Right plant, right place
by Jim Binnings, Collin County Master Gardener
Question of the Month for May 2021: My family has moved to north Texas from out of state. Can you give me some guidance on how to pick the right plants for my landscape?
My first experience with Texas Master Gardeners was a conversation I had with a nice lady at the local plant nursery. I was replacing yet another perennial that had died in the hot Texas heat. When I moved to Texas, I learned the expensive lesson that there is a learning curve for proper plant selection. As we were talking, she introduced herself as a Master Gardener and with a smile she simply said “right plant, right place”.
Texas Master Gardeners recommend the use of Earth-Kind® landscape principles when creating a landscape for your yard. The Earth-Kind landscape principles were created by horticultural specialists and volunteers of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. For more information on Earth-Kind landscape principles go to https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/solutions/earth-kind-landscaping/. You can use Earth-Kind landscaping principles to create a beautiful landscape which is sustainable, economical and good for the environment.
One of the Earth-Kind principles is plant selection. Earth-Kind plants are native and adapted plants. Native plants are simply plants that have been in an area for a long time, usually since the Pre-Columbian era. Adapted plants are those that were not originally part of the ecosystem. These were brought in by settlers, have naturalized, and thrive in a given climate.
Texas native and adapted plants:
- tolerate the extreme Texas weather very well,
- are adapted to the various soil types,
- can handle the low fertility of the soil,
- handle the local pest and diseases,
- provide habitat for native wildlife, and
- are beautiful plants that add color and variety to your landscape.
Now that you have decided to use native and adaptive plants, the next step is to look at the site where you are putting the plant. Is the site full sun, partial sun, or shady? Does the location stay wet or does the soil stay dry? These differing environmental conditions within the landscape are examples of what is known as microclimates. Other examples are the home, fences and other plants or trees. Take the time to look at the site and decide what the microclimate is. By understanding the microclimate you have more valuable information to help you can pick a plant that is well suited for the spot and will thrive.
What’s next? Besides understanding the different microclimates in your landscape, you need to know what region of the state you live in. Texas is a very large state. Because of the differing geographical, geological, and climatic areas in Texas, a plant that will thrive in Houston may not do well in Amarillo. Because of this, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has created eight regions for Texas. Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) is in region B. Another piece of valuable information is the USDA hardiness zone for your city. The USDA hardiness zone is the original and most widely used measure of different climatic regions in the US. It was developed by the US Department of Agriculture. DFW is in zone 8A.
Now for the fun part. It’s time to look at plants that are going to do well in your landscape. To help, Texas A&M has developed the Earth-Kind Plant Selector. With over 450 landscape plants, and new plants added when appropriate, it is one of the most comprehensive plant databases for Texas on the internet. This is a very useful tool. This searchable database provides users with the opportunity to select plants based on factors such as height, width, flower color, sun or shade, bloom period, leaf character, as well as several other matching criteria. You can find the plant selector at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkind/plant-selector/.
Another resource for selecting plants is the Texas Superstar® plant list. Texas Superstar plants are Texas-tough plants selected by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. These plants have been grown in different regions and in harsh conditions to insure they will perform well. The list of Texas Superstars can be found at https://texassuperstar.com/plants/.
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