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Native Plant Winter Garden

Winter does not need to be a bleak time in the garden, especially in Texas.  We are blessed with many choices of native evergreens, winter fruits and dormant plants that demonstrate interesting forms, textures and colors.  Yes, tan is a color too!

Evergreens

Evergreens make excellent backdrops for featuring plants with contrasting characteristics.  Large vines, trees and shrubs provide windbreaks as well as visual, physical and noise barriers.  Too many evergreens in the landscape, however, can be lugubrious, overbearing and stagnant.  Include plenty of deciduous plants to welcome the cheerful winter sun and ensure a dynamic landscape.

Texas has a small handful of native coniferous evergreens, such as various Junipers throughout the state, and Pines in the east and mountainous west.  Other evergreen shrubs and trees include cenizo, agarita, cherry laurel, yaupon, wax myrtle and live oak.  Crossvine, coral honeysuckle, and Carolina jessamine are evergreen vines native to the eastern parts of the state (that do well in Central Texas) and can be grown on fences or walls in narrow areas where a shrub or tree would be too large.

Add dramatic form with evergreen succulents such as prickly pear, candelilla, leatherstem and "woody lilies" like agaves, sotols and nolinas.  They are particularly effective in combination with grasses and other plants with attractive winter silhouettes. 

Evergreen groundcovers and plants with winter rosettes include Texas bluebonnets, Texas star, giant spiderwort, Engelmann's daisy, Gregg's dalea, lyre-leaf sage, cedar sage, and damianita.  Most sedges form evergreen clumps and can be used similarly to monkey grass or liriope.

Colorful Fruits

Even those of us who have grown to love the subtle hues of winter appreciate the punctuation furnished by brightly colored berries.  Red and orange are the most common to find with possumhaw, yaupon, chili pequin, Carolina snailseed vine, and coral honeysuckle.  Silver-leaf nightshade and Western horsenettle have yellow fruits and and American beautyberry lives up to its name with clusters of magenta berries (although mockingbirds may have enjoyed the fruits earlier in the season).  Wax myrtle has a subtle bluish gray fruit and the foliage, when crushed, releases a fresh bayberry aroma.

Form and Texture

The play of light from a low sun can be magical on the foliage of a winter garden.  Back-lit foliage of dormant grasses come to mind right away and the slightest breeze animates them back to life.  A few reliable and easy to find favorites are Lindheimer's and Gulf muhlys, bushy and little bluestems, inland sea-oats, switchgrass, side-oats and hairy gramas, and Mexican feathergrass.

Perennials and late-season annuals that keep their form well and have interesting seed-heads and pods are good candidates for winter landscapes.  Goldenrods, gayfeathers, purple coneflower, Maximilian sunflower, fall aster, trumpet-creeper, old man's beard, and eryngo each lend their distinct character.  Postpone cutting them to the ground until late winter or when they become unsightly.

With a little shaping by the gardener, the forms of multi-trunked Texas persimmon, possumhaw, Anacacho orchid tree and Texas mountain laurel create elegant sculptures.  The first three have silvery bark, which contrasts nicely with dark backgrounds, and mountain laurel keeps its leaves all year.   

TEXAS NATIVE PLANTS MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE

Agarita

Mahonia trifoliolata

Agaves

Agave spp.

American beautyberry

Callicarpa americana

Anacacho orchid-tree

Bauhinia lunarioides

Bushy bluestem

Andropogon glomeratus

Candelilla

Euphorbia antisyphilitica

Carolina jessamine

Gelsemium sempervirens

Carolina snailseed vine

Cocculus carolinus

Cedar sage

Salvia roemeriana

Cenizo, Texas sage

Leucophyllum frutescens

Cherry laurel

Prunus caroliniana

Chile pequin

Capsicum annuum

Coral honeysuckle

Lonicera sempervirens

Crossvine

Bignonia capreolata

Damianita

Chrysactinia mexicana

Engelmann's daisy

Engelmannia peristenia

Eryngo

Eryngium leavenworthii

Fall aster

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium

Gayfeathers

Liatris spp.

Giant spiderwort

Tradescantia gigantea

Goldenrods

Solidago spp.

Gregg's dalea

Dalea greggii

Gulf muhly

Muhlenbergia capillaris

Hairy grama

Bouteloua hirsuta

Inland sea-oats

Chasmanthium latifolium

Junipers

Juniperus spp.

Leatherstem

Jatropha dioica

Lindheimer's muhly

Muhlenbergia lindheimeri

Little bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparium

Live oak, Plateau live oak

Quercus virginiana, Q. fusiformis

Lyre-leaf sage

Salvia lyrata

Maximilian sunflower

Helianthus maximiliani

Mexican feathergrass

Nassella tenuissima

Nolinas

Nolina spp.

Old man's beard, Tx. virgins-bower

Clematis drummondii

Pines

Pinus spp.

Possumhaw, Deciduous holly

Ilex decidua

Prickly pear

Opuntia spp.

Purple coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

Sedges

Carex spp.

Side-oats grama

Bouteloua curtipendula

Silver-leaf nightshade

Solanum elaeagnifolium

Sotols

Dasylirion spp.

Switchgrass

Panicum virgatum

Texas bluebonnet

Lupinus texensis

Texas mountain-laurel

Sophora secundiflora

Texas persimmon

Diospyros texana

Texas star

Lindheimera texana

Trumpet-creeper

Campsis radicans

Wax myrtle, Southern bayberry

Morella cerifera

Western horse-nettle

Solanum dimidiatum

Yaupon

Ilex vomitoria

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