March weather is fickle in East Texas – freezing or hot, wet or dry – often in the same week. These fluctuations in conditions can wreak havoc on spring flowers like tulips, or destroy the new growth on perennials. Woody plants like the trees, shrubs, and vines that bloom in the spring are made of sturdier stuff – they bounce back from the changes Mother Nature throws at them.
Everyone is familiar with Chinese wisteria, a purple- or white-flowering vine that will consume a trellis or arbor. Its blooms are beautiful and sweet-smelling, but it takes a lot of pruning to keep it in check. Instead, consider the spring-blooming native cross vine, with its hundreds of large trumpets of rusty orange and yellow. Another native vine is the coral honeysuckle, with its blue-green foliage and narrow trumpet-shaped flowers that are coral-red on the outside and yellow on the inside. The coral honeysuckle will bloom all summer along its 20’ length. Both of these native evergreen vines will grow and bloom in sun or part shade, and need no supplemental watering once established.
There are many spring-flowering shrubs, but among my favorites are the various viburnum that grow here with few serious insect or disease problems. The woodland edges along East Texas roads are dotted with the native rusty blackhaw viburnum in bloom in early spring – a large shrub or small tree with glossy green leaves and metallic blue fruit in the fall, and gorgeous fall color. In shady garden beds, plant burkwood viburnum, 8’ tall and 6’ wide, whose flowers are so fragrant that they’ll cause a passerby to stop to enjoy the scent of spring. Another show-stopper – but for the bloom, not the scent – is the Chinese snowball viburnum. The softball-sized blooms on this shrub start out a chartreuse green, then open a pure white, looking very much like a hydrangea bloom. The blossoms perform well in a bouquet, so cut them and enjoy them in the house.
Wood County is known for flowering trees - Mexican plums, redbuds, and flowering dogwoods all call East Texas ‘home’, loving our well-drained, acid, sandy soil. You can find varieties with different bloom or leaf colors that will also do well with a little care. Our native buckeyes are understory trees that sport clusters of bright red flowers, with shiny chestnut-like fruit in the fall. Fringe trees – our native Grancy Graybeard or the even showier Chinese fringe tree - are covered in small white fringy blooms in late spring – plant them with some protection from afternoon sun for best success. There are many other spring-flowering trees that we can grow, such as crabapples with fragrant flowers ranging from white to almost red, some with larger fruit that’s great for jams and jellies.
Finally, spring color is not just from flowers. Many trees and shrubs can provide beautiful spring color from the new foliage that is braving the shifting temperatures. Some Japanese maples have gorgeous red foliage as they leaf out, and Chinese photinia (not the disease-prone red-tip) will light up your garden with new growth color ranging from light green to pinkish to red.
These shrubs, vines, and trees may not line the big-box store shelves; look instead at your local nurseries for these plants, and ask them to order it if you don’t see it in stock. Most likely they’ll be glad to bring in a showstopper plant that grows in East Texas gardens.
I want to invite all my readers to the Wood County Master Gardeners Spring Conference on March 11 at the Carroll Green Civic Center in Quitman. Registration for this free event starts at 7:30 a.m., and I’ll speak at 8:30 on ‘Easy Plant Propagation’ – woo boy, that’s early! Please join me over coffee to learn how to make more of the plants you love, then stay for some other wonderful speakers. For more information, email me or check at the Ag Office in Quitman.
About the author: Lin is a Texas Master Gardener in Wood County. Email your gardening questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn hands-on techniques, join her and other volunteers each Wednesday morning at 9, at the Quitman Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.