Gardening In Texas: Part 1 – Build Your Garden with Texas Natives
By Ebony Porter, January 19, 2016, Green
Introducing Gardening In Texas from Bounce Energy! We hope this series will steer you in the direction of planting a green Texas garden with a eco-friendly lifestyle in mind. We’ll discuss shaping a garden that uses less water, grows in harmony with animal and insect life in the area, and provides you with more than just a pretty view.
I’ve been gardening in Texas for the last 20 years. With all those seasons under my belt, I’ve certainly found my favorite plants, and I’ve have certainly killed a number of them, too.
But as any passionate gardener knows, gardening is the sort of thing you can never know everything about. It calls you to step out of your comfort zone, try new things, see what works, see what doesn’t, and then keep rolling with the rhythm of the seasons as you discover the survival of the fittest. Or perhaps, the survival of what you’ve kept alive.
Everything is Bigger in Texas
It’s true – this is a massive state, and with these expansive borders comes a variety of ecosystems. For example: the topography of the Big Bend area, with its geological drama and scrubby flora, can’t be any further away from East Texas, with its flat terrain, sky-high pine trees, and lush forests. It’s not surprising that botanists estimate that Texas is home to more than 7,000 species of vascular plants. Thus, while the suggestions in this series won’t work for every square inch of our big ol’ state, they do apply to the areas that receive moderate rain fall.
So, let’s begin with my absolute favorites, the cornerstone of what builds an eco-friendly Texas garden – Texas native plants. We will address Texas native trees in a later post.
What Do You Mean By “Native?”
A native tree or plant is a species indigenous to the area, something found growing naturally with ease. This is the flora found growing in our state long before settlers arrived, the stuff growing without human intervention. These plants are considered perennials, meaning they do not die each season. Although they may lose all their leaves in the winter, or the Monarch caterpillars might eat all their leaves, they will come back and return with greenery when spring arrives.
By planting perennial Texas natives, you are putting your money into a plant that will follow you through the seasons, and if adequately tended to, will only grow stronger year after year. You are also guaranteed to be growing plants that don’t require an abundance of water. Simply plant, and let grow. The only time you would need to intervene is if you hit a drought in your area, then water sparingly only after the sun goes down.
Here are a few of my favorites.
1) Butterfly Milkweed
Also known as Asclepias tuberosa, this plant attracts the Monarch butterfly: she lays her eggs on it, and her baby caterpillars eat the leaves. Its waxy green leaves and orange candy-like flowers grow effortlessly in a native garden up to 2 feet tall. Don’t prune them in the winter, and they will return in the spring full of life. They are also known to reseed and show up in other areas of your garden. Dig up any unwanted Milkweeds, and pot them in a small vessel as a gift to someone else!
2) Echinacea or “Purple Coneflower”
The coneflower has so much expression, you’d think it sprung straight from the pages of a children’s book. This perennial is easily grown from seed, although once established, they don’t like to be overwatered. The bees love this delightful flower, with drooping purple petals and robust orange center. You can boil this flower into a tea and use it to boost the immune system.
3) Texas Sage or “Texas Ranger”
No, not Chuck Norris. This perennial bush is covered in silvery sage blue leaves and can grow up to 6 feet tall. It is a hardy bush with drought resistance, and once established, needs very little tending. When in bloom from spring to fall, the bush is covered in light purple flowers that draw in the bees.
4) Turk’s Cap
This flower has a host of other charming names such as Mexican Apple, Wax Mallow, Sleeping Hibiscus, and Texas Mallow. The electric red flower is said to resemble a Turkish hat. It grows in a bush that spreads outward and upward (up to 9 feet tall!) and is happy in either full shade or full sun.
If you wish to have more than one Turk’s cap in your garden, save money, and propagate from the plant you already have. Cut a piece that is 6 inches in length and free of leaves. Treat the cutting with root hormone, and then place into soil. Water until it is established.
This variety of sage native to Texas grows and propagates easily, showing up in other areas of the garden. Consider Autumn Sage, which makes an excellent short bush to your perennial garden. Hummingbirds will find their way to its scarlet red flowers for a feed.
6) Texas Rock Rose
Short and pretty, its pink flowers resemble a single petal rose, make a nice addition to a dry and rocky garden bed. Also known as Pavonia or Rose Mallow, it’s good at attracting bees to your garden.
7) Esperanza or “Yellow Bells”
Plant an esperanza, and watch it grow! It is an exceptional bush to plant when you need privacy in one area of your garden. Native to the areas surrounding San Antonio, Native Americans used its wood to make bows. When planting, be sure and leave at least 4 feet in all directions around, as it will grow that wide and tall.
Its yellow bell flowers are a show stopper, and the birds love feeding from its nectar. Don’t be shy in pruning it if it gets too unruly, it will come back with ease.
Are you a gardener who loves all things Texas? Share your favorite natives with us!
Stay tuned in February for our next edition of Gardening In Texas.