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.

IMG_20190218_161545

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.

IMG_20190308_122022
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.

IMG_20170115_102658

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.

IMG_20170813_111831

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.)

img_20161104_210240

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.

IMG_20170302_165648

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.

IMG_20190309_091822

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.

IMG_20190309_091829

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.

Happy Texas Arbor Day!

texas-arbor-day

The national Arbor Day may be celebrated in the Spring, but here in Texas it’s celebrated the first Friday in November. This is because rather than worries about continuous freezing weather, here most trees need as much time as possible to grow strong before the intense summer heat.

I’m not sure if I even need to say this, but trees are awesome!

  • Trees sequester carbon and produce oxygen for cleaner air.
  • Shade from trees can keep your home cooler.
  • Shade from trees can make spending time outside in the summer bearable.
  • Tree windbreaks can reduce heating expenses during the winter.
  • Trees provide habitat for birds and other creatures.
  • Tree roots bind soil to prevent erosion.
  • The roots also filter water that is absorbed through the ground to replenish aquifers.
  • The tree canopy holds a lot of rain that never gets to the ground and helps with the flash flooding we regularly see here in Austin.
  • Deciduous trees drop their leaves, which make great mulch or compost.
  • Trees are beautiful. I’ve read that extra greenery can even reduce crime rates.

Sadly I’m not planting any trees soon. I do have some empty space on my lawn that could use it, but I want a kumquat for my next tree and citrus is best planted in Spring. Have you been thinking of planting trees soon? If you’re in Austin, TreeFolks even gives away some saplings and small trees throughout the season. Check their site for giveaway events.

However, I’m not doing nothing. I would love to watch a tree grow to mature size from seed and have been patiently waiting to see if my peach, plum, or persimmon seeds will sprout. They seeds were taken from delicious local fruits, so there’s hope that they may thrive here. The pomegranate sprouted earlier but is getting droopy and probably won’t make it. 😦

On the bright side, I grabbed some seed from Texas Mountain Laurels (TML) in the area and my first attempt (planted September 30) is looking promising.

img_20161104_210240
my Texas Mountain Laurel at one month

TML is a slow-grower so it’ll be many years before it gets to full tree size. But I’ve seen them shrub-sized and that looks lovely also. I hear they are covered with beautiful purple blossoms earlier in the year, will have to look out for that next year! How did I never pay attention to this before?

img_20161104_170851
Medium-sized Texas Mountain Laurel near my office

This week to make sure that I at least have multiple chickens in my basket, I planted two more little pots with TML and am anxiously waiting for them to sprout. On the next Texas Arbor Day maybe they’ll find their home outside. 🙂

The Literal Windfall

Thursday morning was windy here in Austin. For a few hours, the winds averaged 20 miles per hour, and as I worked at the office I’d often stare out the window for a moment to watch trees swaying in the wind. I was mostly excited about the cooler weather that was on its way in, but when I got home Thursday evening something even more exciting happened. My back porch was sprinkled liberally with pecans! I greedily gathered as many as I could from the porch and surrounding yard and ended up with this large bowl of pecans before having to leave for other obligations.

img_20161021_114302
Pecans! Beautiful pecans!

There may be some undesirable pecans in that batch as I learned soon after by reading some pecan-gathering instructions from another windfall recipient. I’ll sort them out at some point, but in the meantime I gathered two more bowls full of pecans and have them all hanging out in an extra produce bag. Waiting a couple of weeks for them to cure will be difficult but so worth it.

I’m full of gratitude at the moment:

  • That the house we got earlier this year already had a couple of mature pecan trees. It had been a dream of mine but I was uneasy about the ten years or so that it would take for a newly planted pecan tree to start producing.
  • That some other folks for whom a yard littered with pecans would have just been a nuisance didn’t get this home. 😛
  • For being healthy enough to go outside and pick the pecans from the ground one by one without pain or too much effort.
  • For the extra exercise opportunity. My thighs may have been a tiny bit sore today, but it felt good.
  • That there are now more pecans at the farmers market. While I already had my bags full of good stuff today, next time some of those are sure to go home with me. Have to stock up while they’re in season!
  • And finally, for the cool weather that the wind helped bring in. It was in the 40’s this morning, which for Austin is true Texas weather. It won’t get that chilly again for a while, so the brisk air was savored while it lasted.

And that, my friends, is what a windfall is. 🙂