En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
1 rating

Monday - February 22, 2010

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Groundcovers, Shade Tolerant, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Plants for a mixed border in Houston
Answered by: Anne Bossart


I live in Houston and have a flowerbed I'd like to fill with plants that will look good year-round. The back is already lined with 6-foot shrubs so nothing like that. I'd like something with colorful foliage or foliage that has an interesting texture. Flowering isn't important. The bed gets a lot of shade except for a few hours of hard sun in the late afternoon. Any ideas?


That is a bit of a tall order, asking for plants that will look good year round (but it is what all Texas gardenenrs are "shooting for").  Even though Houston has a pretty warm climate, there is a winter.  That means herbaceous plants which are native to your area, will have a dormant period (even if they do not die back to the ground) when they do not look so great.  Also, most of the plants which come to mind when you say "colorful foliage" are exotic or non-native (and not as cold hardy as our native plants). You will have to rely on your evergreen shrubs to keep things going for you through the winter and lower your expectations somewhat for the flowerbed.

That is not to say that you cannot have a border that is attractive and interesting.  By choosing plants with contrasting textures (for instance, a fine textured low groundcover with a clump of spider lily growing out of it) your flower bed would be quite interesting to look at.  Have a look at our native plant database Recommended Species for East Texas and then narrow your search to your shady conditions and plant requirements; you will find quite a few suggestions.  The Native Plant Society of Texas website has a Houston specific plant list which is quite comprehensive. They also have a list of recommended sources for native plants. Because Houston actually sits quite close to the intersection of "east, central and south" Texas and plants are not aware of political boundaries, you might also find plants in the local nurseries that are native to Central or South Texas that may thrive in your garden.

Here are some plants from our database that we think you might like to try.  Click on these links; they will take you to the information page for each one.  You will find links on each page to even more information such as a Google search or where you can find the plant or seed.


Callirhoe involucrata (purple poppymallow)

Glandularia bipinnatifida (Dakota mock vervain)

Hibiscus aculeatus (comfortroot)

Hymenocallis liriosme (spring spiderlily)

Iris brevicaulis (zigzag iris)

Podophyllum peltatum (mayapple)

Salvia coccinea (blood sage)

Small Shrubs

Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii (wax mallow)

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (coralberry)


More Groundcovers Questions

Competition between Horseherb and Chickweed
July 04, 2014 - Ok, sorry I did it wrong the 1st time!? I live in Houston, and I have chickens! I also have mass amounts of Horseherb, and I want to buy some chickweed seeds and plant it for my chickens! My question ...
view the full question and answer

Marbleseed (Onosmodium sp.) propagation and use as groundcover for
October 08, 2007 - I am interested in any information, esp. propagation & suitability as a landscape plant, (possible ground cover?) for marble seed. I have found it growing in deep shade on stream banks. It has a 4--...
view the full question and answer

Groundcover for part shade in Albany NY
July 02, 2014 - Hello! I'm looking for: a native ground cover, mostly shade with only some morning sun, on a slope, edible is preferred but not necessity, mostly clay type soil for the Albany, NY area. Thanks for yo...
view the full question and answer

Ground cover for burned acreage in Bastrop, Texas
October 31, 2011 - The fire took 2/3 of the trees on my half acre in Bastrop County. It was mostly wild. What do I plant for ground cover? Do I plant native grass seed in fall? I want to keep it native as possible. ...
view the full question and answer

Invasive non-native mulberry and groundcover in Jacksonville FL
October 02, 2011 - Northeast Florida (Jacksonville) inland. My mulberry tree provides dense shade in the summer and filtered light the other seasons, leaving sand in its growing area. What fast growing ground cover woul...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center