Texas mountain laurel, redbud, pansies and violas add color to San Antonio's landscape

Redbud trees continue to add color to the San Antonio landscape, even after freezing conditions.

Redbud trees continue to add color to the San Antonio landscape, even after freezing conditions.

DEA / A. LAURENTI/De Agostini via Getty Images

In a normal year,  more blooming and other plants would be providing color than what we are seeing so far this year.  The plants that are doing their part contributing to the 12 months of color that most gardeners desire include Texas mountain laurel, redbud, peaches, pansies, violas and dianthus.

The Texas mountain laurel is a favorite full-sun landscape plant in the San Antonio area, and despite the exceptional freezes and low rainfall over the last three years, the blooms are well spread on Texas mountain laurels. The individual blooms don’t seem to be as large as usual, but their purple color and grape Kool-Aid fragrance are noticeable.

Another of the early bloomers, redbud, has started to bloom along with the Texas mountain laurel. It is less clear, however, how the pink-flowered tree will respond to the freeze experiences.

The Texas and Oklahoma versions of the species fare better in the heat than the Eastern selection, but all three are planted in San Antonio landscapes. Although I suspect the Eastern selection is more sensitive to cold, just as it is to heat, we will have to see how they perform over the next few weeks.

One of the tree species that is responding positively to the cold weather — temperatures between 32 and 45 degrees — are peach trees and some of the other fruit species. Most peach and other fruit trees require a varying amount of chill hours for their chemistry to reload and their flowers to bloom in the spring.

This week in the garden
  • This is a good time of the year to plant shade trees. Visit the CPS Energy website rebate offering. It will help you select the right species, plant them where they will save energy and tell you how to get a $50 rebate for up to five trees.
  • Use a pre-emergent herbicide for the lawn to prevent germination of summer weeds such as crabgrass and sandburs. Follow label instructions.
  • Help protect the monarch population by planting nectar sources such as zinnias, blue mist, porter weed and Phacelia. Plant native milkweed to provide an egg-laying site.
  • Plant potatoes in a 1-foot deep trench in the vegetable garden. Cover portions of the seed with eyes as they emerge in the trench. Harvest the potatoes when the plants bloom. For more specifics on raising potatoes in your garden, visit plantanswers.com.

A number of the low chill fruit varieties are blooming right now, including one of our area’s gardeners’ favorites, Florida King. A second selection, Red Baron, will soon start blooming if the cold weather continues. Red Baron produces a spectacular, longer-lasting bloom. 

Another winter blooming plant, snapdragon, is beginning its second phase of blooming as we move further into the winter. Snapdragons experience this bloom pause most years. Based on the fast recovery that the foliage has made after being subjected to the Christmas week freeze and the restart of blooming, this favorite flower for flower beds and cut flowers has a wide range of cold temperatures that don’t seem to disrupt its normal bloom pattern.

Pansies are blooming now in the San Antonio area.

Pansies are blooming now in the San Antonio area.

Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Pansies are traditionally the most reliable blooming plant in our winter gardens. The Christmas week freezes were severe, but most pansies were able to maintain most of their blooms. Gardens in full and partial sun have maintained white, purple, yellow and orange flowers with both clear and dark centers. Retail nurseries continue to offer transplants in bloom with the expectation they will continue blooming until early May.

Violas are closely related to pansies and are one of the favorite winter flowers for color in small containers. They offer even more color versions than pansies, and along with pansies, they are being used to fill gaps in plantings of other winter color that did not survive the freezes.

In addition to Texas mountain laurel, fragrance is being provided in many flower plantings by dianthus. Other gardeners and I planted dianthus this fall because it stimulated so much response from monarchs and other butterflies seeking a nectar source. It, of course, is a nectar source that survived the freeze experience much more than blue mist, zinnias, porter weed, salvias, lantana and other nectar sources.


Calvin Finch is a retired Texas A&M horticulturist. calvinrfinch@gmail.com