Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

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
Not Yet Rated

Thursday - October 06, 2005

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Soils, Cacti and Succulents, Herbs/Forbs, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Landscaping with native plants in Austin
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

I'm expanding a flower bed in front of my house and would like to keep it all natives. 1) How do I find out what type of soil I should add? (I live near Hyde Park, Austin and haven't had a soil test done.) 2) And how do you amend the existing soil, working new soil in around already existing plants without damaging them? 3) Last question: I currently have a lot of salvia in the bed but it dies back in the winter -- any suggestions for native plants I could add to have color year round, or is winter just not a colorful time of year, in terms of native plants? Thanks so much for your help!

ANSWER:

Question 1: If you intend having only native plants in your flower bed, you don't really need to do anything to your soil. Native plants are perfectly happy in native soil and often resent a lot of soil amendments, especially organic matter. This is sort of the opposite of most gardening practices, but that's just the way it is with Texas native plants - they're adapted perfectly to our poorer, more sere conditions and suffer from too much love.

Question 2: If you need to add soil, you should purchase topsoil from one of the many soil dealers/garden centers in the area and spread the soil no more than 1" deep around your plants in any given year. Adding too much soil will suffocate the roots of your trees and shrubs and they will need a year or so to grow new roots into the new soil. Also, it should not be worked into the old soil too much if there is a possibility that this will disturb the roots of your existing trees and shrubs.

Question 3: Generally, there aren't too many native plants that are going to bloom in Austin in December, January and February; and after the first freeze, many perennials die back to the ground to emerge again in March or April. However, there are a few exceptions:

Cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens) is evergreen and has been known to bloom every month of the year.
Prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida var. bipinnatifida) is reported to bloom March through December, and I have seen them blooming in the wild in January and February as well.
Greenthread (Thelesperma filifolium var. filifolium) begins blooming in Austin as early as February and may continue through December.
Straggler daisy (Calyptocarpus vialis) is a low, evergreen groundcover with small yellow flowers that blooms all year round.

There are several native plants with evergreen foliage that bloom later in the year:
Texas yucca (Yucca rupicola) blooms April through June.
Mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora blooms February through April.
Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) blooms April and May.
Evergreen sumac (Rhus virens) blooms July and August.

 

More Shrubs Questions

low-growing evergreen shrubs for thin soil
March 05, 2012 - 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 ...
view the full question and answer

Fast-growing non-invasive shrub for privacy fence in Sugar Land TX
December 06, 2011 - I live in South Texas in Sugar Land. I was going to plant oleanders in my backyard along the fence as a privacy hedge, about 20 feet from my house. However, I was told they were a bad choice becaus...
view the full question and answer

Evergreen shrub for hedge in Porter, Texas
December 24, 2010 - We are trying to decide on what would be good privacy hedges (at least 6 ft. tall) to run down our long backyard chainlink fences. I'm allergic to Ligustrums and we have 2 dogs and a cat which I hear...
view the full question and answer

Privacy Screening Plant for New York Narrow Site
April 20, 2013 - I need privacy screening on the side of my house in Mount Kisco, New York located 40 miles north of New York City. The area gets plenty of sun but is somewhat narrow. What evergreen bushes or trees ...
view the full question and answer

Sprouts from stems of plants from Happy Yard IN
September 28, 2013 - Is it normal for a plant to start a sprout from its own root system next to the stock/stem? Is it trying to regrow?
view the full question and answer

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