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Wednesday - January 23, 2013

From: Avalon , TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Soils, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Landscaping in Avalon TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I just bought my first and last home in Avalon Texas. I am looking forward to starting my garden. I am interested in all year around flowers. however I am in the country, when it rains, my yard becomes a mud hole. I am interested in very bright and colorful flowers and also plants. I do not have any particular flowers in mind. However I was at Lowes today and I saw a flower named Queen Elizabeth. Any advice or suggestions you have for me would be greatly appreciated.


From a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer:

This is called "Horticulture 101," usually two semesters in the  Freshman year in college, and the teaching  for which this member of the Mr. Smarty Plants Team is not qualified. However, we can introduce you to our Native Plant Database, find some wonderful "How-To" articles by people who DO know what they are talking about, and give you some suggestions for planning in advance before you buy a single plant or turn a shovelful of dirt.

The first thing we need to explain to you is that the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, home of Mr. Smarty Plants, is dedicated to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but also to the area in which they are being grown; in your case, North Central Texas.

Now, on to your textbook in this course. We have 2 series of articles, one "how-to" articles and one "step-by step".  Here is a suggested reading list:

How-To Articles

A Guide to Native Plant Gardening

Butterfly Gardening

Caring for your New Native Plant

Under Cover with Mulch

Step-by-Step Articles

How to Plant a Tree

How to Prune a Tree

Since you are moving into an existing house, here are our suggestions:

1.  Map out the area, including dimensions of whole lot, existing structures and/or large trees, fences, etc.

2.  Watch the property for several days, estimating the amount of sun in various spots. This will have a large part in the selection of plants. If you have a chance, do this at different times of the year, as the amount of sun will change with the seasons. We conside "full sun" to be 6 hours or more of sun a day; "part shade" 2 to 6 hours of sun and "shade" 2 hours or less of sun a day. Those terms will be used in the webpages on each plant, so you will know where is the best place to put particular plants. Most blooming plants bloom best with at least several hours of full sun.

3.  Find out what kind of soil you have. For example, the soil in Central Texas, where we are, is pretty alkaline and has lots of limestone in the soil. East Texas, on the other hand, has a lot of acidic soil due to centuries of oak and pine trees dropping leaves and needles creating the acidity. 

Since we cannot see nor even visualize your property, you will have to be the one to make the decisions about where to put wildlife gardens, private areas, etc.

Now, to get down to your specific concerns. First, the only Queen Elizabeth plant we could find was a climbing rose. There are very few members of the Rosa genus native to North America; most come from China. Plus, this is a hybrid rose which again removes it from being a native that we would have some expertise on.

Next, year-round blooming - according to this USDA Plant Hardiness Map, Ellis County is considered in hardiness zone 7b, temperate but not tropical. There are a few plants that will bloom several months in the temperate areas, but usually this is accomplished by rotating plants for maximum effect, getting color from those in their blooming season, while the others seed, go dormant or die (if they are annuals).

A question you didn't ask, but that we think is an outstanding consideration right now is the fact that your yard is frequently muddy.This has been a slightly wetter Winter than usual in Texas, but not THAT much wetter. You need to understand why your property is so muddy and address the problem before you plant a single thing. We suggest you begin with contacting the Texas Agrilife Extension Center for Ellis County. They can possibly help you with the location of your property in terms of nearby streams, low elevation, etc. to determine the source of the mud. They can also provide you with information on a soil test to discover if your soils are acid, alkaline, clay or sand, all of which will influence the condition of the dirt and what can successfully be grown there. 

Until you have found out what soils you have, and what you need to do to correct the "sogginess," you should not try to buy plants. However, we want to introduce you to our Native Plant Database, and also to a list of plants from that database that are particularly suited  (and native) to your area of Texas. Ellis County is in the Cross Timbers and Prairies section of North Central Texas. Since you mentioned flowers, we will use that list of plants for your area to find some, so you can learn how to get to the webpages on specific plants and to find out about those plants. When you click on that link to the Cross Timbers and Prairies list, first read the paragraph at the top about your part of Texas, its soils and climate. This list is certainly not the only plants that will grow there, but it is natives that are known to do well there, consuming less water and maintanance.

Using the sidebar on the right hand side of the page, you can make selections of the characteristics you are looking for by clicking in the appropriate boxes. You don't have to select the state in this case, because it's a given that these plants are native to Texas. Click on "Herb" under General Appearance. In this case, "herb" means herbaceous blooming plants (flowers), not the Mediterranean herbs like lavender and rosemary, which are not native to North America. The rest of the characteristics on that list we are not going to select because we don't know what they are, including Light Requirements and Soil Moisture. In future searches, when you know specifically what kind of plants you need, you can click on "Shrub," "Tree," "Cactus/Succulent," "Grass/Grasslike", "Fern" or "Vine" for the General Appearance. You can also select desired bloom time or color, and anticipated mature height of plant. Of course, the more qualifications you put in, the fewer (or none) choices you will have. When you have put in the qualifications you desire, click on "Narrow Your Search."

We will do that for an herb, as we mentioned above, specifying only General Appearance (herb). For your purposes, we will do this search on the Cross Timbers and Prairies website. This yielded a list of 128 possibilities, so we clicked on the first plant link, Abronia fragrans (Fragrant verbena). This takes you to a webpage on that plant which tells you this plant blooms pink from March to September, grows 1 to 3 ft. tall, needs part shade (2-6 hours of sun a day), grows best in dry, loose, deep sandy soils.

We realize that you will probably have difficulty finding the native plants we recommend at the large commercial nurseries, so go to our National Suppliers' Directory, and enter your town and state or just your zip code in the "Enter Search Location" box. This will yield a list of native plant nurseries, seed companies and consultants in your general area. All have contact information so you can find out if they carry or can get the plants you are looking for.


From the Image Gallery

Fragrant sand-verbena
Abronia fragrans

Fragrant sand-verbena
Abronia fragrans

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