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Mr. Smarty Plants - low-growing evergreen shrubs for thin soil

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Monday - March 05, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Planting, Drought Tolerant, Shrubs
Title: low-growing evergreen shrubs for thin soil
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

Thanks to the winter freeze, we'll be starting fresh with the plants in the bed along the front of our house. The bed is about 13' long and faces the west, so it gets afternoon/ evening sun but no morning sun. We live in the Loop 360/Bee Cave Road area, with thin topsoil and no automatic sprinkler system. We'd like low-growing (1 - 3') evergreen plants that will look somewhat "bushy" and not spindly. Would violet silverleaf or myrtle boxwood be our best bets? What about flame acanthus, nandina, or purple heart?

ANSWER:

The plants you suggest, violet silverleaf, also called Leucophyllum frutescens (Cenizo) (dwarf varieties are available), and myrtle boxwood, also called  Paxistima myrsinites (Mountain lover), would be good choices for your location.  Other possibilities are Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon), for which you also can obtain dwarf varieties, Mahonia trifoliolata (Agarita), a prickly shrub that can be kept compact by pruning, Salvia greggii (Autumn sage), a colorful bloomer that needs a small amount of pruning, and Lonicera sempervirens (Coral honeysuckle), which is actually a climbing vine but can be trained to remain low on a trellis. I should point out that Yaupon plants are dioecious, that is, each plant has either male or female flowers but not both.  Nurseries usually sell female plants, which bear the colorful red berries, but if there are no yaupon plants growing wild in your neighborhood you might buy a male plant to pollinate the others.

A non-native that does well in Austin is rosemary.

All of these species should thrive in your location.  They need good drainage, so if your "thin topsoil" has hard caliche below it, you should loosen that up and add compost before planting. Whichever species you choose will need to be kept moist for some time while they become established.

Below are some sample images from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center image gallery:

 

 

 

From the Image Gallery


Cenizo
Leucophyllum frutescens

Mountain lover
Paxistima myrsinites

Yaupon
Ilex vomitoria

Agarita
Mahonia trifoliolata

Autumn sage
Salvia greggii

Coral honeysuckle
Lonicera sempervirens

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