12 Low Maintenance Plants for Texas [US Native Choices]
Cultivating a thriving garden may be quite challenging in Texas, where markedly warm summer conditions and compact, dry substrates tend to compromise the longevity of many flowering plants. In most natural areas within the state, soils are typically clay-based. Due to the fine size of their particles, digging through them while they are fully dry might feel like breaking through concrete!
Clay-based substrates can also be tricky to deal with when they are wet. During the rainy periods, which mainly occur in spring and in early fall in Texas, compact soils may retain moisture for a prolonged duration. This may overwhelm the roots of many sensitive plants, particularly those that can easily rot in waterlogged conditions.
Moreover, Texan substrates tend to be alkaline, with pH levels that are closer to 8.0. This pH may be detrimental to many plants because it renders important nutrients less available. Given this host of challenges for outdoor gardening, some local gardeners (especially those that specialize in herbs and vegetables) opt to grow their plants in raised beds or in plots with heavily amended substrates. If you’re determined to make the most out of your outdoor garden, here are some low-maintenance plants that are likely to thrive under the Texan sun.
1) Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Black-eyed Susan is perfect for adding color and diversity to wildflower gardens in Texas. Easily recognized during its bloom period, it can effectively brighten up outdoor spaces with its vivid, yellow ray florets. These encircle a dark, dome-shaped cone that harbors tiny disc florets. The florets appeal to several butterfly species, such as the gorgone checkerspot (Chlosyne gorgone) and bordered patch (Chlosyne lacinia).
Once used by Native Americans as a medicinal plant, the black-eyed Susan is often cultivated as a border or container plant for summer color. In temperate zones, it usually grows as an annual. Its spring seedlings quickly become established, eventually blanketing open spaces with golden-yellow flowers come June or July. Hardy to USDA zones 3 – 9, it grows to a maximum height of about 3 feet (91 cm) tall.
Tough-as-nails and forgiving of suboptimal conditions, black-eyed Susan should favor the warm and sunny conditions of Texan summers. The highest flowering rates are often observed on plants that are fully exposed to direct sun. To make sure the shoots and roots are strong enough to handle harsh temperatures, make sure to outplant seedlings in early spring. Provide each plant with ample space to spread on its own.
2) Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)
Of course, plants that are specifically native to Texas are the best options for creating a low-maintenance and fuss-free garden. These are generally guaranteed to thrive in the local climate as long as they are situated in physical conditions that are similar to those in their wild habitats. Red yucca, for example, is native to desert regions and should prosper in the sandiest and sunniest parts of the garden.
Also known as coral yucca and hummingbird yucca, this species is a member of the Agavoideae subfamily. Full sun exposure and prolonged dry conditions tend to encourage optimal root expansion, which brings out its best features during its peak growth period. Widely used as an ornamental plant, it is an ideal choice for your garden if you live in the semi-arid to desert regions of Texas.
Able to grow as much as 5 feet tall (1.5 meters) and 6 feet (1.8 meters) wide, the red yucca is an evergreen perennial. Its arching and distinctly narrow green leaves are set apart by their margins, which look as though they are edged with curling threads. Its red, tube-shaped blooms may be present all year round in warm climates. These are often irresistible to hummingbirds.
3) Dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor)
If your outdoor space looks like it could be spruced up by an evergreen palm, make sure to be on the lookout for dwarf palmetto. This remarkably hardy palm tree grows just 5 – 6 feet (1.5 – 1.8 meters) tall and spreads to about 6 feet wide. Compared to other hardy palms, its moderate size makes it easier to maintain and control in small to medium-sized gardens.
Although this species requires ample moisture to become well-established, its mature stands can easily tolerate dry conditions. It is thus most suitable for regions in northern and central Texas, which can experience prolonged wet and dry conditions within a single year. Hardy to USDA zones 7 – 9, the dwarf palmetto thrives best in fertile substrates and under full to partial sun exposure.
Healthy stands of this dwarf palm are pest and disease-resistant. The fan-like, blue to dark-green leaves are divided into up to 40 segments and may measure up to 3 feet (91 cm) wide. They provide fantastic dappled shade to low-growing plants that are more likely to scorch under full sun. To draw attention to their rustic and sculptural appearance, situate them along a wall or solid fence.
4) Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
The purple coneflower is a fantastic woodland and prairie perennial as it is tolerant of a wide range of growth conditions. Though it tends to initially occupy areas that are regularly moistened, its established stands can quickly self-propagate and spread to drier and more exposed habitats. Thus, this drought-tolerant species has shown a preference for the transitional zones between forests and barren areas.
A perennial, the purple coneflower is often used as an ornamental flowering plant in temperate regions. Able to thrive in full sun or partial shade, it is versatile and hardy enough to be cultivated along curbs, outdoor decks, or in totally exposed parts of the garden. Due to its low-maintenance needs and ease of propagation, its cultivars (‘Elbrook’ and ‘Ruby Giant’) have received the RHS Award of Garden Merit.
The bright blooms of this coneflower species tend to appear in the summer and last until mid-fall. They are perfect for adding diversity to pollinator gardens and wildflower meadows. Though the ray florets are typically purple, cultivars with striking shades of red, yellow, orange, and pink have been developed.
5) Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)
The bald cypress is a tough conifer with a tolerance for a wide range of climate conditions and substrate types. Though it is often associated with swamps throughout its native range, its established roots are able to tolerate dry soils too! Its capacity to adapt to both wet and dry conditions makes it a fine candidate for adding shade and vertical appeal to just about any outdoor space in Texas.
Louisiana’s official state tree, the bald cypress is known for growing slowly and being long-lived. Set apart by a lengthy and conical trunk over a swollen base, it produces fine branches bearing short, needle-like leaves. The green leaves turn yellow to red in the fall prior to being dropped in winter. Pollinated trees produce cones with large seeds. These are predominantly dispersed by flood waters.
If your garden experiences dry conditions in summer yet tends to remain wet through spring, this tree should effortlessly become established despite the stark differences in seasonal conditions. It can be grown under full sun or partial shade and in lightly acidic to alkaline soils. It tends to have no issues with obtaining the necessary nutrients for growth in heavy, clay-based soils.
6) Southern sugar maple (Acer floridanum)
Also known as the hammock maple and Florida maple, the southern sugar maple is a deciduous tree that can measure anywhere from 20 – 60 feet (6 – 18 meters) tall at maturity. If your Texan garden requires shade, vertical complexity, and textural diversity, this low-maintenance tree may be the perfect addition. As is expected of maple trees, it should also add stunning fall interest to your property.
The moderate height of this tree makes it an ideal option in exposed regions and in hurricane zones, where strong gushes of wind can take down taller trees. It is also more tolerant of intense summer heat compared to its close cousin, the northern sugar maple (Acer saccharum). Some taxonomists, however, have theorized that it is but a heat-tolerant subspecies of the latter.
Naturally found in East Texas, this maple can be cultivated as a specimen tree in areas with just about any type of substrate. During long dry spells, its roots should at least be provided with some moisture to maintain a lush appearance. Once established, this tree has minimal maintenance needs apart from regular watering periods and the annual clean-up of fallen leaves.
7) Calico bush (Lantana urticoides)
L. urticoides is commonly referred to as calico bush or Texan lantana. A member of the Verbenaceae family, it is a perennial shrub that produces small, bouquet-like inflorescences with multi-colored blooms. Depending on ambient conditions, the blooms may begin to appear as early as spring. Buds may continue to be produced all through summer and until the first frosts occur.
This species is particularly suitable for Texan wildflower gardens because its shoots can look spectacular even under scorching heat. Capable of spreading its roots in poor, dry soils, it produces a bushy mound of stems with rough, toothed leaves. Its small inflorescences tend to be evenly scattered around the shrub. These attract all sorts of pollinators from birds to bees. When fertilized, the blooms develop into dark, poisonous berries.
This hardy, resilient bush is valued for its tolerance to warm droughts and its resistance to mammalian grazers. With shoots that tend to measure around 2 – 3 feet (60 – 91 cm) tall, it can be cultivated as a ground cover or border plant. Its colonies can improve the appearance and soil conditions of infertile areas.
8) Heartleaf rosemallow (Hibiscus martianus)
The heartleaf rosemallow is often recommended for xeriscaping projects due to its preference for poor, dry, and hot locations. In the wild, it tends to grow in harsh habitats like canyons, chaparrals, and along the slopes of rocky hills. In areas that are devoid of frost throughout the year, it may be evergreen and ever-blooming. Fuss-free, it can quickly become established in Texan gardens with challenging conditions.
Like other members of the Hibiscus genus, the heartleaf rosemallow produces spectacular flowers with delicately thin petals and a distinct pollen tube. The red blooms, which are large enough to be spotted from a distance, are virtually irresistible to many attractive pollinators, including hummingbirds and native butterflies. Regularly pruning the tips of stems and branches should help encourage the production of more blooms.
Note that, although this plant is remarkably hardy and can persist in compact soils during the summer, it may rot in clay soils that are kept wet. Ample drainage should be provided to ensure that the roots remain healthy and are able to access the necessary nutrients for growth. If the substrate in your garden is predominantly clay-based, you might wish to grow this deciduous shrub in its own pot of sandy or loamy soil.
9) Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia engelmannii)
One of the most well-known ornamental cactus species due to its widespread distribution and its versatility in desert gardens, the prickly pear comes in many striking varieties. O. engelmannii var. lindheimeri, in particular, is a variety that is endemic to Texas and some nearby states. Interestingly, its populations primarily occur in forests and prairies with deep soils.
Tolerant of arid conditions and intense summer heat, the prickly pear cactus can be cultivated as a natural fence, border plant, or as a focal point in desert gardens. It is distinguished by its dense clumps of thick green to blue-green pads. These are evenly covered by slightly flattened spines measuring up to 2.4 inches (6 cm) long! To avoid injury, many wild animals stay away from the spiny pads.
Flowers are produced along the margins of the outermost pads of this cactus. Generally yellow, these bloom for just a day, opening at around 8 in the morning and closing in the early afternoon. If they are pollinated by bees or beetles, they develop into fleshy and plump fruits. The edible fruits, which are rich in antioxidants, can be prepared and consumed in many creative ways.
10) Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens)
Officially dubbed the “state plant of Texas”, the Texas sage grows as an evergreen shrub in regions with calcium-rich and rocky substrates. Its common name is quite misleading as it isn’t actually a true sage. A member of the Scrophulariaceae family, it is actually a type of figwort. Due to its low-maintenance needs and its hardy nature, it is a great plant for outdoor borders and hedges.
Texas sage is slow-growing and can take a fair amount of time (about 2 years) to become established. Yet, when its roots have matured and its shoot is fully grown, it can easily survive droughts. Established stands add vibrant color to outdoor spaces as they bloom repeatedly from spring through fall.
Texas sage blooms may be particularly dense after periods of heavy rainfall. For this reason, this plant is occasionally referred to as a “barometer bush”. It is thus perfect for the Texan climate, which has alternating periods of cold weather, rainfall, intense warmth, and dryness in most panhandle and prairie regions.
11) Gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
The gulf muhly, hairawn muhly, or pink muhly is a fantastic ornamental grass. Considered one of the best native species for adding color and texture to arid, outdoor spaces in Texas, it is eye-catching, highly adaptable, and low-maintenance. This phenomenal grass is excellent for maintaining summer interest in the garden.
As intense heat causes the leaves and shoots of many other perennials to die back and fade, it only encourages a more profuse spray of inflorescences from the gulf muhly. Under full sun, this plant’s summer blooms look like pink fireworks. From a distance, dense clusters may resemble pink clouds or fog. Healthy muhly stands have an undeniably showstopping effect, no matter where they are found.
Relatively easy to propagate, the gulf muhly favors well-draining substrates with a low fertility profile. It can quickly adapt to minor alterations in pH levels. Aim to plant this species in groups as denser clumps of the pink inflorescences should leave a long-lasting impression on garden visitors. The clumps should also serve as a safe landing spot and sanctuary for many native birds.
12) Coral bean (Erythrina herbacea)
If you’d like to add a fiery element in the form of vivid red flowers, to your Texan garden, consider planting a few specimens of the coral bean. Capable of growing to a full height of about 16 feet (4.9 meters), this tropical perennial can be cultivated as a shrub or as a small tree. With a preference for moderately warm temperatures, its roots favor loamy clay soil in hardiness zones 6 – 9.
Feel the need to attract more hummingbirds to your garden? The coral bean should do the trick! Its tube-shaped, deep-red flowers occur on lengthy terminal inflorescences. The blooms, which measure anywhere from 1.6 – 2.6 inches (4 – 6.6 cm) long, usually begin to appear in April. Inflorescences continue to bloom until mid-summer.
To ensure that it thrives year after year, make sure to situate your coral bean under full sun and in sandy substrates. It may be deemed an unusual shrub to cultivate in urban gardens, but those who do grow it tend to rave about its ease of care and its unfailing appeal to pollinators. Just keep in mind that it may not be the best choice for gardens frequented by children or pets because all of its parts harbor toxic alkaloids.