Texas Mountain Laurel Won’t Bloom: Troubleshooting A Flowerless Texas Mountain Laurel
By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer
Texas mountain laurel, Dermatophyllum secundiflorum (formerly Sophora secundiflora or Calia secundiflora), is much loved in the garden for its glossy evergreen foliage and fragrant, blue-lavender colored blooms. However, here at Our site, we often get questions about how to get flowers on a Texas mountain laurel plants. Continue reading to learn possible reasons why your Texas mountain laurel won’t bloom.
Why Texas Mountain Laurel Has Never Bloomed
Hardy in U.S. hardiness zones 9-11, Texas mountain laurel can be a finicky or reluctant bloomer. These plants bloom in spring, then in midsummer to fall they begin to form the flower buds of the next season. The most common reason for no flowers on Texas mountain laurel is improperly timed pruning.
Texas mountain laurel should only be pruned and/or deadheaded immediately after it’s done flowering. Pruning and deadheading in fall, winter, or early spring will result in inadvertently cutting off the flower buds, causing a season of flowerless Texas mountain laurel. Texas mountain laurel is also slow to recover from any hard pruning. If the plant is cut back too much, blooms can be delayed for a season or two.
Transplant shock can also result in flowerless Texas mountain laurel. Experts strongly suggest planting a new young Texas mountain laurel, rather than trying to transplant an already established one because they are so susceptible to transplant shock. Transplanting Texas mountain laurel can cause the plant to not bloom for several seasons.
How to Get Flowers on a Texas Mountain Laurel
Environmental factors that can cause Texas mountain laurel to not bloom include too much shade, waterlogged or heavy clay soil, and too much nitrogen.
Texas mountain laurel can grow in dappled to part shade. However, to bloom properly, they need 6-8 hours of sunlight every day. Before planting a Texas mountain laurel, it is recommended that you track the sunlight in your yard to properly select a site where it can receive enough sunlight.
Heavy, waterlogged soils can cause root and crown rot of Texas mountain laurel, which will result in defoliation and bud or bloom drop. It is simply a plant’s natural defense when they are sick or under insect attack to drop foliage and blooms. Make sure to plant Texas mountain laurels in well-draining soils.
Another common reason why Texas mountain laurel has never bloomed is too much nitrogen. Nitrogen promotes leafy green growth on plants, not bloom or root development. Nitrogen runoff from lawn fertilizers can inhibit the production of blooms, so it is best to select a site for Texas mountain laurels where they will not catch this high nitrogen runoff. Also, when fertilizing Texas mountain laurel, select a fertilizer for acid-loving plants with a low level of nitrogen.
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Texas mountain laurel blooms in the spring, producing its flowers on the growth of the previous year. If the shrub is pruned before it flowers in the spring, it will lose its flower buds and will not flower until the following year. Arizona State University notes that little to no pruning is necessary with Texas mountain laurel, stating that the shrub is very slow to recover after a heavy shearing. Prune only to remove dead, diseased or damaged wood. If you must prune for aesthetic reasons, do so immediately after flowering.
Thanks to the shrub's deep root system, transplanting Texas mountain laurel can result in transplant shock, extreme stress to the shrub that may inhibit normal flowering. Arizona State University recommends planting Texas mountain laurel from a 5- or 15-gallon nursery starter container rather than attempting to move an established shrub. Though the plant will survive if grown in partial shade, healthy flowering is best promoted with full sunlight, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
It’s so disappointing this time of year when you get no (or few) blooms on your Texas Mountain Laurels! Fear not . . . there may be a few things you can do to help . . . .
Really, these are really some things you should NOT do in order to help your Texas Mountain Laurel bloom more!
- Don’t trim it! Texas Mountain Laurels bloom one year old wood . . . so if you trimmed yours in the fall, you have cut off flower opportunities! One of the things I love about Texas Mountain Laurels, besides those beautiful aromatic blossoms, is how it can be kept a manageable size with a little bit of trimming. Just wait until AFTER the tree has bloomed to trim!
- Don’t fertilize it! This is a native Texas tree – so it should grow beautifully here with nothing but what nature provides. Therein lies the benefit of natives . . . . they are the queens of low maintanence. Another point to note: Most fertilizers are higher in nitrogen than in phosphorous or potash. Nitrogen is the first number in the fertilizer formula and is usually the largest number. Its job is to make a plant green and encourage folliage growth. If a tree is putting all its energy in growing bigger, there’s not much energy left to produce flowers.
- Don’t water it too much! Texas Mountain Laurels grow in the rocky hills of the Texas Hill Country. It doesn’t rain much there and when it does, the excess runs downhill. Plant it in well drained soil. If you live in an area with a large annual rainfall, you may even want to plant it in a bermed or raised bed. NOTE: If you are planting a new Texas Mountain Laurel tree, you must give it regular waterings to get established – just don’t let it stand in soggy soil.
- Plant it in full sun! Finally, something you can do! Eight hours of sunlight is important for Texas Mountain Laurels to bloom well. Although they will grow just fine as an understory tree, don’t expect many flowers from a semi-shaded tree.
- Here’s a bonus tip.Make sure it has a cold winter!Like you have any control over that, right? While we have never read anything regarding “chilling” hours, we have noticed a relationship between the number of cold days (30s and 40s) and number of flowers. The winter of 2016-2017 was pretty non-existant. We had a grand total of two days of winter. Of all the Texas Mountain Laurels for sale at our nursery, about a half bloomed . . . . and then somewhat sparcely. On the other hand, we have had many, MANY days in the 30s and 40s this winter and our trees are packed with blooms!
We have NEVER seen this many blooms on our trees – and we’ve been growing fields of them since 2002.
Protect this year’s growth so you get oodles and oodles of blooms in 2019!
TEXAS MOUNTAIN LAUREL
Evergreen – Sun/Part Shade
Ht. 20’ Spread 10’
HABIT: Slow growing, dense foliage, bushy unless trimmed into tree form. Fragrant, purple, wisteria-like flowers in spring. They actually smell like grape soda.
CULTURE: Any well-drained soil. Moderate to low water and feeding requirements.
USES: Specimen ornamental tree or large shrub. Drought-tolerant gardens. Can be grown in containers.
PROBLEMS: Winter damage in the northern parts of the state.
NOTES: Great in Central Texas but needs some protection in North Texas . Native to southwestern USA , Texas and Mexico .
Q: I have a mountain laurel that is 5 or 6 years old that has never bloomed. It is planted in good soil in full sun-any ideas?
A: Mine hasn't bloomed the last couple of years because of late freezes injuring the flower buds. Just enjoy the beautiful foliage and celebrate the flowers and their fragrance when they finally come.
Q: What is the best way to plant Texas Mountain Laurel seed pods and how long do they take to germinate? B.R., Temple.
A: They germinate fairly easily in 2 – 4 weeks if you do a couple things. Remove the red seeds from the pods and scratch the surface with heavy sandpaper or a file. Then soak the seeds in Garrett Juice for the night and plant in organic potting soil. My favorite these days is an equal mix of compost, coconut fiber and expanded shale. Add a small percentage of lava sand, Texas Green sand and decomposed granite to the mix. These additions shouldn't make up more than 20% of the total mixture. These are wonderful little spring blooming trees that should be used more in zone 8 and warmer zones blooming trees that should be used more in zone 8 and warmer zones.
How to get Texas mountain laurel to bloom?
Q. We have a 2-year-old Texas mountain laurel that is putting on some spring growth but has never bloomed. Is it necessary to have another plant nearby? It is surrounded by St. Augustine grass, and there are large oak trees nearby.
A. Texas mountain laurel needs good drainage for good health and abundant sun for good blooms. Are the oaks casting too much shade? If so, you might consider moving the plant before it becomes much larger.
Kathy Huber has worked for the Houston Chronicle since May 1981. She was Features Copy Desk chief before becoming the first full-time garden editor for the paper in 1988. She writes a weekly garden Q&A and feature stories.
A Texas Master Gardener, she's the author of The Texas Flower Garden, published by Gibbs-Smith in 1996. She's been a frequent speaker at various garden events.
A native of Moultrie, Ga., she graduated from Queens University of Charlotte, formerly Queens College. She did graduate work through the University of Georgia system.
She is married to photographer John Everett and they have one son.