Is your garden winter-dreary, lacking in greenery after the latest sub-freezing blast? Or is your tired, old red-tip photinia hedge finally succumbing to photinia fungal disease? If so, take a look at evergreen sumac (Rhus virens), a small tree or large shrub native to the drylands of central Texas, New Mexico, and northern Mexico.
As the photo above illustrates, “evergreen” is a bit of a misnomer. In full sun its leaves turn a burnished red in winter (in shade it remains green). Also, it’s not a true evergreen since, like live oak and Texas persimmon, it drops and immediately replaces its leaves in late winter. Mere technicalities! Evergreen sumac is a fine screening plant, one that provides year-round greenery whether you’re growing it in full sun or shade.
I took the photos above at the Wildflower Center last weekend (late January). The closer view reveals furry, red berries — a late-winter smorgasbord for birds.
This one, peeking between two live oak trunks, is growing in my garden in dappled shade. Lacking bright sunlight, it never blushes coppery red, but that’s OK. When winter’s tans and grays start to feel dull, evergreen sumac is still pleasantly green. I took this photo in early fall (late September), when clusters of creamy white flower buds appeared amid the shiny leaves.
In another week, when the small flowers opened, the shrub was buzzing with eager honeybees. This is an excellent pollinator plant.
Evergreen sumac is native to dry hillsides, so be sure it has good drainage. Rocky soil? No problem. Heavy, clay soil? Hmm. Try it where you have terracing or a slope so that water can drain away during our occasional flooding rains. Plant it throughout the winter, but do remember to water deeply every couple of weeks throughout that first summer to get it established.
Expect evergreen sumac to grow 8 to 12 feet tall and wide. It can be pruned up tree-form to reveal its gray, scaly bark or left shrubby and loose. But keep in mind that it grows quite slowly, so prepare to be patient or buy a larger plant for immediate impact.
Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.
All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.