Native Plant Winter Garden

by | Jun 2, 2009 | Native Plants

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 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 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, Escarpment live oak Quercus virginiana, Q. fusiformis
Lyreleaf sage Salvia lyrata
Maximilian sunflower Helianthus maximiliani
Mexican feathergrass Nassella tenuissima
Nolinas Nolina spp.
Old man’s beard Clematis drummondii
Pines Pinus spp.
Possumhaw Ilex decidua
Prickly pear Opuntia spp.
Purple coneflower Echinacea purpurea
Sedges Carex spp.
Sideoats grama Bouteloua curtipendula
Silverleaf 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 Morella cerifera
Western horsenettle Solanum dimidiatum
Yaupon Ilex vomitoria