Can I grow these plants in Texas?

Gardeners who move to Texas soon learn that they’re dealt a whole new hand of cards here. While they’ve come to know and love crape myrtles, pecans, and maybe even okra in their time here already, they lament the loss of some of their favorite northern flowering plants and food crops.

Large-flowering hybrid clematis can be grown in North, and especially North East Texas provided they’re kept moist all summer and protected from afternoon sun. But their flowering won’t be as heavy as it is in northern states.

In most cases the limiting factor here in Texas is simply our heat. Most of those northern plants give out in our summers.

At almost one mile above sea level, Fort Davis, Texas, is usually cooler than the rest of the state in summer. Cool-season plants and turfgrasses have a better chance of surviving there in the Davis Mountains. This is the County Courthouse of Jeff Davis County. Every Texan needs to go there and down through Brewster County (Alpine and Big Bend National Park) at least once. Click image for larger view.

That’s why you don’t see Kentucky bluegrass in most parts of Texas. My turf management prof at Ohio State compared it to a bank savings account. Bluegrass withdraws stored reserves to keep itself going when it’s really hot. Sure, it’s also manufacturing sugars at the same time, and storing a fresh supply of those reserves. But it’s using them up faster than it can make them. If that goes on long enough, the grass runs out of steam.

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Many other northern stars fade for the same reason. Lilacs can’t handle our heat. Neither can peonies or cherries. Rhubarb is doomed, and so are most true lilies. We’re either too hot in the summer or we don’t get cold enough in the winter.

My wife and I live in McKinney. Peonies do grow and bloom north of I-20 (a rough dividing line), but they’re a challenge. We’ve lived in Collin County 47 years, and we had one spring several years ago when they bloomed like this at Pecan Grove Cemetery. Most years, I see few or no blooms as I drive past several times weekly. Click image for larger view.

Our low summer humidities stifle many of the plants that fall by the wayside in Texas. And, in some parts of Texas, the soils just aren’t suitable, either.

I’ve stood toe-to-toe with gardeners who insisted they could grow lilacs perfectly beautifully. This was an example. I’m a Native Texas, so I allow myself to say this. In my 7 years of living in Ohio, I saw real lilacs, and this wouldn’t make the cut. Not even close. This is a commendable effort, and it’s one of the best that I’ve seen in Texas, but healthy lilacs have heads that are as big as basketballs on plants that are 10 or 15 ft. tall.

Of course, we have a very large state, so none of my comments is intended to be a blanket statement covering all of Texas. Some of the northern plants do quite well in the East Texas Piney Woods where conditions are more forgiving. Or in the higher elevations of the Davis Mountains in Alpine and Fort Davis.

Wouldn’t it be better, instead of losing with lilacs, to plant a row of fabulous Catawba crape myrtles instead. They’ll bloom all summer and be happy to be here. Click image for larger view.

Local independent retail garden centers have an abundant selection of well adapted plants for your Texas landscape. There’s no need to frustrate yourself by wasting time, money, and effort on plants that aren’t going to be happy to grow here in our state.

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Your best source of advice for your specific landscape will be your local Texas Certified Nursery Professional. Shop where you see that emblem – at a member nursery of the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association.

The Certified Nursery Professional’s advice will be timely and reliable. As you’re checking out with your purchases, get the experts involved. Ask the manager or owner, “Am I going to be making any mistakes with any of the plants I’m about to buy from you?”

Posted by Neil Sperry
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