Wild About Texas – October, 2007
Winter does not need to be a bleak time in the garden, especially in Texas. We are blessed with many choices of native evergreens, winter fruits, and dormant plants that demonstrate interesting forms, textures, and colors. Yes, tan is a color too!
Evergreens make excellent backdrops for featuring plants with contrasting characteristics. Large vines, trees, and shrubs provide windbreaks as well as visual, physical, and noise barriers. Too many evergreens in the landscape, however, can be lugubrious, overbearing, and stagnant. Include plenty of deciduous plants to welcome the cheerful winter sun and ensure a dynamic landscape.
Texas has a small handful of native coniferous evergreens, such as various junipers throughout the state and pines in the east and mountainous west. Other evergreen shrubs and trees include cenizo, agarita, cherry laurel, yaupon, wax myrtle and live oak. Crossvine, coral honeysuckle and carolina jessamine are evergreen vines native to the eastern parts of the state and can be grown on fences or walls in narrow areas where a shrub or tree would be too large.
Add dramatic form with evergreen succulents such as prickly pear, candelilla, leatherstem and “woody lilies” like agaves, sotols and nolinas. They are particularly effective in combination with grasses and other plants with attractive winter silhouettes.
Groundcovers and plants with winter rosettes include Texas bluebonnets, Texas star, giant spiderwort, Engelmann’s daisy, Gregg’s dalea, lyre-leaf sage, cedar sage and damianita. Most sedges form evergreen clumps and can be used similarly to monkey grass or liriope.
Even those of us who have grown to love the subtle hues of winter appreciate the punctuation furnished by brightly colored berries. Red and orange are the most common to find with possumhaw, yaupon, chili pequin, Carolina snailseed vine and Coral honeysuckle. Silver-leaf nightshade and western horsenettle have yellow fruits, and American beautyberry lives up to its name with clusters of magenta berries. Wax myrtle has a subtle bluish gray fruit and the foliage, when crushed, releases a fresh bayberry aroma.
Form and Texture
The play of light from a low sun can be magical on the foliage of a winter garden. Back-lit foliage of dormant grasses comes to mind right away and the slightest breeze animates it back to life. A few reliable and easy-to-find favorites are Lindheimer’s and Gulf muhlys, bushy and little bluestems, Inland sea oats, switchgrass, side-oats and hairy gramas, and Mexican feathergrass.
Perennials and late-season annuals that keep their form well and have interesting seed-heads and pods are good candidates for winter landscapes. Goldenrods, gayfeathers, purple coneflower, Maximilian sunflower, fall aster, trumpet creeper, old man’s beard and eryngo each lend their distinct character. Postpone cutting them to the ground until late winter or when they become unsightly.
With a little shaping by the gardener, the forms of multi-trunked Texas persimmon, possumhaw, anacacho orchid tree and Texas mountain laurel create elegant sculptures. The first three have silvery bark, which contrasts nicely with dark backgrounds, and mountain laurel keeps its leaves all year.
TEXAS NATIVE PLANTS MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE:
Carolina snailseed vine
Cenizo, Texas sage
Live oak, Plateau live oak
Quercus virginiana, Q. fusiformis