Native Plant Focus: Heat Loving Perennials

Imagine a garden in full bloom. Every color you can think of exists as a delicate flower, their sweet scent drifting on a slight breeze. Bees and butterflies visit daily. Hummingbirds stop by in the evening. And that bit of rain last week means you don’t have to water for a few more days. You have a thriving, low maintenance garden and it’s the middle of summer in Texas. Sound impossible?  Not when you add native, heat-tolerant perennials to your garden. Check out this list of five plants that are low maintenance, attract wildlife and bloom all summer long.  

1. Texas Lantana (Lantana urticoides)

  • Hearty perennial. Deciduous shrub. 
  • Height of 3-6′ and spread up to 5’ wide. 
  • Flower: red, orange and yellow tubular flowers in dense, rounded clusters. 
  • Produces round, fleshy, dark blue to black fruits. Berries are toxic to humans and most mammals. 
  • Bloom Time: April – October 
  • Water Use: Low 
  • Light Requirement: Full Sun; Partial Shade 
  • Soil Description: Well-drained soils 
  • Maintenance: Low. Prune down to ground in winter to control spread. 
  • Use Wildlife: Attracts bees and birds, including hummingbirds and butterflies. Deer resistant. 

2. Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea) 

  • Tender perennial that reseeds easily. 
  • Height of 1-3′ and spread up to 2’ wide 
  • Flower: Florescent red tubular flowers 
  • Bloom Time: February – October 
  • Water Use: Medium 
  • Light Requirement: Sun; Partial Shade 
  • Soil Description: sandy to gravelly soil 
  • Maintenance: Low. Deadhead and trim periodically to create bushier shape. 
  • Use Wildlife:  Attracts bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. Deer resistant. 

3. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

  • Bushy perennial 
  • Height of 2′ and spread up to 2’ wide 
  • Flower: large clusters of bright orange flowers 
  • Bloom Time: May – September 
  • Water Use:  Low 
  • Light Requirement:  Full sun 
  • Soil Description: well-drained, sandy soil 
  • Maintenance: Medium. May attract aphids, which you can leave for ladybugs to eat or spray off by blasting the plant with a high pressure stream of water. 
  • Use Wildlife: Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Larval host for Grey Hairstreak, Monarch and Queen butterflies. Deer resistant. 
     

4. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

  • A shrubby, well branched plant. 
  • Height of 2-5′ and spread up to 2-3’ wide. 
  • Flower: Lavender flowers with domed, purplish-brown, spiny centers. 
  • Bloom Time: April – September 
  • Water Use: Medium 
  • Light Requirement: Sun; Partial Shade 
  • Soil Description: well-drained, sandy or richer soils 
  • Maintenance: Low 
  • Use Wildlife:  Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Dead flower heads left standing in winter will attract birds who feed on the remaining seeds. 
     

5. Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridis) 

  • Upright, herbaceous perennial that exudes a milky sap when cut. Can cause skin irritation. 
  • Height of 2′ and spread up to 2’ wide. 
  • Flower: white clusters of flowers. Some may have a pink, purple or greenish tint in the center of the flower. 
  • Bloom Time: April – September 
  • Water Use: Low 
  • Light Requirement: Sun 
  • Soil Description: well-drained soil.  Does well in poor to rich soil conditions. 
  • Maintenance: Low 
  • Use Wildlife:  Attracts butterflies. Larval host plant for Monarch and Queen butterflies. Deer resistant. 
     
Photo courtesy of Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, credit: Sandy Smith

These five featured plants are perfect for Texas summers. Native plants, like these, not only add beauty to a garden but require less water, fertilizer and pesticides because they evolved to survive in these tough conditions. Consider adding a few to the garden this summer. Be sure to keep them well-watered until they have established deep roots. You’ll soon be rewarded with a low maintenance garden full of blooms.

These plants qualify for a native plant rebate from Woodlands Water Agency. If you are a Woodlands resident and live in Montgomery County, be sure to check out the complete list of rebates available here.

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov 


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Join us for Arbor Day

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best time is now.

Chinese Proverb

Celebrate the 44th annual Arbor Day Tree Giveaway this Saturday, January 25 from 9 a.m. to noon at Northshore Park.  The Woodlands Township and community partner, the George Strake District of Boy Scouts of America, will join forces with community volunteers to hand out more than 11,000 native seedlings. Sponsored by the Howard Hughes Corporation, this annual FREE event has given out more than 1.5 million seedlings since 1977 to plant in yards, open green spaces and forest preserves.

This year’s selection includes a variety of native canopy and understory trees. Canopy trees, those comprising the upper layer of the forest, typically reach heights of 40 to 90 feet at full maturity. Canopy trees available at this year’s event are American Sycamore, Green Ash, Loblolly Pine, Overcup Oak, Southern Magnolia, Sugar Hackberry, and Tulip Poplar.

Southern Magnolia in bloom

Understory trees range in height from 8 to 20 feet at maturity and are generally more shade tolerant. Eastern Redbud, Possumhaw Holly, Roughleaf Dogwood, Spicebush, and Witch Hazel will be passed out at this year’s event.

Eastern Redbud covered in delicate, pink flowers

Each of these native tree species benefits local wildlife. Flowering varieties provide nectar for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Berry-producing trees offer small mammals and birds a source of food and many of these trees are host plants for butterflies, providing nutritious leaves for caterpillars to consume.

Need help selecting a tree? This chart highlights many characteristics about each variety to help you decide.

By planting a tree on your property, in community open space reserves and forest preserves, you help support the reforestation of our community and encourage a healthier environment for the benefit of residents and wildlife alike. Here’s an overview on the value of native trees along with resources for caring for your newly planted tree.

Come early for the best selection of seedlings. Bring your reusable bag to help transport your new seedlings from the park to your home. 

For more information, contact enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3800

Giant Coneflower: Taking your garden to new heights

Rudbeckia maxima

Piercing the sky like a lighthouse in a sea of plants and shrubs, the giant coneflower attracts eleven different species of butterflies, native bees, and beautiful birds to your garden.  Guided by a beacon of yellow petals, hover flies and minute pirate bugs are drawn to this plant, as many pollinators are, and will feed on common garden pests such as thrips, aphids and whiteflies.   The giant coneflower is a plant that stands tall in any garden and is worth searching for at local fall plant sales, native plant nurseries, or online plant retailers. 

Where to find it

The giant coneflower is native to a small geographic area incorporating parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas.  This herbaceous perennial can be found growing naturally in open woodlands, prairies, pastures and along roadsides and railroad tracks.

In 1816, near the Red River, in then Oklahoma Territory, the giant coneflower was first identified by the English botanist and plant explorer Thomas Nuttall.

Easy care and adaptable

The best part: giant coneflower is low maintenance. It thrives in clay or sandy soil and tolerates dry to medium soil moisture, drought conditions, heat and even short term flooding.  Sounds like Houston weather to me!  This golden giant has no serious disease problems and is resistant to pests, an impressive combo any gardener will love.

Begin planting in early fall to allow the basal clump time to establish itself during the cooler months, and allow adequate spacing to accommodate the 3-4 foot spread of the mature plants.   Giant coneflower thrives in full sun but tolerates part shade.   Throughout the first year, only the beautiful blue green leaves will be visible.  In warm climates like ours the leaves are evergreen, adding to the plant’s winter interest.  At maturity, these attractive cabbage-shaped leaves may be 15” to 18” in length, earning this plant the common name: cabbage coneflower.

The second season is when this plant really becomes a showstopper.   Tall stalks reach 6-8 feet in height and 3 inch wide flowers with drooping yellow petals and tall, dark brown cones make a strong statement in the garden. Use the stunning flowers in fresh or dried floral arrangements but be sure to leave some on the stalk as food for gold finches, chickadees and other backyard birds. 

The J.C. Raulston Arboretum located at North Carolina State University has provided an online collection of photographs of this beautiful plant.   Check out these gorgeous pictures HERE and get ready for some fall garden inspiration.

Giant coneflower is a uniquely beautiful and towering plant that will enhance not only the visual appeal of your garden, but will  reward you with visits from  a variety of pollinators this fall.


Beat the heat with Bluebells

 

Native Plant Focus: Texas Bluebell

Eustoma exaltatum ssp. Russellianum

Copy of Texas Bluebell

Try to think of one thing that wildflowers and ice cream have in common.  Not so easy, is it?

Texas’ native wildflowers need the summer heat to survive just as many of us depend on a scoop of cold, delicious ice cream to get us through a summer afternoon.  But there’s only one wildflower that has influenced a nation of ice cream lovers more than any other.  An enchanting specimen that at one time was so abundant across the Texas prairie that a large creamery located near Brenham decided to adopt its name in 1930.  This native beauty is the Texas Bluebell.

Where to find it

Ranging southward from Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota to new Mexico, Texas and Louisiana, the Texas Bluebell (known also as Showy Prairie Gentian or Prairie Gentian), is considered by many to be the most beautiful of Texas wildflowers.   Sadly, in Texas, the plant’s range has decreased dramatically over the past century.  The upright, showy blue to purple bell-shaped flowers are so attractive in cut flower arrangements that admirers have over-picked it, drastically reducing the number left in nature to produce seed capsules.  Today, locating Texas Bluebells in the wild requires a focused effort.  In our local area, some of the isolated prairies within Sam Houston National Forest provide limited viewing opportunities.

Easy care & adaptable

With blue blooms emitting a natural iridescence and a velvety texture, the two-inch bell-shaped flowers stand upright on deep blue-green stems and leaves covered with a waxy bloom.  Texas Bluebells thrive in moist sandy or sandy loam soils and are most likely to be found along the edges of creeks, streams, or drainage areas.  This perennial plant develops a long taproot to access the required moisture from deep within the soil.  While it prefers full sun, the Texas bluebell will grow in part shade.  During periods of rain, the beautiful blue blossoms will close and will re-open when the sun emerges.  The plant is heat tolerant and continues to produce blooms during the summer when other wildflowers are past their prime.

In the home landscape, Texas Bluebells are perfect for the edges of water or rain gardens, in ornamental beds, borders or cutting gardens.  They’re easy to maintain and have no known serious insect or disease problems.  If you’re incorporating Texas Bluebells, consider beginning with young rosettes; starting from seed can be challenging. 

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Attract pollinators

As a native plant, the Texas Bluebell offers a number of benefits for the environment.  Birds are attracted by its tiny black seeds while hummingbirds, butterflies and bees enjoy the nectar and pollen.  Since bees are attracted to blue flowers, the major pollinator for this plant is the metallic green sweat bee, whose long tongue is able to reach the nectar deep within the large flower.  Metallic green sweat bees are one of the most prolific native bees in local yards and gardens.

Providing habitat for native bees is an important role for homeowners.  The University of Texas offers some excellent tips for improving native bee habitat.

Growing native Texas Bluebells and creating enhanced native bee habitat in your own landscape will support restoration of this stunningly beautiful blue flower.  Bluebells will begin their bloom cycle in June and continue blooming throughout the heat of the Texas summer.  Visit a local native plant retailer now to establish these rewarding plants in your own garden. 

of bright lisanthus flowers on white background

Approximately 80 years ago, the Japanese imported Texas bluebell seeds, as the flower is considered by the Japanese people to be extremely beautiful. Commonly called ‘lisianthus”, the Japanese hybrids vary in color to include white, pink, lavender and yellow.

Spiderwort is stunning color for shade

Native Plant Focus: Spiderwort

Tradescantia virginiana

Spiderwort (1)

An easy to grow clump-forming perennial, spiderwort is a Texas native which thrives in nearly any growing conditions—including shade. This plant’s deep blue to violet purple flowers with their contrasting yellow stamens bloom continuously for several months beginning in March in southeast Texas. Although each blossom lasts only about one half day, the numerous buds contained in each flower cluster provide new flowers each day. Spiderwort is a member of the iris family with long narrow bright green leaves that offset the unusual, slightly fragrant blue flowers.

Spiderwort’s scientific name, Tradescantia virginiana, is in honor of John Tradescant who served as the gardener to King Charles I of England. The plant’s common name, Spiderwort, has its origin in the angular arrangement of the leaves which suggest the shape of a squatting spider.

Easy care & adaptable

This highly adaptable plant will thrive in nearly any conditions although it prefers slightly moist soil in an area of dappled shade. When planted in drier areas, the plant adapts. Included in spiderwort’s many assets are its ability to grow in any soil as well as in light conditions ranging from shade to full sun.  In addition, Spiderwort has no known disease or pest issues.

Attract pollinators

In the home landscape, Spiderwort is a beautiful addition to a native plant garden, pollinator garden, shade garden or natural area. Spiderwort also adapts to containers. Many types of bees are attracted to the deep blue color of the spiderwort blossoms.  Bumble bees are the plant’s major pollinator although honeybees, small carpenter bees and halictine bees also provide pollination. Butterflies enjoy the nectar of this plant while syrphid flies feed on the pollen.

spiderwort-1347209
The distinctive and beautiful flower of Spiderwort adds color to shady spots in the landscape through spring and into summer.

Missouri Plants has some wonderful close-up photographs of this wide-ranging native.

For those interested in foraging, both spiderwort leaves and flowers are edible. The leaves are useful in salads, soups or teas while the flowers can also be used in salads or can be candied.

Where to find it

Obtaining spiderwort is easy since many on-line retailers offer both the seeds and the plants. Spring is a perfect time for shipping these plants before the Texas heat arrives. April is an ideal planting time for either Spiderwort transplants or seeds. Since Spiderwort grows quickly, planting it now will provide for pollinators in only a few short weeks.

More Texas Wildflowers

To learn about more native Texas wildflowers, join Anita Tiller from Mercer Arboretum on April 4 at HARC. Anita will lead an exploration of HARC’s grounds, which is bursting with spring color and will explain many of the sustainable landscape practices HARC has put in place. The walk is followed by an indoor presentation on wildflowers native to our region. Space is limited register here – walk-ups welcome as space permits.

ES_3.28_WITW Wildflowers