>My Favorite Five Plants for Austin

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I was asked to present my favorite five garden plants to the Garden Club of Austin. It was extremely difficult to narrow the selection down to five but the following prevailed.

1. Cycas panzhihuaensis (Cycadaceae family) – a cycad

Certainly one of the most cold-tolerant of all the cycads, and one of the fastest-growing this not so common cycad is ideal for Austin. Grow it on in a pot until considered large enough, then plant it out in a sunny, south-facing corner. Fertilize heavily and you will be amazed at the speed it grows. In its native China, it withstands severe freezes, often at the same time damp. New foliage is blue tinted. It is fast becoming a demanded plant for landscapes due to its hardiness, attractiveness and growth rate. This plant may be hard to find but a treasure once you have it.

2. Murreya paniculata (Rutaceae family) – related to citrus

Murraya paniculata is also known as mock orange, orange jessamine or Chinese box. This shrub or small tree can reach up to 20, but is generally smaller, being about 6-10 ft tall. It belongs to the Rutaceae familly (just like the Citrus) and is native to Southeastern Asia, including China and Malaya. It has an evergreen foliage, sweetly scented flowers and bears small red fruits. Murraya paniculata has pinnate leaves. These generally have 3 to 9 leaflets. Leaves are small and the foliage is fairly dense, and this plant is often grown as a bonsaï tree. Flowers are white (they turn white-cream with age) and are sweetly scented, reminding of orange perfume. They are grouped in terminal panicles and generally have 5 petals. Fruits are small, being about half an inch long. They are orange-red when ripe and are not edible. The Chinese box is a very interesting plant, with ornamental foliage, flowers and fruits – the total package. It can withstand cold temperatures down to about 28°F, and thus can be grown in most sheltered parts of USDA zones 9 and warmer. This plant likes fertile, well-drained soils that remain moist during the growing season.

3. Eleagnus pungens – variegated cultivars only (Eleagnaceae family)

There is no plant more colorful and intriguing than any of the variegated cultivars of Eleagnus. These include “Hosobo fukurin”, “Gilt Edge”, and “Maculata”. The first is a dwarf plant staying within 4’. Eleagnus normally is a maintenance problem due to rapid growth, but variegated varieties grow at a much slower rate making this plant highly desirable for a year round colorful shrub. The blooms are insignificant but fragrant and the branches are so flexible, they can be tied in a knot. The underside of the leaves has a silvery appearance. It takes our drought, heat, cold, and poor soils without any adverse effect. It is native to China and Japan and hardy from Zone 7 to 9.

4. Citrofortunella mitis variegata (Rutaceae family) – a citrus

The calamondin orange is hardier to cold than any other true citrus specie and only the trifoliate orange and the kumquat are more tolerant to low temperatures. It can be successfully grown outside throughout California, Florida, and the gulf coast and is native to China and the Philippines. It is moderately drought-tolerant. It makes an excellent container plant in colder areas. The fruit is very acidic (like limes and lemons), and can be used to flavor iced tea and other drinks. The variegated cultivar is highly ornamental, boldly colored with variegated fruits. It blooms and produces fruit year round when temperatures are warm. The blooms are highly fragrant. I have had minimal freeze damage on a small tree in NW Austin down to 25 degrees.

5. Trachelospermum jasminoides variegata (Apacynaceae family ) – a vine

Despite the common name, Confederate jasmine is not native to the American south – it comes from China but has been a popular garden plant in Europe and the U.S. for centuries. Not particular as to soil but prefers well drained situations with some organic matter, bright sun to part shade, average water, and can tolerate drought once established. It is hardy in Zones 8 – 10. Confederate jasmine is pest-free, easy to maintain, drought resistant and heavenly fragrant, this is probably the south’s favorite flowering vine. The glossy evergreen foliage is a delight to see when not in bloom. This is why I prefer the vividly variegated cultivar. As for growth rate, once established, it is vigorous but can be easily controlled. It is not as rampant as many other vine choices.

Summary: You can see that these plants have a lot in common.

– all are evergreen
– 4 of 5 are variegated and colorful
– all are climate durable
– 4 of 5 have fragrant blooms
– All are easy to grow and maintain

For more information, put the botanical name into a Google search to find more information and pictures of these plants.

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