For The Answer
Express-News Weekly Column
Saturday, July 26, 2003
Submitted by Calvin Finch, Ph.D., Conservation Director, San Antonio Water System, and Horticulturist
Plants that bloom in mid summer in San Antonio are Texas tough plants. Among the best are esperanza, poinciana, firebush, firespike, vinca, and portulaca.
Esperanza (Yellow Bells) is a root hardy, woody plant that has yellow tubular flowers that are blooming all over South Texas right now. The plant has light-green foliage on an upright shrub. Gold Star is the most popular selection. On most sites, it reaches about 5 feet tall by summers end. The older versions, yellow and orange, do not bloom as well and may reach 8 or 9 feet tall by summers end. Yellow Bells is especially desirable for deer country because the pests do not seem to like it as a food source. The deer will, however, eat the blooms in a drought.
Esperanza is a premiere drought tolerant plant; it will bloom through the hottest and driest weather without irrigation. Esperanza will continue blooming all summer, if you remove the developing seedpods when they appear. Hummingbirds and butterflies utilize the blooms for nectar.
Poinciana, also known as Pride of Barbados, is even more popular with butterflies and hummingbirds than esperanza. It has an airy, open growth pattern and glow-in-the-dark orange-red and yellow blooms. Like Yellow Bells, poinciana blooms without summer irrigation. The plant is not a favorite deer food but they will eat it to the ground in some situations.
Firebush planted with esperanza and poinciana makes quite a show. It does not generally grow as large as the other two drought lovers but makes a contribution at 3 to 4 ft. tall. Firebush has a compact, dense growth pattern that is more disciplined than its partners. The leaves are reddish green and small on upright stems. The blooms are small red tubular (quarter size). In the autumn, after the first cold wave, firebush assumes a purple color that is quite showy.
The main claim to fame for firebush is that it is probably the best hummingbird plant in our palette. The toughest hummingbird in the neighborhood presides over the firebush. The plant is especially effective in a container to attract hummingbirds to the patio. In a container, however, it loses much of its drought tolerance and a large plant, 3 to 4 feet, may require daily watering. Deer will eat firebush.
The firebush of the shade is firespike. Firespike has very shiny dark-green leaves that are showy themselves. In late summer, spikes of red tubular flowers emerge above the foliage to brighten up deep shade in the garden. In sheltered locations, firespike can reach 10 or 12 feet tall but it freezes back most winters to grow 3 feet tall each summer. It grows well in a 5-gallon or larger container. Some gardeners let the plant over-winter in the house where it makes an attractive foliage plant. Move it back on to the porch or patio in late June or July. Firespike is a favorite deer food.
Vinca used to be the favorite bedding plant in all of North America. It is still popular but its susceptibility to aerial phytophera makes it necessary to follow certain cultural practices to fulfill its potential as a drought resistant performer in full sun.
· Vinca should only be planted after June 1 when the temperatures have increased, humidity is lower, and rainfall frequency is less.
· It should not be sprinkled over the top so that free water sets on the foliage. This is especially a problem with late evening watering.
· The fungal spores reside in the soil. A coarse spray that splashes soil onto the leaves encourages development of the disease. Mulch covering the soil helps address this issue.
Vinca ranges in height from 5 inches to 18 inches depending on the selection. The blooms are white, reddish-pink, and many shades of violet. Bicolor are also available. A bed of vincas will be covered with blooms from June through the first freeze. Butterflies utilize vinca nectar. Deer do not eat the plants.
Vincas work in containers or hanging baskets in full sun, but the best low-growing summer container plant is portulaca (moss rose). The foliage has characteristics of a succulent with a waxy coating over small thick leaves. Like vinca, moss rose is covered by blooms every day. In this case, the colors include yellow, red, pink, and white. Moss rose only grow to 4 inches tall.