Sun, shade-loving natives provide landscaping solution

By Olivia Blanchard - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
Aug. 1, 2015 at midnight

Mexican heather may have a dainty appearance with its small size and tiny purple, white or pink flowers, but it is actually tough as nails, requiring very little maintenance. It is a fast-growing, compact shrub not exceeding 18 inches tall that does well in sun or partial shade with regular watering.  Use it as a border plant or in container gardening.

Mexican heather may have a dainty appearance with its small size and tiny purple, white or pink flowers, but it is actually tough as nails, requiring very little maintenance. It is a fast-growing, compact shrub not exceeding 18 inches tall that does well in sun or partial shade with regular watering. Use it as a border plant or in container gardening.   Photo contributed by for The Victoria Advocate

Editors' note: Today's article is the second in a three-part series on various native plants. Read further about natives that thrive in sun and shade in the local area and look for information on special uses of native plants in next week's column.

Having been involved in caring for the native plant garden at the Master Gardener Victoria Educational Gardens, I have seen firsthand, there and in my own garden, how native plants thrive when extreme conditions exist that greatly challenge the survival of other plants.

In the previous article published last week on native perennials that have naturalized in Central America, Mexico and Texas, they were recommended for gardens when rainfall was in the negative range. Lack of rainfall brought expensive utility bills, suffering flower beds and landscaping dilemmas. Now having had more plentiful moisture, natives will do even better in landscapes.

Natives help preserve water, lessen need for fertilizers

Incorporating drought-tolerant natives not only helps preserve water resources but also lessens the need for chemical fertilizers that leave toxins in the air, water and soil. Organic fertilizers or compost is best for the sun or shade perennial natives that are listed in this article. The tallest plant will reach only 4 feet.

Compost helps plant growth

For eons, plants have received nourishment for growth from decaying matter. The addition of compost actually improves water retention to garden soils, and beneficial microbes help plant growth. Think of compost particles as tiny sponges that absorb water that will be used by the roots. Compost loosens the soil and lets water be absorbed.

Suggested sun- and shade-loving natives

Some native perennials that prefer sun and shade to be considered for this area include the following list.

Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is an evergreen that reaches 2 feet tall. The fern-like leaves form a solid mat. Yarrow has flowers in yellow, white, red or pink blooms. Some have solid-colored red blooms with yellow, and others have mixed red and orange colors that resemble paprika. Yarrow makes a good cut flower. Butterflies enjoy the nectar of this plant.

Mexican heather, Cuphea hyssopifolia, is an exceptionally easy plant to grow. It can reach an 18-inch height and can have a 36-inch spread. The purple, white or pink flowers last from summer to frost. This heather grows well in pots. Cold weather can damage this plant, but a good mulching will prevent the roots from freezing.

Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, is a deciduous, yellow-orange blooming and heat-loving plant. The foliage is larval food for monarch butterflies. Monarchs need this plant on their migration routes to Mexico. Keep plants well mulched to prevent winter freezing of roots. Overwatering causes mildew and poor blooms.

Texas Gold columbine, Aquilegia Hinckley, is a deciduous plant. It may become dormant in drought or in a winter freeze, but it will recover. Plant this Texas Superstar in full, partial or dappled shade and give it compost. The pretty yellow flowers are a nectar source for butterflies and hummingbirds.

Rock rose, Pavonia lasiopetala, reaches 2 feet and spreads to 3 feet. Small pink, hibiscus-shaped flowers can be seen in the summer. It may be a biannual. Last summer, my friend spotted this gorgeous, pink-blooming plant and asked me if I knew what kind of rose bush it could be. This plant wasn't what she thought it was. It was really a stunning bloomer surviving in very poor soil.

Lantana horrida reaches a height of 2 feet. This butterfly plant blooms orange and yellow flowers from summer to frost. It is resistant to heat, deer and drought. It is deciduous and should be trimmed back. This plant is called "horrida" because its crushed leaves have a strong smell. Even insects avoid this plant. The berries are eaten by turkeys and quail. The fruit is poisonous to humans and some animals.

Coreopsis lanceolata reaches a height of 18 inches. With narrow, lance-shaped leaves, its golden yellow, daisy-like blooms can be seen from spring to summer. Deadhead the old blooms to promote more flowers and prevent over-seeding. It does best in well-drained soil with dry to medium moisture and has high drought tolerance.

Turk's cap, Malvaviscus drummondii, is a spreading plant that is useful in shady areas. It becomes dormant in winter. The red, turban-shaped flowers appear from May to November. Red berries that follow are eaten by birds. The Turk's cap at Victoria Educational Gardens has continued to flourish since being planted there in 1998 as an understory plant.

Silver pony foot, Dichondra argentea, is a low-growing evergreen ground cover that grows 2 to 5 inches tall. The silver and gray foliage color provides an interesting contrast. Good drainage and shade are a must. This plant provides good shelter and food for bees, butterflies and birds.

View natives at Victoria Educational Gardens

To overcome low rainfall and abnormal heat conditions, choose native plants that are sun and shade tolerant. Since these plants are more pest resistant, the hungry insect will likely leave them alone and migrate to non-native plants. The use of chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers will decrease. Composting household organics will not only help the environment but will make native plant gardening more successful.

Many of these plants have a proven track record at Victoria Educational Gardens. With the more recent rainfall, they can be combined with other perennials for a highly successful landscape outcome. Take a trip out to the airport to see the native garden and nearby plants in various other mini-gardens at Victoria Educational Gardens.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or .



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