May 1, 2023 - Things to Do

Native plants for Texas gardens

Photo of a purple flower.

The bloom of a Texas baby blue eyes, which is found in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Photo: Joseph A. Marcus/Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Recent warm weather and rain have Houstonians busy in their yards, preparing their landscape for guests and outdoor gatherings.

Of note: Before you get to work, consider native plants that will thrive and create an eco-conscious garden.

  • Selecting plants native to Texas not only means less watering, fertilizing and pest control, but also a higher chance of survival in extreme temperatures.

But, but, but: Native plants are not guaranteed to thrive in urban spaces like Houston anymore, as the residual heat is higher, and plants now need to be more tolerant of extreme cold conditions as well, Mike Arnold, professor of landscape horticulture at Texas A&M, tells Axios.

Details: With summer heat on the way, consider what's possible to plant right now. If you're not ready to plant just yet, hold off until the fall.

What they're saying: "It is too late for the spring annuals, but perennials can be planted at any time," Samantha Elkinton, the gardens manager at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, tells Axios.

  • For the gardening novice — perennials come back every year while annuals complete their life cycle in one year.
  • Plants adjust better when they're not blooming and winter precipitation helps get them established.
  • "It is easier to care for plants over the summer if they were planted in the fall because they will need less water in the summer," Elkinton added.

Here are some of Elkinton's favorite native perennials for Texas landscaping:

1. Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala)

Photo of a pink flower.
The bloom of a Rock Rose. Photo: Norman G. Flaigg/Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

This small shrub can thrive in sun or shade and grows 2-3 feet tall.

  • Pink blooms last from April to November.

2. Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii)

photo of light purple-white flowers.
Gregg's mistflower. Photo: Lee Page/Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

The palm-leaf mistflower needs plenty of sun and grows about 2 feet tall.

  • Small purplish flowers bloom from March through November.

3. Liatris (Liatris punctata var. mucronata)

Photo of a tall purple flower.
Liatris. Photo: Joseph A. Marcus/Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Known as the Texas Blazing Star, this plant needs sun and gravelly, well-drained soil to flower in succession from top to bottom over several weeks.

  • It reaches about 2 feet tall and blooms between August and November.

4. Mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea)

Photo of a purple flower/grass.
Mealy blue sage. Photo: Lee Page/Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

This 2- to 3-foot shrub needs full sun and usually forms a mound as wide as the plant is tall.

  • Blue or white tubular flowers bloom April to October.

5. Shrubby boneset (Ageratina havanensis)

Photo of a white flower and green triangle leaves.
Shrubby boneset. Photo: Ray Mathews/Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

The Havana snakeroot or mistflower is a drought-tolerant, rounded shrub that can grow in the sun or shade.

  • It grows about 4 feet tall and blooms white in October through December.

6. Turk's cap (Malvaviscus arboreus)

Photo of a red flower.
Turk's cap. Photo: Stephanie Brundage/Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

For a shady yard, try this spreading shrub that typically grows 2 to 3 feet tall, occasionally reaching 10 feet.

  • It blooms red in June through November.

7. Velvet-leaf mallow (Allowissadula holosericea)

Photo of yellow flower
A Velvet-leaf mallow is among a number of native plants that thrive in Central Texas gardens. Photo courtesy of Melody Lytle/Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Also great in the shade, this eye-catching shrub reaches about 6 feet in height.

  • It blooms yellow in May through November.

The bottom line: Watering and maintenance vary for each native plant, Elkinton says.

  • "As a very general rule, most native shrubs need to be cut back in late winter or early spring," Elkinton said, adding that watering is highly variable. "Most natives that need moderate amounts of water, need about 1 inch of water every week. In the extreme heat of summer, plants may need more water. Also, native plants that naturally occur in wet soils will need more water."
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