Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Its Winter in Central Texas and Loquat Trees are Blooming!

This is the hardy Loquat tree, Eriobotrya japonica, a large member of the rose family. Loquats have been blooming in the Austin area since November. I am telling you, there is always something going on here in the landscape. These hardy adapted trees provide a fragrant splash of evergreen backdrop for medium to large gardens.

The loquat, as can be seen in these photos, has large dark green leaves. They radiate around the flower clusters. A benefit of these flowers is how long the blooms persist. As mentioned above, they have been blooming for nearly a month. There are a few little insects that visit these flowers for their benefit and pollination, including bees. Bees are active in this part of the state year 'round. Generally the days warm up above their required 60 degrees so they can be out and about enjoying local gardens. And yes, the insects will help these flowers produce loquat fruits! They are quite sweet and tasty. Don't be confused, however, between these and kumquat. Kumquat is a citrus and can be very tangy.

Loquat trees are medium to fast growing depending on the conditions. The more water the faster the growth. They do not like standing water. Full sun can sometimes burn over exposed leaves (this would be a day of 8+ hours of sun). But a mostly sunny spot to part shade is fine for them. They could make a large specimen tree if shaped nicely on their own, or can be part of a grouping of trees with taller ones behind. Loquats in central Texas grow to about 15 or 20 feet tall and almost as wide. They require very little care once established and small ones under 4 feet transplant quite easily. Loquats rarely exhibit signs of chlorosis or any soil deficiency. They are planted from east Austin to West Lake Hills. So one can infer they are highly adaptable to soil conditions. However, adding some compost in the hole when planting a loquat or any tree is advised. Be sure to mulch in the spring to keep the soil cooler and moist longer in the summer.

The loquat's soil adaptability makes it a good alternative to Southern Magnolia, as far as the large dark green leaf look is concerned. Though they do not have the huge showy flower, they are fragrant none-the-less. Magnolias really struggle in the thin, alkaline soil, especially west of central Austin. If you like this look, the low maintenance aspect, a winter bloomer, then plant one now! Or at least by February if you find one. The sooner you get it in the ground, the sooner its roots can adapt to its home before the top gets hit by the summer heat. It is best to plant all trees and larger shrubs here in the winter.