SHRUB PROFILE: New Mexican Privet
By Mikl Brawner:
New Mexican Privet: Forestiera pubescens var. neomexicana
Photo: Keith Williamson This Colorado native small tree or large shrub in the Olive family is sometimes called Desert Olive. It grows in the valleys and canyons of southwestern Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. The upright, thin, light-gray branches grow very densely and could be used for a screen or hedge, like a Privet, though it is not a true privet.
Photos: David Salman, HCG
Forestiera will grow 8'-12' high and 6'-8' wide. The leaves are small, gray-green and turn a golden yellow in the fall. The yellow flowers are small and not showy. The female plants produce edible blue to blue-black drupes (olives) that birds enjoy. Both sexes must be present to produce fruit. Finally, it is possible to buy sexed plants. High Country Gardens now sells ‘Berry Girl’ and ‘Happy Boy’ when they are available.
New Mexican Olive (it has many names) is reported to be native to both moist soils along streams and in drier locations, growing at 4200'-7300'. It is successful in full sun or a little shade and hardy to Zone 4. I have 8' specimens growing in dry locations that are doing well, but I have seen faster and larger-growing plants where they are getting more irrigation.
Pruning can prevent splitting under snow load. The stems have a tendency to make narrow crotches (co-dominant stems). Prune off one stem cleanly to the crotch, leaving the one that fills in the form the best. They also benefit from thinning shoots that come from the ground and shortening long branches by 10%-20%. Pruning can make it more shrub-like or more tree-like.
Forestiera seems to have no pests, is deer-resistant, needs little water once established, is easy to care for, feed birds and makes an attractive addition to a water-smart garden.
Mikl Brawner and his wife Eve co-own Harlequins Gardens in Boulder, specializing in organic veggie starts and herbs, natives, sustainable roses, xeriscape, unusual perennials, and products to build healthy soil.
(Ed’s Note: Keith Williamson of Little Valley Nursery Wholesale says the correct name for what has been listed for so long as F. neomexicana is actually Forestiera pubescens var. parvifolis. It is available at local nurseries including Harlequins. If they sell out in May, High Country Gardens will have more available in the fall – a great time to plant shrubs.)