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Texas Ranger

Posted 4/29/2008

One of the many popular plants that grow particularly well in Xeriscape gardens is what’s known as "Texas Ranger" — its scientific name is Leucophyllum frutescens . For all of the science phobes out there: Leucophyllum means "white leaves", and frutescens means "becoming shrubby". Now is that not more informative than its common names - Texas sage, Texas ranger, Texas barometer bush? Especially if you happen to speak Latin. It’s not a sage, by the way. You might guess that it evolved first in Texas, and you’d be right, but by now it has many hybrids that appear in landscapes all over the southwest. This is one of the many shrubs that you can use to add both color and texture to otherwise drab desert gardens. Texas Ranger leaves are fairly small, generally not much more than an inch or so long. They tend to be very silvery grey, with a downy coat, although there are some varieties whose foliage is deep green and relatively smooth. Even without flowers, its leaves can make it an interesting addition to the desert landscape. Some internet sites even list it as being grown for foliage, particularly because it doesn’t shed its leaves at the end of the season. That makes it a good plant to have around pools, or anywhere you don’t want a lot of dead leaves to rake up. A healthy plant has many, many leaves, so the plants that have the grey foliage might appear like soft, silver ghosts.

Very pretty, but the flowers should not be missed. While they are small, they are showy — rather funnel shaped, with five petals close together. Their colors are in the purple to lavender hues, but some hybrids have pink or even white. They tend to be not more than one inch in diameter. Having that shape, like a funnel, they can attract hummingbirds. That is a plus for any landscape. Even better, this is a plant that can bloom off and on from summer through fall. It makes a pretty sight — soft purple flowers on a backdrop of fuzzy grey.

It does not appear to have many problems in the line of insect pests or diseases. That is another positive element of this shrub. Not only that, but it is also a low pollen producer, which means it is not likely to be a problem for people with allergies. So now, you want to make sure to have this great plant in your landscape, right? No problem, as long as you make sure of a couple of things when you plant it.

As with so many desert plants, Texas Ranger can tolerate a lot of tough conditions, which is good thing, here in Southern Nevada. It does best in full sun, and it will grow relatively quickly in spite of the Mojave’s low humidity. Once it’s gotten established in the yard, it requires low levels of irrigation. It will not, however, survive poor drainage. You have probably heard that one of the chief reasons landscape plants die in this region is because the soil remains too wet. If you want to grow it, you’ll need to follow the basic steps. Dig a hole the same depth as the pot the plant came in, not deeper. Now the hard part: make the hole anywhere from three to five times the width of the pot. Fill the hole with water. If it takes more than half a day for the water to drain, find another site, otherwise it will develop root rot if it sits in a mud filled hole.

If you let them, most varieties will grow up to six or eight feet, both tall and wide; but you can prune them to a more manageable size. You can prune in late winter or early spring. It blooms on the new wood it produces in one season. Unfortunately, leucophyllum shrubs are too frequently victims of the dreaded "turn it into a beach ball" method of plant butchery. When that is done to these plants, you can see the negative results dramatically. Instead of a shrub with soft leaves and flowers all along the stems, the badly pruned ones have a thin shell of leaves and flowers at the very surface of the sphere. If you spread the branches of the plant ball, though, you will probably see a mess of dry wood with neither flowers nor leaves. The plant is active only at the very surface. Not enough to keep the plant healthy. In other words, just prune a Texas ranger, don’t shave it.

So here is this great plant, attractive foliage and flowers, tolerates our environment, isn’t a pollen problem, available in every nursery, and all you need to do is make sure that it’s in a well drained sunny location. Life is good!

For more information on pruning shrubs, Contact University of Nevada Cooperative Extension at 702-346-7215 or 397-2604. The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension is an outreach arm of the University that extends unbiased, research-based knowledge from the University of Nevada—and other land-grant universities—to local communities. Educational programs are developed based on local needs, often in partnership with other agencies and volunteers. For more information about the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, please visit the website at www.unce.unr.edu or call (702) 397-2604 or 346-7215.

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