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

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Tuesday - August 02, 2011

From: Katy, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Planting, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Selection of a small variety of Desert Willow for SE Texas
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

Looking to plant desert willow as shrub. Any helpful tips to keep height down and plant full or bushy.

ANSWER:

Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow) is a popular small tree for Central and West Texas.  Your biggest problem in Katy will be making sure it is well-drained.  Once a suitable spot is prepared you have a choice of various cultivars, differing in the color of flowers, whether seed-pods are retained, or the size of the mature plant.  The cultivar Lucrecia Hamilton produces deep pink to purple flowers and grows to 18-20 feet in height vs 25 feet for most cultivars.  Other newer cultivars may also have a smaller stature.  You might contact Dr. David Creech at dcreech@sfasu.edu for more information and possible commercial sources.  Mr. Smarty Plants has not been able to locate a nursery in your area that carries the Lucrecia Hamilton cultivar of the Desert Willow.  If you do not have located a source, you might try nurseries farther west.  See the Lady Bird Johnson web site for information on suppliers.

If you can't locate a good source of the smaller Desert willow, you should resort to pruning to achieve the size you desire.  The height of the Desert willow can be controlled to a great degree by pruning.  I have condensed some instructions I found on the Internet, as follows:

Cut the main growing tip while the tree is small and allow several strong leaders to form if you want a multi-branched low-growing tree. Once you have established three or four branches, keep pruning out any extras that might try growing upwards from the base of the tree.

Thin out the canopy to allow sunlight to penetrate to the inside branches. This will keep the tree healthier as well as better looking. All the leaves will be competing for the sunlight and they will tend to bunch up in their growth along the top of the tree. Be careful not to remove more than 20 percent of the canopy or you risk sun injury to the tree.

Remove all the thin twiggy branches inside the tree to force the growth energy into the branches. This will keep good airflow in the tree as well as form stronger branches. Always remove dead growth back to the nearest healthy tissue.

Remember: for best results, full sun and GOOD DRAINAGE.

 

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