Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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?

Share

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
6 ratings

Sunday - March 28, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Austin Shade Plants for Pots
Answered by: Dean Garrett

QUESTION:

I live in a condo in Austin Texas so I don't have any flower beds or yard space. I would like to put a few large pots of plants and flowers on my front patio but it's mostly shaded during the day. What types of shade plants would flourish well in pots in the climate where I live?

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants has been in exactly the same situation before and found several native plants that did well in pots in dappled shade.

A favorite was Chile Pequin (Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum), a 2-3 ft. deciduous shrub with small, red or orange chile pepper berries preceded by small white flowers. I trimmed it each winter to keep it at a size I liked and it produced spectacularly, delighting the mockingbirds. A plus is that you can use the chile peppers yourself in cooking - if you can stand the heat. They are exceedingly hot.

Another semi-woody plant that can get somewhat larger is Turkscap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), a common local native with hand-sized deciduous leaves and hummingbird-attracting red flowers in spring and summer. It should have a large pot and should be cut back each winter to keep it from getting too tall for the space.

A locally native plant that can lend a tropical lushness is River Fern or Wood Fern (Thelypteris kunthii). I massed it in pots and used it to foreground or background other plants.

Another plant to mass is a grass, Inland Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), a common native landscaping grass for shade that also does well in pots. Grows to two or three feet. Cut it back at the end of winter and use the cut stalks in dried arrangements.

Another favorite was Cedar Sage (Salvia roemeriana), a scallop-leaved salvia with brilliant red flowers in spring and intermittently through the summer. Plant several in a large pot or single ones in smaller pots to attract hummingbirds.

The ferny foliage of Eastern Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) makes it a good accent plant and its red and yellow flowers are a delight in the spring.

At the base of the Chile Pequin, I planted the spring-blooming perennial, Fragrant Phlox (Phlox pilosa), which spilled over the edge of the pot and perfumed the air when in bloom. It needs at least dappled sunlight, though.

All these plants will either die to the ground or lose their leaves in winter, but unlike the nursery tropicals normally planted in pots, they can survive our cold winters and will reappear in spring.


Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum

Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii

Thelypteris kunthii

Chasmanthium latifolium

Salvia roemeriana

Aquilegia canadensis

Phlox pilosa

 


Thelypteris kunthii
 

More Shade Tolerant Questions

Native Evergreen for Shady Back Yard in IL
April 16, 2015 - I am looking for a native evergreen to provide bird shelter in my southeast facing small back yard. I would prefer a horizontal juniper but don't know if it could grow in the shade of the 8 or 9 matu...
view the full question and answer

Drought & Deer Resistant Shrub for Shade in Medina, TX
June 14, 2013 - We are dedicated to native plants in Medina, but are desperate to find a drought and deer resistant shrub for shade. Would we be too far off base with an oleander bush? We know birds and most butterfl...
view the full question and answer

Native grass for sandy soil and shade
May 27, 2011 - We have a sandy soil and lots of shade. Is there a native grass that would do well under these conditions?
view the full question and answer

Small evergreen shrubs for part shade in Texas
January 31, 2015 - Mr. Smarty Pants, I'm, for some reason, at odds with myself about a shrub decision. I have need about 8 ft of hedge-like evergreen shrub(s) that I can maintain around 4ft to go under a window. It...
view the full question and answer

Flowers for sunny and shady gardens in Cedar Hill TX
March 30, 2010 - Last year I spent way too much on flowers for my sunny and shady flower beds. They all died from the heat, even after constant watering. What flowers could I plant in sunny and shady flower beds that ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.