Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Try laurel for purple delight


It’s always a sure sign that spring is here when the Texas mountain laurel bursts into bloom!

This is a plant that is known more for what it does than who it is. And what it does is have big beautiful clusters of sweet-smelling velvet purple flowers. There is never any doubt that is the plant in question when folks inquire this time of year about the gorgeous large shrubs and small trees they are seeing around town with the purple flowers.

Occasionally they are mistaken at first glance for wisteria, but when more of the plant’s form is assessed, one realizes it is definitely not a vine. The resemblance of the flowers is great – they both are purple and the clusters are not only huge, but they hang down much like a cluster of grapes. A nose check is the next giveaway – the Texas mountain laurel is heavily sweet and fruity, while wisteria (particularly Japanese) is very light and airy.

If you saw one and decided you must have one – here is the scoop: Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora) can be either a large shrub or a small to medium-size tree. It is somewhat slow growing, especially in the beginning. As they gain size and energy they will as much as double their growth rate, so if you are impatient – this isn’t the plant to start with a one gallon size!

Texas mountain laurels love sun – the more the better, so please plant them in an area where they will get a minimum of six hours. The area of Texas they come from has quite good soil, so prepare the way you would for any non-native plant – dig a hole twice the size of the root ball and amend with 30 percent organic matter, preferably a dense nutritious blend rather than a light peat moss-based type.

Once the new plant has gone through an eight-week weaning cycle, it is ready for deep, once- a-week watering. Top dressing with an organic fertilizer monthly February through August will push its growth to top speed. Prune as little as possible so it can put every single leaf to work making food to fuel the plant’s growth!

If you found out what the plant was and were disappointed because you thought there was wisteria all over Tucson, fear not – you can grow wisteria here also. Wisteria is a bit different situation and putting it in the right place is the key to total success. If you have ever heard the term “feet in the shade – head in the sun” – that is what this plant loves. What that means is, plant the vine where the roots are in the shade – usually an east or northeast location will be best.

Plant a noncompetitive groundcover like dichondra, sweet violets, lysimachia, lamium or any number of small growing, shallowly rooted perennials to provide the shade yet not compete for nutrient and water. The ‘head in the sun’ part refers to the fact that the vine is incredibly vigorous and having found a cool, nutritious home for its roots, it will climb to the top of the wall, over the top of the house, and can easily cover 500 square feet of roof with one plant!

People have asked why a wisteria they planted has not bloomed. The most reputable of growers graft blooming age shoots onto seedling roots to make every plant they grow blooming age. If you are buying wisteria in the spring it should definitely be blooming in a 5 gallon container size and possibly in a smaller size.

So this is a story with a happy ending – no matter which is your choice, they boh can grow and flourish in your yard in Tucson and the surrounding area!

Cathy Bishop, co-owner of Mesquite Valley Growers Nursery, has more than 30 years of gardening experience. E-mail her at familyplus@tucsoncitizen.com.


Try mountain laurel for a purple delight

Our Digital Archive

This blog page archives the entire digital archive of the Tucson Citizen from 1993 to 2009. It was gleaned from a database that was not intended to be displayed as a public web archive. Therefore, some of the text in some stories displays a little oddly. Also, this database did not contain any links to photos, so though the archive contains numerous captions for photos, there are no links to any of those photos.

There are more than 230,000 articles in this archive.

In TucsonCitizen.com Morgue, Part 1, we have preserved the Tucson Citizen newspaper's web archive from 2006 to 2009. To view those stories (all of which are duplicated here) go to Morgue Part 1

Search site | Terms of service