A Backbone for the Landscape

Mark Peterson

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.

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