BY LORI MURRAY
(Author’s note: I wrote this article a year ago, but in the light of our current sizzling temperatures I can think of nothing more appropriate for August publication than this proven Superstar that thrives in our heat. This week, after you are through watering your plants in the hope of just keeping them alive, take a drive down North 1st Street where you can see an impressive bed of esperanza up against the building in the parking lot of Books n Things. There is no better illustration of what I’ve written below.)
Anyone who has driven east on Harrison Street and turned north at Loop 499 has been treated to a stunning example of what the hot Valley sun can produce on the right plant. The batches of yellow bells planted in the center of the boulevard are as showy as any display of color could possibly be. As Greg Grant, a lecturer for Stephen F. Austin University and coauthor of The Southern Heirloom Garden points out, “It’s a common horticultural misnomer to think that all plants want to grow in the cool damp climate of England (because) there are a great number of plants that don’t grow well under mild conditions. These are the plants Texas gardeners should be growing. Instead of growing plants native to cool moist temperate areas, we should stick to plants native to Texas, Mexico, and Tropical America…Within those Texas tough plants, there’s an even fiercer group…plants that don’t even THINK about performing until they see others cooking. “ (aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu) One of the best of these heat tolerant plants for our Valley is the one known as “Esperanza,” the Spanish word for “hope.”
Esperanza is a member of the Bignoniaceae family (yep, same as the begonia), a family which contains other proven Texas performers such as Trumpet Creeper, Crossvine, Catulpa, Desert Willow, and Cape Honeysuckle, all known for big, showy flowers on rugged plants.
There are numerous forms of Tecoma stans, but the biggest and showiest is the Texas Superstar known as the Gold Star Esperanza. It’s a perennial here in the Valley (and as far north as San Antonio), and is basically pest-free in our landscapes. Its hardiness zone is Zone 9, exposure is full sun, and it can easily grow to 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide.
The planting hole for a container-grown plant should be about two to three times the size around as the root ball and just as deep as the pot it was grown in.
Allow at least three to four feet between bushes. Once established, the Esperanza blooms from May until at least October and can take long periods of drought. It’s still a good idea, however, to protect moisture levels with mulch (being careful not to cover the actual trunk of the shrub).
Water and fertilize the plant with a 20-20-20 fertilizer when first planted and at the start of the growing season. If you remove the seed pods that look like string beans, you’ll have more flowers, but you can allow a few to turn brown on the plant and start new plants.
The seeds should be planted two per pot and about an eighth of an inch deep, then misted with water. They should germinate in two to three weeks, but remember that they may not be identical to the original plant. They are also easy to propagate from cuttings. If you prune the shrub deeply in January, you’ll have an even bushier plant in the next season.
The flowers appeal to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds and have a pleasing fragrance. They are lovely to look at as they bloom in clusters of yellow bells, and are a great addition to any South Texas landscape.