Shape of leaves help differentiate desert willow, chitalpa - Albuquerque Journal

Shape of leaves help differentiate desert willow, chitalpa

Tracey FitzgibbonQ. In our backyard we have a flowering tree that has leaves that look like ones you’d find on a willow tree. The flowers are a lovely dark pink-purple color that don’t stay on the tree for long at all, especially if it’s windy. One neighbor calls it a desert willow and on the other side of us, that neighbor calls it a chitalpa tree. Can you help us figure out which tree we have? – L.B., Albuquerque

A. I’ve discussed this before and it can create quite a conundrum.

It’ll be the shape of the leaves (mostly) that’ll be the definitive. You say the leaves are long and willow-leaf shaped. That leads me to believe that you do, in fact, have a desert willow (Chilopsis linearis.) If the leaves on your tree were more lance-shaped – skinny at the top, wider in the middle and then tapering again to a point, then I’d believe you have a tree called a chitalpa.

Both trees offer lovely squat trumpet-like shaped frilly blooms. At one point in the horticultural world someone decided to cross a desert willow with a catalpa tree creating the chitalpa.

So that’s how you figure out which tree you have. Longish, lance or spear-shaped leaves the tree is a chitalpa. Long, relatively thin willow-shaped leaves, you have a desert willow. Hope that helps.

Q. I purchased a bag of ladybugs at a nursery last weekend, released them and now I can’t find one ladybug in any of my gardens. What happened to them all? There were hundreds of them when I opened their container. They haven’t died have they? – W.B., Albuquerque

A. I doubt that your released ladybugs died. Know that ladybugs suffer, if you will, from wanderlust. They found their freedom and simply took off.

Please, don’t be disheartened as you have done the surrounding areas a great service when you set them free. I believe there are still several hanging around, hopefully mating and in turn laying eggs.

Be on the lookout for some really weird looking bugs, so don’t freak out when and if you see any. Keep an eye out for smallish – smaller than a quarter inch – black with orange striped alligator-shaped, six legged- creatures hanging around any aphid populations you might have. These black with orange larvae are the “teenaged” form of the ladybug.

And like most teenagers they are the hungriest when in this stage of their lives. I know that it was an investment when you purchased the bag o’ bugs and it seems like they have flown the coop, but I won’t be surprised if you don’t find a certain amount of hungry teenagers in your gardens soon.

Q. I was given a pretty bowl of petunias, planted in patriotic colors (red, white, and blue) by a friend when she came to my Memorial Day celebration. Some of the flowers have finished blooming and look pretty scraggly. How do I keep this present looking its best, and since the flowers are in holiday colors, what are the chances I can keep them going until the Fourth of July? – S.H., Albuquerque

A. You are lucky to have such a thoughtful friend and keeping the bowl blooming won’t be difficult.

First, I hope you’ve chosen a spot to set the bowl that will get good air circulation and several hours of bright light a day. It won’t have to be direct sun, just good bright light.

Make sure the bowl doesn’t dry out. I’m not saying you want the bowl kept soggy, just dampened.

Once you get used to the look of the plants, you’ll be able to recognize whether or not water is needed. If the plants are stiff looking (sort of), then they are adequately watered. If they look droopy and have a paler color, well, it means either not enough water or too much water. Amazingly, that “look” will be the same.

Stick your finger into the soil and if it’s muddy, back off a watering. If it’s stone dry, then offer water.

Next, keep the finished blooms plucked or snipped off the plant. Don’t just pull off the petal part either. Pinch or snip off the green part that held the flower. That way the plant doesn’t waste any more energy there and concentrates on creating new blooms.

Mid-month you might offer a bloom boosting fertilization to ensure the continued flowering of the bowl well into July and the weeks that follow.

With some consistent care, your holiday bowl should color your world for weeks and weeks to come.

Happy Diggin’ In.

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to


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