliage if it is grown in the sun. The standard Burford holly is probably the best of the large hollies for San Antonio. The nandina reaches 7 feet tall and the Burford holly reaches about 8 feet tall. The Burford is especially desirable as a nesting site for birds seeking dense cover.
I just planted three types of viburnum: Spring Bouquet, sweet viburnum, and Sandankwa. The viburnums generally do well in the shade. One species, rusty blackhaw, prefers full sun where it has good fall color.
Wax myrtle is an evergreen shrub that reaches 12 feet tall. Every summer the stems are covered with small gray berries that are favorites of the birds. Plant wax myrtle in full sun where it will fill a large space without much water or other attention. It can be inconspicuous in the landscape.
Pyracantha is another large shrub for full sun. Unlike wax myrtle, however, pyracantha is never inconspicuous. It grows very fast and can be pruned to any shape you want including espalier (flat against a wall). It has thorns so is a favorite nesting site for birds and an irritant for gardeners. The white flowers are attractive in the spring and the orange berries are very showy in the winter. The berries make good jelly if you can harvest them before the birds.
Pittosporum was overused in the past, but the full-size green version is still an outstanding large shrub. It can tolerate shade or sun. The evergreen shrub is drought tolerant and never seems to be bothered by insects or diseases. The bloom in April is very showy and fragrant. Avoid the dwarf version; it is very sensitive to cold.
Of the trees and shrubs listed in this article, vitex, desert willow, yaupon holly, nandina, and wax myrtle do not seem to be eaten much by the deer. In some neighborhoods they also pass up pittosporum.