Gardeners' Dirt: Trees are sources of shade, fragrance
By Beth Ellis - Victoria County Master Gardener
Feb. 27, 2014 at midnight
Updated Feb. 26, 2014 at 8:27 p.m.
There's nothing like the scent of a blooming tree. One whiff of a scent taken for granted while we were young is all that's needed to take us back to a beloved grandmother's sun-filled yard or the shady neighborhood street where we grew up.
Such trees are a lovely link to our past, and when we plant them in our own yards, we also plant the seeds of future memories in the minds and hearts of our children.
There are several fragrant blooming trees appropriate for our area. Those listed below are generally heat and drought tolerant and suffer little from insects or diseases. Give them good sun, well-drained soil and adequate water until established, and you, too, will be on your way to creating fragrant family memories.
Anaqua - The anaqua is arguably the most beautiful native tree of Texas. Dense, dark green canopies cover trees during most of the year. Its habit of producing multiple saplings that eventually grow together, create a striking mature tree 50 or so feet in height. Use restraint when pruning young trees to preserve their architectural beauty when full grown.
In springtime and sometimes after summer and fall rains, anaquas produce a profusion of highly fragrant white flowers that cover the tree canopy. Flowers soon give rise to multitudes of small berries, edible by humans and wildlife alike.
Vitex - Vitex is also known as Chaste tree and is a Texas Superstar plant. In early summer, it produces lavender colored fragrant flower spikes that can be 8 to 12 inches in length. Once planted, vitex will attain heights of more than 10 feet in one season.
Prune after blooming to keep the tree within bounds, improve appearance and encourage ongoing rebloom through summer and fall. Experts recommend additional heavy pruning every winter to prepare the tree for spring. Three favored varieties are Montrose Purple, LeCompte and Shoal Creek.
Sweet almond verbena - While almond verbenas are relatively unassuming in appearance because of their wispy growth habit, just one specimen of this intensely fragrant shrub-like tree can perfume an entire yard.
White, vanilla scented spikes appear throughout the summer. Almond verbenas will grow more than 10 feet in height and can take part shade as well as sun. Prune between bloom cycles to encourage rebloom and improve density.
Mexican plum - These Texas natives can grow to 25 feet and offer beauty most of the year. In late winter/early spring, the naked branches are covered with fragrant, white flowers. Tart, edible fruits appear in the fall and are excellent for making jelly.
As the tree ages, the exfoliating bark darkens to a deep gray, developing attractive horizontal striations. Mexican plums are understory trees, so they prefer dappled or part shade. While they are drought tolerant, the leaves can wilt a bit in the heat this far south.
Mountain laurel - This small, 10 to 15 foot Texas native packs a fragrant springtime punch. Long purple bloom clusters smell just like grape juice. The bright red seeds are attractive but poisonous if eaten by humans. Leaves are dark green and glossy. Prune to shape in winter.
Citrus - Citrus trees are well known for producing fruit; however, they also produce exquisitely scented springtime blooms. The most cold-tolerant variety for this area is the Satsuma mandarin. This Texas Superstar produces fragrant flowers in spring, followed by fruit in late fall.
If planted in the ground, Satsuma can reach 12 feet but will be much shorter if container grown. Regardless of where it is planted, provide protection during freezing weather. Favored varieties are Miho and Seto. While citrus are not as drought tolerant as the trees listed above, take care not to over water.
All too often, people tend to view trees simply as shade providers. But they can offer far more than that in the form of fragrance, nectar and seed or fruit to be enjoyed by humans and wildlife alike. So consider adding fragrant blooming trees to your yard. If you do, you'll create lifelong sensory memories for not just your kids and your neighbors but also for yourself.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.