Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

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 Watering Questions

Problems with Habiturf in Austin
May 10, 2014 - I have been trying to establish a Habiturf lawn in my back yard. It is approximately a 1,000 square foot area and this last seeding was the third over about one and a half years. I just recently over ...
view the full question and answer

Overwatering and fertilization of whiteleaf manzanita
July 27, 2007 - Hi, I have an Arctostaphylos Dr. Hurd, southern California coast, several years old, 10 feet, that has a few large branches with yellowing and spotted leaves... also dropping many. causes? remedy? sh...
view the full question and answer

Protection for plants against a Spring freeze from Easley SC
April 15, 2014 - Is there anything we can do to protect our beautiful spring gardens from the freeze tonight? (April 15, 2014)
view the full question and answer

Mulching tree root in San Angelo, TX
April 02, 2014 - San Angelo, Texas is in a drought stage. Will it help our trees to mulch the base of them?
view the full question and answer

Harvesting washer rinse cycle water from Austin
April 24, 2012 - Mr. Smarty Plants, My question is different. I am "harvesting" 8-9 gallons from the rinse cycle in my top loading washer. I was told not to use this water on vegetables, just shrubs and flowers...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.