Native perennials offer colorful, stable garden


August 14, 2003


Victoria County Master Gardener


As the southern Texas sun shines down on the Crossroads, the plants around our homes suffer from the heat. Just like humans, plants need to be kept hydrated. A low-maintenance landscape can be achieved by using Texas natives that are able to withstand Texas drought and heat. Anyone can achieve such a landscape by planting native annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs and vines. They will not only add color and greenery to the garden, they also allow the gardener to take a rest from daily watering in the landscape.


Many of our Texas wildflowers are native annuals and perennials. Some native annuals are the bluebonnet, black-eyed Susan, Indian blankets, clasping coneflower, phlox, Plains coreopsis and Texas bluebells to name a few. These annuals usually appear in early spring. They can be started from seed and need to be sowed in the fall. If starting any plant from seed, make sure to purchase the seeds from a local retailer so you can make sure the variety will be able to grow in our zone. You can also purchase these annuals as transplants at local nurseries. Although most transplants need to be planted when the danger of frost has passed, bluebonnets can be transplanted in the late winter months.


Mealy blue sage, lanceleaf coreopsis, prairie verbena, purple coneflower and Texas lantana are a few native perennials that can be used in the landscape. These natives will bring a hue of colors into the garden and also attract butterflies into your landscape. A good note to remember when trying to locate many of these plants is to do a little research. Using the Internet and garden books and asking nursery attendants about the plants is always best, because it will allow you to have a little more knowledge before planting. You will be able to find many of the perennials in the nurseries in the spring.


Native shrubs can add color to the landscape as well. American beautyberry is a native shrub that can grow relatively large with beautiful purple berries. Salvia greggii, which comes in a variety of colors, can add sparkle to any garden. Salvia greggii can also get extremely large. Other native shrubs are Texas sage or cenizo, which can have beautiful grayish-green leaves, along with wax myrtle and woolly butterfly bush, to name a few.


People are also attracted to vines because they can be placed to climb arbors and trail along fences. Some native vines are Carolina Jasmine, Coral Honeysuckle, Passion Vine, and Texas Wisteria. Each of these vines has colorful blooms that would dazzle any landscape. You can find all these vines at local nurseries. Make sure you read about the vines before placing them on a fence or arbor; many can become very heavy for a weak structure. Again, do a little research!


If you drive around the older areas of Victoria, you will see a number of mature native trees - even after Hurricane Claudette damaged many of them. The oak, cedar elm, pine, pecan and Southern magnolia are all Texas natives. Before planting trees, make sure to read about the type you are wanting to plant. You don't want a tree planted too closely to your house or to other trees, as it may be hazardous when it matures.


Integrating Texas natives into your landscape can be accomplished once you have an idea of the look you want to achieve. Initially, and shortly after planting, you do need to pay closer attention to the soil moisture to ensure success. In general, it is difficult to make broad recommendations about when to water due to variations in climatic conditions and soil types. However, when there is an extended period without rain, particularly during the summer, newly planted trees and shrubs should be watered once a week allowing the water to soak deeply. Many plants are over-watered, causing problems. And slight wilt stress will harm a plant and its root system less than over-watering.


It is always best to plant in the fall or winter so that the plants are able to get settled before the sizzling summer heat arrives. Texas natives also need pruning, as do other plants, with the best time being in the dormant season.


If you would like to see what Texas natives look like planted in a garden, visit the Victoria Educational Gardens located next to the Officer's Club at the Victoria Regional Airport. The Native Garden part was planted in September 2002 and all the plants selected have done well considering they are getting total sun. Although Hurricane Claudette did do some damage, VEG withstood the storm considerably well. While visiting the Native Garden, it may be worth your time to also see the other gardens that are planted at VEG.