Tree of the Month: Texas Mountain Laurel

The bloom season for Texas Mountain Laurels here in central Texas is starting to wrap up already, but they’ve had a good run this year. Just look at this beauty, taken near the start of the bloom period in mid-February. This is near the max height for Texas Mountain Laurels, so they’re a good fit in many places.

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My favorite things about the Texas Mountain Laurel (TML) is that it’s an evergreen tree, is nitrogen-fixing so needs no fertilizer, and just generally does really well in this area with minimal care.

Other folks are more inclined to prefer the purple blooms or the strange sweet aroma that emanates from them. (It’s likened to purple koolaid.) That’s definitely what the bees have been into, as it’s usually easy to spot a few buzzing around the trees.

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This may not be the best shot, so bonus points if you can spot the bee

Either way, if you’re in the area it’s easy to grow from seed. Once the seedpods mature in the summer, grab a few and crack them open. The barely-mature seedpods are easiest to open, and the really old ones may be as well. A nutcracker can definitely help, though.

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Since they have a thick coat, it helps to give them a little nick with some nail clippers or other sharp object if you want to ensure they sprout quickly. Be careful not to cut past the surface, or you could damage the baby plant inside. In that case, grab another seed. Other online sources state that this type of scarification isn’t needed if you use the barely-mature seeds that are pinkish instead of deep red like this one, but when I remembered to grab some last year they were already quite mature.

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I’ve always soaked the seeds overnight to help with quick sprouting. One thing I don’t do anymore is to pot them up inside. It’s just a hassle that isn’t at all necessary. Sure, it was nice the first time or two for watching how new leaves unfolded and seeing just how long the taproot grows. (If you do start it indoors, make sure it’s transplanted out quickly because that taproot does need to grow.)

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Instead, just stick them in the ground wherever you want. TML isn’t too picky and some are growing happily where I’ve planted them in compacted unamended clay soil or super-limestone-filled places. I recommend starting three or four in any location in case they don’t all make it. I’ve lost a few for whatever reason but still have plenty. Once they get larger, I’ll even likely have to kill off a few myself. It shouldn’t be hard to keep up with because TML is a fairly slow grower.

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This is my eldest plant, started a little over two years ago. No, it’s not quite a “tree” yet. At the start of the month it measured a whopping 18 inches (46 cm), and that’s including some of the new growth that has burst forth this spring.

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Some day this young tree will grow to add more interest to my front lawn and attract pollinators. And in the meantime I don’t have to water it (well, I might if we’re in a deep drought) or feed it. I don’t need to pamper it in any way. I just have to be patient and it will grow.

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So if you live in this area, grab a few seeds from a TML in your neighborhood, stick them in the ground, and sit back. It’s completely free, and someday you too will be rewarded with a beautiful little evergreen tree.