En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
3 ratings

Friday - September 19, 2008

From: Laredo, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Soils, Watering, Shrubs
Title: Failure to thrive of Hamelia patens in Laredo
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have a question regarding Hamelias patens(firebush)that I have been trying to grow for 2 years. I live in Laredo, Texas and this area should be an excellent climate for this plant. I planted 12 of these beautiful plants (6 on each side)up my entrance way to the house 2 years ago (they were small at time of planting, approximately 1 foot tall.) 2 years later, only 4 have barely grown approximately 3 feet tall, the rest are about 1.5 feet tall. I noticed that the taller ones get a lot more water,but even then the slower growing ones look healthy and do not seem to be drying out (they just don't want to grow.) Last winter (if you can even call it that since its so warm here) I thought they had all died because they lost all their leaves and basically did not start getting leaves until mid spring. Please help, I really think these plants would look great in my front yard if I can just get them to grow.

ANSWER:

We found an online article about Hamelia patens (scarletbush) that specifically talks about it thriving in Laredo. This Texas Cooperative Extension site PlantAnswers.com praised the plant as being almost immune to drought and loving heat. Another article from the Horticulture Department of Texas A&M by Dr. William C. Welch on Firebush comments that even in South Texas, it freezes to the ground and resprouts in early Spring. 

All our sources recommended trimming the bush heavily in February. Flowers are on new growth, so this will encourage blooming. The same sources say it can be trimmed to the ground and will still come back. However, it apparently doesn't really flourish until it gets very hot, and requires little water once established. Dr. Welch, in his article, also comments on the plant as being "typically a 4 to 5 foot mound."  We noted the existence of a cultivar called "Compacta." We're wondering if this might be what you have, in which case, you shouldn't expect it to grow very tall. Another possibility could have to do with the watering the plants are getting. They require very good drainage, and if you are watering them regularly and the soil is not draining well, it could be causing some problems. Finally, these plants do best in full sun, although they will tolerate some shade. 

We recommend that you watch for drainage problems, trim it back in the late Fall, and accept a potential height of no more than 5 ft.  It still will make a beautiful garden, and your hummingbirds will love you. Here is a page of images of Hamelia patens.

 

More Shrubs Questions

Potting soil recipe for azaleas
October 07, 2007 - I have a couple of Azaleas in pots that need repotting.I can't remember the recipe for the medium I put them in last time other than pine bark mulch. I think there were three ingredients. What is ...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants on lantana in Dallas
September 14, 2005 - For several years, the lantana plants in my backyard in Dallas grew and bloomed all Summer and Fall until the first real cold snap. I've loved having a native plant that didn't need constant care a...
view the full question and answer

Leaf loss on Cenizo in Bertram TX
November 17, 2009 - I need help with a purple sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) problem. Most of one of my plants started having paler, more greyish leaves, then the leaves began to fall off. It seemed to still look healthy...
view the full question and answer

Why is Rhus aromatica more deer resistant from Seattle
December 07, 2009 - I have a large area that I would like to cover with Rhus aromatica. My landscaper says that in his experience, Rhus typhina and glabra in this area are heavily browsed by deer. I noticed in your dat...
view the full question and answer

Fast-growing non-invasive shrub for privacy fence in Sugar Land TX
December 06, 2011 - I live in South Texas in Sugar Land. I was going to plant oleanders in my backyard along the fence as a privacy hedge, about 20 feet from my house. However, I was told they were a bad choice becaus...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center