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Mr. Smarty Plants - Determining male/female wax myrtles

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Friday - March 06, 2009

From: Euless, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: General Botany
Title: Determining male/female wax myrtles
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We are planning to use Wax Myrtle as a screen plant, and want to be sure that we are successful in having berries for the birds. We have read that berries are only on the female plants. When we asked about the need for planting both male and female, our local nursery insists that all of their plants have berries, both male & female. Your response to my earlier inquiry indicates that this is not true and that we do need both male & female. Now for the critical question: How do we tell that we have a male and a female? Some of the 30 gallon size at our nursery do have the waxy berries, but none of the plants in the 7 or 15 gallon size have any berries. Should they? Most of the plants in these smaller size pots look the same, with tiny green clusters starting to form along the stems, but some do not seem to have these clusters at this time. Is this what we need to look for to decide on a female? Do you have a photo that might show what the flowers look like at this time of year in the smaller size plants? We plan to follow your advice about planting both male & female plants in our location in order to achieve the spread that we need for screening. We actually only need around 12 feet, although 15 feet would be nice. How many plants should we plant in our location? How close should we space them to get the “quicker coverage” you mention in your earlier email response? Can they be placed as close as 3 to 4 feet, or is that too close?

ANSWER:

The truth of the matter is, all of the wax myrtle plants at the nursery probably do have berries, because they are all females. Customers generally do want the berries, because of the attractions to birds, and you may find it difficult to locate a male for purchase. The smaller size plants may simply not be mature enough yet to have formed berries. But since most nursery plants are cloned, in other words, grown from cuttings, all of them are probably exactly alike genetically, and all are females. What you are seeing now are the catkins, or blooms, which appear in the early Spring. Supposely, there is a difference in physical appearance between the blooms of the males and females.  We did try to find pictures showing the male or female plants in bloom, but they all failed to identify which was which. The best advice we can give you is to specifically insist on purchasing a male wax myrtle and two females. If the people at the nursery do not know the difference, their vendors certainly should. The stock at the nursery has likely been grown by a wholesale vendor, probably not even in Texas, and shipped to your nursery at the optimum time for Spring planting. If those plants are all females, and they have berries, you can bet the wholesale grower had male wax myrtles onsite. 

Perhaps you would have better luck with a nursery specifically geared to native plants. Go to our Native Plant Supplier section, type in your town and state in the "Enter Search Location" box and you will get a list of the native plant nurseries, seed companies and landscape and environment consultants. When we did this, we got a list of six nurseries, ranging from Dallas to Weatherford. All have phone numbers and maps, and some have websites. Someone should be able to either sell you or order for you a male wax myrtle.

We still feel that three plants will be sufficient for your 12 to 15 ft. space. Especially if you are planning to train the plants into multi-trunked small trees, they will have a fairly wide circumference pretty early. You don't want to crowd the plants too closely, as they will all need access to water, nutrients and sunlight. If they get too crowded as they mature, they can be pruned, but their nice rounded natural shape would be more attractive. Figure out how much space you have, and try for a 5' space, trunk to trunk.

 

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