Texas Ranger

Texas Ranger (Leucophyllum frutescens)

Texas Ranger (Leucophyllum frutescens)

You know fall is here when Texas Ranger is in bloom.
Depending on the variety, Texas Ranger may bloom at almost any time during the summer. But each season has its signature plants, and the original classic Texas Ranger species (Leucophyllum frutescens) truly comes into its own in the fall.
In its role as harbinger of a new season, Texas Ranger reminds me of saucer magnolia. Saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) is a tree that no one notices until, offering a first glimpse of our always early spring, it lights up bleak, late winter gardens with creamy pink to purplish cup and saucer blooms.
The jacaranda tree is another harbinger of seasonal change as its violet-blue trumpet flowers herald the arrival of hot weather. Just when summer has exhausted the flowering capacity of nearly every other shrub, Texas Ranger takes center stage.
The conditions required to make it grow are as follows: most, if not all, of the day’s sun; fast-draining soil; minimal water that is applied at the roots only; and minimal, if any, pruning. In the manner of many desert-dwelling and Mediterranean-climate plants, Texas Ranger is highly sensitive to sprinkler irrigation and pruning. Where both pruning and sprinkler irrigation are regularly practiced, it is virtually impossible to keep this plant alive for long. Pruning cuts that become wet invite pathogenic bacteria and fungi to come over and stay for a while.
Where soil drains well and a just-leave-it-alone maintenance regime is in place, Texas Ranger may eventually grow into a large shrub that is 8 feet tall and 8 feet wide. It makes an attractive hedge for full sun with its silvery and soft textured foliage, to say nothing of its mauve-pink mantle of blooms.
But remember to water it via drip irrigation or with a hose and keep its leaves dry throughout the summer.
Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) is another woody plant that blooms in late summer and fall, if not as distinctively as Texas Ranger. Plumbago is famous for its sticky, sky-blue flowers. It has a billowy growth habit and serves best for covering slopes, as a screen or as a subject for spilling over walls. Plumbago is highly drought tolerant.
Common Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), an evergreen, blooms in any season but its deciduous cousin, rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) is exclusively an end-of-summer and fall bloomer. Rose of Sharon flowers are rose, mauve or white, and may or may not have red markings at petal bases. Its leaves can be used for making herbal tea.
African blue basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum x basilicum ‘Dark Opal’) is a perennial that is worthy of every gardener’s attention. It, too, is a fall bloomer, although it seems to be blooming in just about every other season, too. A relative of common culinary basil, this distinctively aromatic bush is not recommended as a spicy cooking enhancement due to its high camphor content. As a garden ornamental, the advantage of African blue basil is its toughness, as it demonstrates an ability to grow in limited sunlight and with a bare minimum of water. Common basil, by contrast, needs excellent light exposure and daily watering in hot weather to thrive.
As long as we are in the realm of spices, let’s take a closer look at bay leaves. At the supermarket, you can spend several dollars for a handful of bay leaves in a small jar, yet the plant that produces them, known as bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), is one of the easiest to grow. As long as you keep it away from hot afternoon sun, bay laurel will do fine. It is slow growing at first but will eventually assume treelike proportions. Recently, in Jerusalem, I noticed two bay laurel trees that had been trained into an archway at the entrance to a multistory residential building.
Bay laurel plants are available in the herb section of most nurseries. Grow your specimen in full morning sun or partial afternoon sun and, within a few years’ time, you will never need to worry about shopping for bay leaves again. Of course, you can keep your bay laurel at any size you wish. I have seen rows of it grown as a low, 3-foot-tall formal hedge on either side of a walkway leading up to the front door of a house.
You will only want to make sure that pruning is done selectively, in a lacing-out kind of way or carefully across the top with handheld pruning shears, as opposed to trimming wholesale with hedge shears. You do not want to see bisected leaves left on a plant as the result of indiscriminate pruning.

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