Wild About Texas – October, 2007
I get a lot of questions from gardeners wanting advice for a very difficult garden situation: shade in the coolness of morning and blasts of sizzling summer sun in the afternoon. Species wanting full shade get scorched with too much sun, but sun-loving plants may not get enough, resulting in spindly, unhealthy growth. What kind of plant will tolerate such brutality?
There are a number of Texas natives that will fit the bill. They are supremely adapted to growing along the edges of woodlands where they endure such conditions and perform ideally with at least 4 hours of sunlight.
Here are a few to consider:
White mistflower, shrubby boneset (Ageratina havanensis)-Late summer/fall bloomer (occasionally in spring) with fragrant, pincushion-like white flower clusters. The bushy plant reaches 3 to 4 feet tall and is a favorite with a large array of butterflies and other pollinators. Cut back before new growth emerges in the spring to keep plants compact. Part sun to full sun.
Velvet mallow (Allowissadula holocericea)-A woody 3- to 5-foot-tall perennial with heart-shaped, velvety soft leaves and elegant peach colored flowers resembling miniature hibiscus in summer. Trim periodically to shape. Often loses its lower leaves and looks best with shorter plants in front. Deer resistant. Part sun to full sun.
Standing winecup (Callirhoe pedata)-Less commonly available for purchase than trailing winecup, standing winecup is more shade tolerant. Foliage is sparse on stems arching upward to 2 feet, topped by rich magenta flowers in spring. Plants are dormant in winter and reseed moderately where conditions are ideal. Part sun to full sun.
Inland sea-oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)-Looking for a shade tolerant ornamental grass? Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall with arching stems and flower heads developing mid-May or early June. In areas protected by wind, seed heads remain attractive into December. New growth begins to appear in late winter. Cut plants back before newly emerging foliage gets too tall. Reseeds freely and is good in flower arrangements. Deer resistant. Full shade to part sun.
Snakeherb (Dyschoriste linearis)-Rose-lavender flowers can be found throughout the growing season nestled in the thick foliage of this 6-inch-tall groundcover. Plants colonize by root runners. Larval food plant for Buckeye butterflies. Full shade to full sun.
Texas lantana (Lantana urticoides)-Commonly found in gardens everywhere for good reason: It’s reliable and durable. Be aware that the blackberry-like fruit are toxic so keep children away. Small orange, yellow and red flowers bloom in showy clusters from spring through frost. To keep plants bushy and blooming, shear lightly after each flowering cycle. Cut plants to the ground in winter to promote compact growth in spring. Plants are typically 3 to 5 feet tall and deer resistant. Part sun to full sun.
Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii)-Red flowers in summer are a big hit with hummingbirds and large butterflies. Perennial to 3 to 5 feet with a course-textured, dark green foliage. Cut back in winter. Full shade to full sun.
Beargrass, basketgrass (Nolina texana)-Elegant grasslike foliage is evergreen and flows like hair down slopes or banks. Mature plants reach 3 feet tall and spread as wide as 5 feet. Thin, roplike leaves are strong and used for basket weaving. Although resembling grass, this plant is in the lily family and blooms with a stout cluster of white flowers in spring. Part sun to full shade.
Pavonia, rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala)-Another member of the mallow family sporting rich pink, miniature hibiscus-like flowers. Good for attracting medium-sized butterflies such as Sulphurs. Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall and reseed readily. Part sun to full sun.
Wild petunia (Ruellia nudiflora)-Most ruellias sold in garden centers are not native to Texas and some can become extremely aggressive and difficult to remove. This native species reseeds and has strong roots as well, but grows to only one foot or so tall. It has showy lavender flowers 1 1/2-2 inches across, is a good nectar source for many butterflies, and provides food for caterpillars of Texan crescent and Buckeye butterflies. Full sun to full shade.
Scarlet sage, tropical sage (Salvia coccinea)-A freely seeding annual or perennial to 4 feet with blood-red, tubular-shaped flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. White and pink cultivars are also available. Light shearing or trimming helps keep plants compact. Cut back to the ground after frost. Plants have a pungent odor that repels deer. Full shade to full sun.
Autumn sage, cherry sage (Salvia greggii)-Evergreen shrubby perennial 2 to 4 feet tall available in a variety of flower colors ranging from red, white, pink, lavender and even pale yellow, although the first three colors tend to be found on the hardiest of plants. Brittle stems make this plant better suited away from heavy activity. Remove woody stems in mid-February and shear lightly after each flowering to keep plants dense. Good for attracting hummingbirds and butterflies while repelling deer. Part sun to full sun.
Zexmenia (Wedelia texana)-Mounding plants to 2 feet tall and up to 3 feet wide produce small golden daisies from spring through frost. Light shearing after each bloom cycle keeps plants compact and in flower. It is a good seed source for finches and provides nectar to butterflies. Moderately deer resistant. Part sun to full sun.
Twist-leaf yucca (Yucca rupicola)-Often selected for cactus or rock gardens, this evergreen “woody lily” is best suited to part shade. Foliage reaches 1 to 2 feet and stalks of large white bell-shaped blossoms rise up to 9 feet high. Foliage is deer resistant but sadly the flowers are not. Full shade to full sun.
For more information about Texas native plants, visit the Wildflower Center’s Web site at: www.wildflower.org. The mission of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is to increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and landscapes.
About the author: Andrea DeLong-Amaya is the Director of Horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.