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Thursday - April 16, 2009

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Native shrub for part shade in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I live in SE Austin (Dove Springs area). I have a 3' by 3' area near my front door. It gets morning sun, but not the entire morning because of the tall tree in my front yard. By 11 o'clock or noon, it is in part shade. I want a shrub (I think), something native, that needs little care or water (it must prosper with benign neglect once established), that flowers, and that is attractive to the birds and the bees (if possible). I plan to keep it trimmed to fit the space and to grow no higher than 6' or so. I have been considering Texas mountain laurel, rock rose, Texas sage, and algerita. What would you recommend for my little space? Would any of these work? Do you suggest anything else? Again, thank you for your help.


The biggest obstacle in finding an appropriate plant for your space is going to be the sun exposure. We consider "sun" to be 6 or more hours of sun a day, "part shade" 2 to 6 hours of sun, and "shade" less than 2 hours of sun. We agree that a shrub is probably your best bet, but we may look also at some perennial flowering plants that can tolerate shade. We're going to call the site you described as being in "part shade" and see first what shrubs we can find that would prosper there. We're going to go to our Recommended Species, click on Central Texas on the map, and Narrow Your Search to shrub for Habit and part shade or shade for Light Requirements.

All of the plants you considered are possibilities, however, they specify sun to part shade as light requirements. They would probably do all right in the amount of sun they will get in your space but perhaps not bloom so abundantly. Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain-laurel) will likely get a little taller than you had in mind, but can certainly be pruned back. Pavonia lasiopetala (Texas swampmallow) will grow to about 3 to 4 ft. and is deciduous. Leucophyllum frutescens (Texas barometer bush) is one of our favorite plants, will grow to just about your optimum height requirement, and is capable of blooming those gorgeous purple-pink blooms virtually year-round. It is evergreen and usually grows 3 to 5 ft., possibly 8 ft, under good conditions, but takes pruning very well. Mahonia trifoliolata (agarita) is another that will ordinarily only grow 3 to 5 ft. tall, is evergreen, and has berries that attract birds. 

We would like to add a couple of others that can take more shade, but will bloom and fill the space very nicely. The first is Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry), which has gorgeous bird-attracting berries in the fall and winter. The second is Malvaviscus arboreus (wax mallow), also known as Turk's Cap. It dies back in the winter, and can be cut back pretty severely, and then blooms that bright red again in the spring. Hummngbirds will kill for sole rights to the flowers. Follow all the plant links to the individual pages on each plant, and study the heights, widths, color and time of bloom for each. Because they are all natives and accustomed to the climate, soil and rainfall of this area, they will require less maintenance and do well. These plants are all commercially available and, if you have difficulty finding what you want, go to our Native Plant Suppliers section, type in your town and state in the "Enter Search Location" box and you will get a list of native plant nurseries, seed suppliers and landscape and environment suppliers in your general area. 

Sophora secundiflora

Pavonia lasiopetala

Leucophyllum frutescens

Mahonia trifoliolata

Callicarpa americana

Malvaviscus arboreus




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