Peterson’s Picks: Plants with Power

Does your landscape lineup lack the strength to survive fickle forecasts and plant pests? Have no fear — Peterson’s Picks will give your garden superhero standing.

It’s no secret San Antonio’s climate can be challenging for gardeners, particularly if your landscape lineup lacks the flora fighters that can survive fickle forecasts and plant pests.

Enter my top plant selections — Peterson’s Picks, if you will — in six categories for our surrounding region. These selections are based on my nearly 40 years of landscape experience here in South Texas and three specific criteria: low maintenance, drought tolerance and pest tolerance.

Without further ado, here are my recommendations for a landscape with superhero standing.


  1. Ajuga (Ajuga reptans): shade; purple flowers; not deer-resistant.
  2. Creeping germander (Teucrium canadense): sun; small purple flowers; drought-tolerant and deer-resistant.
  3. Dwarf plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides): aka leadwort; partial shade; electric blue flowers; spreads.
  4. Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora): native; partial shade; spreads; deer-resistant.
  5. Purple Heart (Setcreasea pallid): native, sun or shade; spreads; deer-resistant.
  6. Silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea): sun; very drought-tolerant; spreads.


  1. Damianita: the baddest hombre in South Texas; grows in the cracks of asphalt parking lots.
  2. Justicia: shrimp plant and Mexican honeysuckle; shade.
  3. Malvaviscus: all the Turk’s caps; shade; deer-resistant.
  4. Purple oxalis (Oxalis regnellii ‘Triangularis’): shade; pinkish white flowers and purple foliage; deer-resistant.
  5. Russelia: firecracker fern; sun or shade.
  6. Salvia: all them; sun or shade.


  1. Asian holly (Ilex cornuta): many selections including Burford, Carissa and Chinese; sun or shade.
  2. Asian junipers (Juniperus chinensis): full sun; ‘Blue point’ is my favorite.
  3. Cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens): native; many varieties ‘Green Cloud’, ‘Compact’, ‘Convent’, ‘Silverado’; sun.
  4. Elaeagnus (Elaeagnus macrophylla x pungens): nitrogen fixer; virtually indestructible; sun.
  5. Evergreen sumac (Rhus virens): native; shade or sun.
  6. Xylosma (Xylosma congestum): non-native; fast; tall; indestructible; sun or shade.

Shade Trees

  1. Cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia): versatile and adaptable everywhere in South Texas.
  2. Chinquapin oak (Quercus muhlenbergii): best in thin soils; deciduous.
  3. Italian stone pine (Pinus pinea): slow growing, but will literally last for centuries.
  4. Mexican sycamore (Platanus mexicana): fast growing; best in deeper soils.
  5. Monterrey oak (Quercus polymorpha): fast growing; semi-evergreen.
  6. Texas red oak (Quercus buckleyi): best in thin soils; deep red fall color.

Understory/Ornamental Trees

  1. Crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia indica): literally hundreds to choose from in any size and flower color; requires full sun.
  2. Eve’s necklace (Styphnolobium affine): either shade or sun; pink flowers; deciduous.
  3. Mexican buckeye (Ugnadia speciosa): tough, either shade or sun; pink flowers; deciduous.
  4. Possumhaw (Ilex decidua): female has red fruit; do not need a male close by; deciduous.
  5. Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundifolia): evergreen; purple flowers; extremely drought-tolerant; full sun.
  6. Mexican olive (Cordia boisseri): best south of downtown; large white flowers in summer; evergreen during most years; full sun.


  1. California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera): No. 1 fan palm for South Texas; extremely drought-tolerant; sun.
  2. Canary Island palm (Phoenix canariensis): No. 1 feather palm for South Texas; sun.
  3. Chinese windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei): extremely cold tolerant; sun or shade.
  4. Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis): extremely cold tolerant: sun or shade.
  5. Mexican sabal palm (Sabal mexicana): no thorns on the rachis; blue-green frond color; does best in moist shade; difficult to transplant.
  6. Sago palm (Cycas revoluta): not a true palm; female has toxic fruit to pets; sun or shade.

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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