Highly Recommended & Underutilized Plants for Gulf Coast Texas
A list of underutilized and highly recommended plants for landscape use in Central and Gulf Coast Texas
GC = Gulf Coast only, CT = Central Texas only. If not marked, the plant does well in both regions.
Click on active Plant Names to see photos of that plant
Please do not ask about recommended sources. We just can’t keep up with who carries which plant at any given time – plus we do not endorse any plant suppliers.
Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’ (a very dwarf southern magnolia) – Leaves and flowers about half the size of the species. Grows to 15′. Solves the space problem in your yard if you love southern magnolias! Needs some soil acidity if grown in Central Texas.
Trachycarpus fortunei Chinese Windmill Palm) – very formal looking and hardy palm – choice for the Zones 8 and 9 in Texas. This is one of the finest palms you can grow. Photo shows a very young plant. See our other Palm Recommendations.
Cercis canadensis ‘forest pansy’ (a purple-leafed redbud tree) This cultivar of the common Eastern Redbud gives you the spring bloom of the Redbud plus colorful purple foliage throughout the summer. Mexican Redbud has a very glossy green foliage and thrives in dry soil conditions of Central Texas.
Bauhinia lunariodies – a native and cold-hardy variety of the Orchid Tree, known more in the tropics than Texas, but this tree is a little gem with small fragrant white blooms and the traditional Bauhinia lobed shaped leaves. (CT)
Chilopsis linearis – a native plant to the Hill Country of TX, this graceful looking small but the sprawling tree produces beautiful Thunbergia-like blooms for an extended period in spring into summer. It is very drought tolerant and provides light shade only. (CT)
Cercis Mexicana – Mexican Redbud which has a very glossy green foliage and thrives in dry soil conditions of Central Texas. (CT)
Eleagnus Pungens, variegated varieties – xerophytic, colorful, a personal favorite. Variegated varieties grow much slower.
Mahonia fortunei (Chinese Mahonia) – an excellent companion for azalea beds and natural looking settings. Foliage is much finer than most Mahonia species. (fern like). Prefers shade.
Ilex x attenuata “Foster” (Foster holly) – a choice holly hybrid , Ilex opaca x Ilex cassine. See photo of “Sunny Foster” – but think “solid green”. This plant can grow to small tree size.
Ilex vomitoria ‘pendula’ (Weeping yaupon) – grows to tree proportions with weeping branches, an eye catcher. Produces abundance of red berries.
Loropetalum chinensis ‘Plum Delight’ (Chinese Fringe Flower) – attractive purple foliage, hot pink flowers. There are other named cultivars that have similar features – all are worthy! Give this one plenty of growing space.
Podocarpus miacrophyllus ‘Pringles dwarf’ (Dwarf Japanese Yew) – slow growing, very dwarf, bushy form of podocarpus. This plant may be a little difficult to find. A more commonly found plant is Podocarpus macrophylla ‘maki’ which is a more compact form of P. macrophylla. If it can be found, Podocarpus maki ‘nana’ is another outstanding dwarf variety.
Spirea cantoniensis (Reeve’s Spirea) – perhaps the finest deciduous shrub for the Gulf Coast or Central Texas – mix with azaleas and woodland plants for added color and texture blending.
Nerium oleander ‘Mrs. Runge’ (a yellow variegated oleander) – very colorful foliage when not in bloom. See our Cultivar Listing which describes many other of the 60 plus oleander varieties. We also recommend the “petite” varieties, the smallest shrub size of the Oleanders. (GC).
Michelia figo (Banana Shrub) – related to the magnolia, an evergreen shrub with small yellow banana scented blooms. Foliage is 1″ glossy green leaves. Can be trained into tree form. Needs some soil acidity.
Ilex x ‘Mary Nell’ (a triple cross hybrid holly) – a very formal holly with unique & attractive foliage. This is another personal favorite. This plant grows into small tree size or can be prined as a large shrub.
Magnolia soulangeana (deciduous magnolia) – any cultivar of this plant is worth having. Spring blooms are spectacular but short lived. However, as a companion plant in a woodland setting, this plant will fit right in and can grow to small tree proportion.
Viburnum odoratissimum: a tall growing large shiny leafed viburnum with insignificant fragrant blooms. This is a very formal looking shrub, more upright than spreading. Actually, all viburnums that will grow along the Gulf Coast and Central Texas are underutilized plants that should be used more often, e.g. V. tinus, V. suspensum). I am growing a newly introduced variegated V. Tinus ‘Bewley’s variegated’. that is a very attractive and colorful shrub. Also look at Viburnum Cultivar List for a reference to other species and cultivars recommended for the Gulf Coast area.
Sophora secundiflora: Known as Texas Mountain Laurel but not a laurel at all. An excellent evergreen plant for xeriphytic conditions, full sun, and alkaline soils, requires good drainage. Sweet lavender blooms in spring smell like grape juice. This is an attractive shrub year round – but it can grow to small tree proportions. (CT)
Rosa x “Belinda’s Dream”: This is the only rose we grow due to its exceptional adaptability to the Houston/Gulf Coast area. Black spot resistant, prolific grower, abundance of heavy petaled, fragrant blooms, this is a proven winner for the warmer coastal climates. We found ours at the Rose Emporium in Brenham, TX. “Belinda’s Dream” has been designated a “Texas Superstar” and an “Earthkind” plant by Texas A&M due to it’s low maintenance requirements. Registered with the ARS in 1992, it was discovered by Robert Bayse, a Texas A&M mathematician and rose breeder. of 50 years. This photo shows a day’s pickings from an average shrub!!
Encore Azaleas: This new breed of hybrid azaleas which truly bloom twice a year – spring and fall (on new growth) was introduced in 1998. For more information about them and photos, Click Here. (GC)
Myrica cerifera: The southern wax myrtle is a very fine textured small tree or large shrub, depending on how it is pruned. The foliage is very spicy fragrant and thiis plant makes an excellent screening plant, good for naturalizing an area. Southern wax myrtle is a vigorous grower. There is a dwarf form available in the nursery trade (Myrica pursilla) that stays much more compact, slower growing and requires less periodic trimming.
Hypericum spp: Hypericums do well along the Gulf Coast if given shade and good moisture. A favorite of ours is Hypericum x moserenum ‘Tricolor” as seen in the photo (just imagine yellow buttercup type blooms on it in addition to a light green with white and pink tinged spreading, flowing branches of foliage.
Teucrium fruiticans (Bush Germander): This silver colored small leafed plant produces lavender/blue blooms and a nice bush form when trimmed regularly. It remains evergreen in the dry, hot and cold environments in which it is found. (CT)
Punica granatum ‘nana’: (Dwarf Pomegranite). This shrub is deciduous in CT but evergreen in GC, produces bright orange blooms followed by small pomegranite fruits. The foliage is finely textured even though the branch texture is stiff. It thrives in dry condition where many other plants won’t grow.
Fejioa sellowiania (Pineapple guava): Better suited to Zone 9, this tropical looking woody plant can be trained into tree form, hedged, or just grown as an ornamental shrub. New growth is silvery pubescent and mature foliage is a greenish-blue leathery texture. Two ornamental highlights include the exfoliating reddish-brown bark and the very unusually shaving brush-like red and white blooms. The fruit of the plant is very tasty! The first photo shows the unusual bloom. The second photo shows a young plant.
Yucca filamentosa ‘golden sword’ or ‘bright edge’ ( variegated yuccas) – xerophytic, very colorful yuccas. Good for sunny and dryer places.
Japanese Painted Fern A colorful fern that requires shade and moist locations. This is a real eye-catcher. Requires shade and good moisture.
Ornamental Grasses: Many genera (e.g. Ophiopogon, Miscanthus, Liriope, Mulhenbergia,) and species are available to add interest, color, and bordering effect to your garden. They are xerophytic and very much underutilized in Gulf Coast landscapes. Image one shows some small varieties, image two shows Stips tenuissima (Mexican Feather Grass) and image three is Miscanthus sinensis “silver streak”. Textures make ornamental grasses a plus to any landscape.
Aspidistra eliator ‘variegata’ a boldly variegated aspidistra that will brighten up any densely shaded area. This plant is very slow growing.
Hesperaloe parviflora: A yucca-like plant that bears brilliant pinkish-red, branched flower stalks in spring. This plant is excellent for a full sun, drier place or xeriphytic garden.
Alpinia zerumbet ‘variegata’: Although this plant is covered on the “Gingers” page, it ranks high on our list of ornamentals and should be used more for color in shaded areas.
Ligularia tussilaginea cultivars This attractive and bold foliage plant loves a very moist and shady location with well drained soil. It makes a great accent plant for the shady garden. The yellow spots on the foliage are caused by a harmless virus but there are many other colorful cultivars.
Bulbine frutecens: This vividly green succulent plant produces vivid yellow and orange flower spikes throughout summer, is xerophytic, tolerates poor but well drained soils and full sun.
OTHERS (Vines, Ground Covers,Ferns etc.)
Trachelospermum jasminoides ‘variegata’ (Variegated Confederate Jasmine) – a vine with attractive foliage when not in bloom. Displays well climbing trees. Tremendous fragrance in bloom.
Juniperus conferta ‘blue star’ (Blue shore juniper) – a bluish tinted ground cover, very attractive. This is our regional answer to the “blue rug” juniper grown further north. Likes a loose organic/sandy soil. Best in Zone 8 north of Houston or east of Austin.
Clematis armandii: an evergreen clematis vine with fragrant white flowers, long narrow shiny green leaves which are attractive when not in bloom. – photo courtesy of Floridata(tm).
Dryopteris erythosora (Autumn Fern): This small clumping, fine-textured fern is wonderful for a naturalized shady setting. The name derives from the new spring growth that reflects shades of autumn colors as the new fronds develop.
Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘fastigiata’ or ‘prostrata” This yew-like plant can be grown in upright or prostrate forms. are available and do well in the Houston area if provided good .drainage.
Unusual Cultivars/Varieties of Plants Worth Having
These plants, which are part of our plant collection, have unusual qualities that are eye-catching and noteworthy. Plants on this list are winter hardy in USDA Climate Zones 8-9. They are difficult to find but should be available through specialty nurseries or mail-order sources if you are looking for something really unusual.
- Ilex dimorphophylla (a small species holly with two different leaf types) – Being adaptable to our warmer climatic region, why isn’t it used more often? This plant may be a little hard to find.
- Ilex vomitoria ‘Will Fleming’ (an upright, columnar growing yaupon) – discovered in Hempsted Texas – grows like a telephone pole! Great for a narrow corner or bed.
- Ilex X Attenuata ‘Sunny Foster’ ( a yellow variegated Foster holly) – when in fruit, add a third color. effect.
- Yucca aloifolia ‘variegata’ (a variegated Spanish Bayonet) – adds yellow, cream coloration to a normally green plant. In winter, tints pink as well for tri-color effect.
- Crinum asiaticum “variegated varieties” Variegata (pictured) is a strikingly white variegated foliage with clusters of spider-like lily blooms, needs winter protection from freezing. There is also a purple leafed crinum that adds nice foliage color to the garden when not in bloom. C. asiaticum var. procerum provides purplish colored foliage. A golden leafed variety C. asiaticum var. aureum is also a colorful addition.
Unusual and Colorful Tropicals for Seasonal Use
These plants add a splash of color or variety to your spring-fall garden but require greenhouse protection in winter. You may wish to try these if looking for something different and eye-catching.
- Platycerium species (Staghorn Ferns): Many species but all can be mounted on trees, fences, walls, etc. for tropical effect.
- Pereskia aculeata ‘godseffiana variegata”: A true member of the cactus family that grows like a vine with leaves. This particular cultivar is brilliantly colored and ideal for a sunny location.
- Canna cultivars: Go for colorful foliage as well as bloom. Some variegated varieties are spectacular. “Tropicanna” has incredibly colorful foliage, but several other colorful cultivars are also available. See these colorful cultivars. (Image 1) (Image 2)
- Manihot esculenta ‘variegata’: Perhaps the most colorful of any tropical, this plant is the source for commercial tapioca. This plant grows in a tree form to 10′ in one growing season. (GC)
- Monstera deliciosa: This is a tropical vining plant with large cut leaves that can be used outdoors in warmer seasons in a very shaded location, and as an attractive house plant during winter. There are white and yellow variegated cultivars that add much more color than the species. See these colorful cultivars. (Image 1) (Image 2)
- Bougainvillea – variegated cvs: Bougainvillea is grown mostly for the brilliant floral show they provide, but when not in bloom, the following variegated cultivars provide a colorful interlude: ‘Raspberry Ice’. ‘Mardi Gras’ a dwarf variety, and ‘Vickie’ which not only has variegated foliage, the plant produces both pink and white blooms at the same time. Being a vine, Bougainvillea displays well in hanging baskets – which also is convenient for overwinter storing. They are temperature sensitive below 50 degrees. See our Bougainvillea Page.
- Caesalpinia pulcherrima This tender plant originates from the Caribbean and unlike it’s bigger relative, the Royal Poinciana tree, remains a shrub but has finely textured, pinnately compound leaves with large terminal stalks of exotic orange and red blooms. Other species, (C. Mexicana and C. gilliesii) have predominantly yellow blooms and don’t bloom throughout the summer. Trying to overwinter it after die back by protecting the roots from freezing is risky – best to dig and cut it back for overwintering. This is a summer garden treasure that grows in poor soils and tolerates drought.
- Brugmansia spp: known as “Angel Trumpets”, these plants produce dramatic 12″ hanging blooms that are fragrant and spectacular. These are great for tall background floral effect. in a semi-shaded area. The Angels Trumpets are often misidentified as “Datura”.
- Ixora spp: These plants produce 4-6″ clusters of small colorful blooms in red, pink, orange, and yellow colors., These require sandy well-drained, but acidic soil and full fun. The yellowing of the leaves clearly indicates the need for a lower pH. Used frequently as a hedge plant in Florida, they also look great as individual specimen plants.
Other recommended tropicals for seasonal color (excluding plumeria, bromeliads, gingers, and orchids that have separate pages on this site):
PLANTS TO AVOID for Gulf Coast Texas
Please don’t be offended if you should have these in your landscape. We merely think you can do much better, selection-wise. Many of the plants listed below are used in new home landscapes to create an instant effect and based on their low cost and are oversold at nurseries due to high-profit margin.
- Photinia fraseri – The “Red Tip Photinia does produce dramatic color on new growth but has many reasons not to use it. It grows rapidly and ultimately into a small tree, yet is planted like a shrub. It also is subject to a fungal disease (black spotting) and requires considerable pruning maintenance. Most often, they are planted too close to foundations and to each other for hedge effect. This is inexpensive and a widely overused plant with many potential problems for the homeowner.
- Pittosporum tobira – The Pittosporum also gets large, requires much pruning to maintain, and is subject to being damaged at below-freezing temperatures. It is inexpensive and overused in landscapes.
- Euonymus japonica – This plant has bold variegated color to offer along with Euonymus scale and other pests, frequent reversion to solid green, and short life. It is an inexpensive plant that is overused in landscapes. However, E. fortunei does not have the same problems as E. japonica and is ok to use in Gulf Coast area according to horticulturalists at Moody Gardens.
- Ligustrum japonica – The green or wax leafed ligustrum is a rapid grower, has a pungent-smelling white bloom in spring, and ultimately grows to small tree proportion but is planted as a shrub. It is perhaps the most overused and inexpensive shrubs used in initial landscapes and if often planted too close to foundations and to each other. Watch out for the wax scale also.
- Ligustrum (Variegated Privet) – This colorful small-leafed shrub is overused and inexpensive but generally looks very nice in landscapes until it begins to revert to solid green! This is a problem!
- Raphiplepis indica (Indian Hawthhorne) – Although popular for it’s spring bloom, this plant is very often infected with scale, sooty mold and other diseases. This plant tend to be overused in southern landscapes, contributing to the spread of these undesirable infestations.
- Wisteria Sinensis (Chinese Wisteria) – Spring blooms are beautiful and fragrant but this vine can grow almost 12″ per day and strangle anything nearby. It is especially invasive and hard to control.
- Cortaderia selloana (Pampas Grass) – People who plant this regret it! Clumps get extremely large and thick, blades contain sharp cutting edges, and it takes a stick of dynamite to remove it!
Tropical Look plants that will cause major problems include those that reproduce and spread at rampant rates, reseed prolifically, have dangerous features, or maybe nearly impossible to control or remove. A representative list of some of these problematic plants follows:
Aquatic Plants to Avoid
Aquatic Plants quickly take over a natural pond and smothers other living things. Avoid using:
- Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes)
- Water lettuce – (Pistia stratiotes)
- Water Fern – Giant Salvinia (Salvinia molesta)
- Water spangles – Salvinia (Salvinia minima)
Ornamental Grasses to Avoid:
- Variegated giant reed – (Arundo Donax ‘Versicolor’) – spreads quickly, difficult to remove
- Bermuda grass – (Cynodon dactylon) – difficult to keep out and weed out of beds.
Perennials to Avoid
Prickly Pear Cactus – (genus Opuntia) – a sticky problem – wait till you have to weed around it!!! (There are spineless varieties, however)
Wild morning glory vine – (Ipomoea purpurea) – covers everything, highly invasive
Running bamboos – rapid spreaders, difficult to control and remove
Trailing daisy – (Wedelia trilobata) – quickly takes over any available space
Four ‘O Clocks – (Mirabilis jalapa) – prolific seeder, difficult to remove tubers
Any Landscape Plant Used In Excessive Quantity
Yes, with the tremendous variety of exciting plants available, why overdue any one or few varieties in your landscape. Be different, look for unique selections that draw attention to your landscape, not the “samo samo” that everyone else has.