slow-growing trees with fast growers

November 05, 2009

by Beth Ellis,
Victoria County Master Gardener

edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Scorned by many due to its thorns, sweet acacia or huisache can be shaped into a nice, small tree, which has beautiful yellow/golden flowers each spring.
Choose drought-, heat- and alkaline-tolerant native trees to plant in your landscape.
So, you're in the market for trees, are you? Then it's likely you've either just bought a new home with a bare yard; need to replace dead or dying trees; or have decided to jazz up your tired landscaping. Whatever the cause, you want trees - nice, pretty trees - and fast. The problem is they grow s-o-o-o slowly. Or do they?

Don't hesitate planting a stately tree like a live oak or similar so-called "slow-growing" tree.

Victoria County Extension Agent Joe Janak has reported visiting with people in their retirement years in his office asking what fast-growing tree to plant as they didn't think they had many years left.

In most cases, the people are still living 15-20 years later and they now may have a less desirable tree in their yard. Janak has measured a 5-year-old live oak's growth that with proper management grew 39 inches in one year.

But if you are frustrated about waiting decades for mature trees, then fear not. There are trees out there that are the arboreal equivalents of race car speed demons Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch.
Native in Texas, the wild olive is a favorite of wildlife, hummingbirds and butterflies with showy white flowers and a dense canopy.
Combine Your Design

The fastest route to an attractive, tree-filled landscape is to combine oaks, and other slow-growing favorites, with fast growers. Combining trees with different maturity rates is a smart move if you want a dynamic, eye-catching yard.

You've got to do some planning, though, because some rapidly maturing species embrace the motto "live fast and die young."

Anticipate this in your landscape scheme, practice basic tree maintenance, and choose drought-, heat-, and alkaline-tolerant native beauties like the ones described below (if you have alkaline soil). You'll end up with a yard worth bragging about in no time at all.

Oh, Those Fast Native Beauties

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) - The airy branches and delicate foliage of this tree host a profusion of fragrant pink, trumpet-like blooms each spring and summer, making it a hummingbird favorite. Desert willows grow about 25 feet tall and live for 30 years. The biggest danger to this tree is over-watering.

Wild Olive (Cordia Boissieri) - Known as Texas wild olive, Mexican wild olive, or Anachahuita, this tree grows 15 to 20 feet tall and may live up to 100 years. Large white blossoms appear almost continuously year round. Leaves are large, the canopy is dense, and there are usually multiple trunks. Plant in a protected area, as it may experience die back in temperatures less than 20 degrees. The blooms are popular with hummingbirds and butterflies, and the fruits are relished by birds and animals. Although fast-growing, the wild olive is a long-lived tree.

Orchid Tree (Bauhinia congesta) - Also known as Anacacho or Anahuito, the orchid tree produces large, white to pink, orchid-like flowers each spring. It grows between 6 and 12 feet tall, and can have single or multiple trunks covered in slivery-grey bark. Butterflies love this long-lived tree.

Texas Redbud (Cereis canadenisis var. texensis) - Each spring the Texas redbud erupts into vivid fuchsia glory, making it a favorite of butterflies and people alike. Don't get the Texas redbud mixed up with its delicate relatives - the Eastern redbud does not like our hot, dry summers and the Mexican redbud cannot take our occasional freezes. Texas redbuds will grow 15 to 20 feet tall and can live up to 50 years; however, stem canker usually results in a much shorter lifespan.

Huisache (Acacia smallii) - Huisache may be the rancher's bane, but it's the homeowner's delight. Also called Sweet Acacia, this tree grows 15 to 30 feet and can be pruned into tree or shrub form. Fragrant yellow blossoms appear from mid-December to mid-March. Highly prized in Europe as an imported exotic, Old World perfumeries have used the blooms as a perfume base since the 1800s. Lacy foliage, thorny branches and sweet blossoms provide food and nest spots for wildlife. Huisache trees live 25 to 50 years.

Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) - Another fast growing Methuselah, mesquites can live a century or more. The lovely foliage, colorful beans, twisted trunks and gnarled bark provide a great deal of interest to the home landscape.

Mexican Buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa) - Mexican buckeyes grow 8 to 12 feet tall with multiple trunks covered in light grayish-brown bark. The large leaves turn yellow in fall, and during spring bloom the trees rival the Texas redbud for eye-catching beauty. Butterflies are drawn to the blooms, and birds and small mammals eat the seeds. The seed pods are mildly poisonous.

Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) - Yaupons will grow as high as 25 feet and can be pruned as a tree or hedge. Both male and female yaupons flower in the springtime, but only the females produce the bright red berries. Spring blooms attract butterflies, and berries provide food for many species of birds in fall and winter. Yaupons like full sun, tolerate shade and live about 50 years. Oh, and what about that curious scientific name? Native Americans brewed a black tea from the yaupon to use as a purgative.

Sit Back and Enjoy the Show

Incorporate both slow- and fast-growing trees in a sensible landscape plan now, and get the most bang for your buck, whether it's five years or 25 years from now. While the live oaks of your dreams wend their slow way to maturity, rapidly-growing trees planted at the same time will quickly provide shade and color; shelter and food for wildlife; and a flexible and dynamic landscape for your home.

Just as many of these leafy speed demons begin to reach the end of their life spans, your live oaks will be maturing into their full glory. And then, who knows? You might find yourself once again making room among your now stately oaks for a whole new bevy of fast growing arboreal beauties.
Desert willow is a fast-growing, small tree that provides the added beauty of fragrant, trumpet-type pink blossoms.
A favorite of butterflies and people alike with fuchsia colored flowers, this species of redbud is a highly recommended small, fast-growing tree.
Grown many times as a multi-trunked tree or shrub, yaupon is a native that grows with minimal problems and produces gorgeous berries and foliage.

For quick reference or tree identification, go to these sites:
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at