A Backbone for the Landscape

Although we have the luxury in South Texas of many drought-tolerant perennials to add color throughout the year, the landscape also needs a few evergreen plants for structural integrity.

Also known as backbone plants, evergreen shrubs and trees provide structure we can design around. One-third of your landscape should consist of backbone plants, followed by perennials and beneficial wildlife plants to round out your landscape.

All of these plants are drought-tolerant and require minimal maintenance. Bonus: They’re all deer-resistant.

Native evergreens that should be saved or encouraged include:

Agarita – Holly-like, bluish green foliage with fall red berries.
Cenizo – Gray foliage with purple flowers.
Ashe juniper – Also known as mountain cedar, juniper is extremely drought-tolerant with few pests other than humans. It is erroneous to believe they are “water suckers.” Look for other non-native selections such as Juniperus ‘sea spray,’ J. ‘robusta green,’ and J. ‘shimpaku.’
Texas mountain laurel – Small tree with aromatic purple spring flowers.
Yaupon holly – Both standard and dwarf are excellent choices. Female standards will have red berries.
Yucca – All yuccas are excellent choices including red, twisted leaf, soft leaf and Spanish.

Unless they’re over-watered and over-fertilized, native plants always do better in the landscape than planted specimens.

Non-native evergreens that are suitable and encouraged are:

Cotoneaster – Gray green foliage with white flowers and red berries.
Chinese holly – Many varieties, but ‘Carissa’ is best.
Germander – Gray green foliage with blue flowers from spring to fall; comes in ‘Bush’ and ‘Creeping’ selections.
Rosemary – The ‘upright’ selection is best as a “backbone” plant, but the ‘prostrate’ is suitable as well.
Santolina – Low-growing and spreading; comes in gray and green selections.

Winter is an excellent time to look for these evergreens and plant them, too. Water using the 3-2-1 method. Look for these plants in upcoming coupon packages.

Picture of Mark Peterson
Mark Peterson
Mark A. Peterson was a conservation project coordinator for San Antonio Water System before retiring. With over 30 years of experience as an urban forester and arborist, Mark is probably the only person you know who actually prunes trees for fun. When not expounding on the benefits of trees and limited lawns, you're likely to find him hiking San Antonio's wilderness parks or expounding on the virtues of geography and history to his friends.
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