By Julie Christensen
Visit any exotic tropical region in late spring and summer and you’ll probably find the jacaranda tree (Jacaranda mimosifolia) in full bloom. These trees are among the loveliest of tropical trees, with an open, vase-shape and extravagant clusters of fragrant, purple flowers. The flowers are trumpet-shaped and after they bloom, they drop to the ground, leaving a gauzy, tissue paper-like film of flower litter.
Alas, in the U.S., jacarandas only thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 12. Established trees may survive occasional temperatures down to 20 degrees F., and might survive in zone 9, but they won’t bloom as well. People sometimes grow them in pots and overwinter them indoors, but they rarely bloom in these conditions. The trees themselves are nice, but the flowers are the main attraction.
Planting a Jacaranda Tree
Jacaranda is native to Brazil and Argentina, where it is a deciduous tree. In some locations, it can be semi-evergreen. In addition to its showy flowers, it has fern-like, compound, pinnate leaves, which resemble the leaves of mimosa trees. If you live in the right climate, you can plant the jacaranda tree almost any time of the year.
Choose a location that gets full sun to partial shade. Jacaranda trees grow best in well-draining, slightly sandy soil, although they tolerate most soil types. They don’t grow in soils that don’t drain well.
Dig a hole as deep and twice as wide as the rootball. Place the tree in the hole and fill the hole halfway with soil. Add 2 gallons of water and allow the water to drain. Fill in the hole with the remaining soil, tamping it down firmly with your foot. Water the tree at least weekly for the first several weeks after planting.
Once established, the jacaranda tree can tolerate some drought. Pruning the jacaranda tree encourages vertical suckers to grow. These suckers can destroy the tree’s lovely, open shape, which resembles an upturned umbrella. Prune only to remove dead or diseased branches.
Jacarandas rarely need fertilizer and have few pest or disease problems. Clean up the flower and leaf litter, as well as the brown pods that develop in late summer. Avoid planting jacarandas over driveways or pools, since the litter can be substantial. Jacarandas can grow 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide, making them a large shade tree.
Growing Jacarandas as Potted Plants
Given their size, they’re not really suitable for small lots. If you decide to grow one in a pot, choose a large pot that holds at least 5 gallons of soil. Use a sandy potting soil that contains perlite or vermiculite. Water potted plants frequently so the soil is consistently moist. Don’t allow it to dry out but don’t let it get soggy either. Fertilize potted plants with a dilute 10-10-10 fertilizer every four weeks during the growing season.
Bring the tree indoors in the fall before the first light frost. Indoors, store Jacarandas in a spot that gets bright light and remains warm and humid. You can mist the tree with water in a spray bottle or run a humidifier to increase humidity. Indoors, keep an eye out for aphids and whiteflies. Reduce watering slightly during the winter, so the soil dries out somewhat between watering. Forgo fertilizer altogether.
For more information about growing Jacaranda trees, visit the following links:
Jacaranda Mimosifolia from the Missouri Botanical Garden
Jacaranda Mimosifolia from the University of Florida
Jacaranda Festival in New South Wales on YouTube
Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.