Sunday, October 16, 2011

Summer of 2011 Winners and Losers

It was the best of times. (Front yard prairie 06-11-11 and the best spring flower display yet.)

It was the worst of times. (Front yard prairie 08-21-11. Actually, this is really not that bad considering the circumstances. It is still mostly green and there are some flowers!)

The times were more dismal in the backyard prairie. (09-21-11. Several plants turned brown and crispy or died.)

October 16-22, 2011 is Texas Native Plant Week. In recognition, I compiled a list of the Texas Native Plant Winners, Losers, and Participants in my prairie for the Summer of 2011. 

This is a partial listing of some of the prominent plants in my prairie. These plants received supplemental watering no more than once every 7-10 days from mid-July through September. Outside of this period, the only watering came from the sky.

The Winners - These are the plants that took the heat and drought with stride and showed minimal, if any, signs of stress.

Aloysia gratissima – Beebrush -- Covered in blooms after rain or watering. Bee magnet.
Amorpha fruticosa – False Indigo -- A couple of small dead limbs.
Anisacanthus quadrifidus v. Wrightii – Flame Acanthus -- Reliable food for hummingbirds.
Asclepias viridis – Green Milkweed
Capsicum annuum – Chile Pequin
Chilopsis linearis – Desert Willow - One tree split. Cut to the ground. New sprouts are 8 ft tall.
Conoclinium greggii – Blue Mistflower - Delayed fall flowers due to drought.
Dalea greggii – Gregg Dalea
Dyschoriste linearis – Snake Herb -- Transplanted to the "hell strip" in June with ease.
Glandularia bipinnatifida – Prairie Verbena
Hesperaloe parviflora – Red Yucca
Ilex decidua – Possumhaw Holly
Liatris mucronata – Gayfeather -- Looked great all summer, even without flowers.
Muhlenbergia dubia – Pine Muhly
Nolina microcarpa - Bear Grass
Opuntia sp. – Spineless Prickly Pear -- Not sure of the exact variety.
Phyla nodiflora - Frogfruit -- Blooms all summer with a little water.
Polanisia dodecandra – Clammyweed -- Blooms all summer with no attention.
Salvia azurea – Pitcher Sage -- Bloomed in spring and late summer this year.
Salvia farinacea – Mealycup Sage -- Cut to the ground in July for regrowth in fall.
Salvia greggii – Autumn Sage -- A couple of plants in difficult locations died.
Schizachyrium scoparium – Little Bluestem -- A couple of plants may be dead. Plants are shorter this year.
Symphyotrichum oblongifolium – Aromatic Aster
Symphyotrichum praealtum – Willowleaf Aster
Tetraneuris scaposa – Four-nerve Daisy -- Blooms almost non-stop
Verbesina virginica – Frostweed -- A little shorter this year. Covered in flowers and butterflies now.
Yucca pallida - Pale-Leaf Yucca - Has several pups this year.
Zanthoxylum clava-herculis – Hercules’ Club -- Tough tree with glossy leaves and thorns.
Zanthoxylum hirsutum – Toothache Tree -- Same as Hercules' Club but more compact.
Wedelia texana - Zexmenia
Zinnia grandiflora – Yellow Zinnia -- Short ground cover covered with yellow flowers all summer.

The Losers - These are the plants that experienced the most damage from the heat and drought. 

Ribes aureum – Buffalo Currant -- Main plant died. A couple of suckers are still green.
Rudbeckia fulgida – Black-eyed Susan -- Plants wilted badly and large patches died.
Sambucus nigra ssp. Canadensis – Common Elderberry -- All top growth died. Resprouting from roots. Likes moister conditions.

The Participants - These are the plants that survived the summer by going dormant. They are unattractive winners.

Agastache sp. – Hummingbird Mint -- Stayed green all summer, but no flowers until now. This variety is probably not a TX native. NM maybe.
Callicarpa americana – American Beautyberry -- Would prefer more shade. Wilts badly when dry.
Cephalanthus occidentalis – Buttonbush -- Normally grows by water. Leaves on lower half of plant turned brown.
Salvia pentstemonoides – Big Red Sage -- Brown leaves on lower half of plant. Needs to be divided.
Sorghastrum nutans – Indian Grass -- Turned yellow green. Only a few short flowers this year.

Thoughtful plant selection and placement is important for any plant, including Texas natives. They also need careful watering in the first season or two to help them get established. For all of these reasons, my Winners and Participants lists are much longer than the Losers list. Even after a hot, dry summer, the resilience of Texas native plants is evident in this October 2011 photo. This may be the best fall flower display yet.


  1. It's so reassuring to see your list of "wins" after the drought you's really a vindication for your plant choices! Love that last pic with the front yard full of bloom...those Liatris really make a statement!

  2. Great list with plenty of winners to choose from. Thanks for taking the time to post this, it's so helpful.

  3. Love your garden. I'm in Ohio...would love to turn my front yard into a natural garden like yours. Neighbors wouldn't be thrilled. It's very hard to convince people here to get rid of their grass.

  4. What a great list! I had no idea that some of these were native. I'm going to be checking into more of these 'winners'. A truly gorgeous show this autumn!

  5. This is one of the most useful posts I've read. I'll keep this information to help others figure out what will survive Texas droughts.

  6. Thanks Scott. Next year could be the real test of my plant selections if the predictions hold true and the drought continues. The Liatris looked great this year. Too bad they have such a short blooming period.

    Shirley, I added links to plant descriptions on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website. Don’t know why I did not think of this before.

    Thanks Anonymous. I am not sure how thrilled my neighbors are either. People around here really love their grass.

    I hope you find some winners in the list for your garden HolleyGarden. Texas has a great variety of native plants.

    Glad I could help out Marilyn. There is no guarantee that my selection of winners will work in every garden, but they are certainly worth considering.

  7. Nice list and no surprises except for this: I'm not trying Rudbeckia ever again. This is my second time for these plants to just turn black and die. I guess somebody can grow them with lots of water, but that's not my style.
    Nice to see how many winners you have.
    Keep cool!
    David/ Tropical Texana/

  8. I grew black-eyed Susan in my former Austin garden and found it did best with only a couple hours of morning sun, and midday and afternoon shade.

    Bluestem, your garden is really a testament to the beauty of a prairie style garden, even during drought.

  9. Mr Bluestem(since I don't know your first name), your garden looks awesome. I will use some of your selections in the future, I use a few now. Thanks for stopping by the cool and crisp post. Suppose to hit 29 degrees tonight.
    The limestone rock feature is new. It forms a short retaining wall which edges a fieldstone walkway there. There used to be fescue sod there. Visitors and my wife wonder why? Just like your neighbors. I suspect your neighbors will be coming on board with natives in the future when the price of water explodes. As T.Boone Pickens says: it's the new Oil.
    Your Fall photo is superb. I brought a few plants back from west texas. will see how they do here in the Flinthills.

  10. Pam, thanks for the tip on Black-eyed Susan. I will try more shade next year if I have any survivors. If there are no survivors, oh well. It will just make my prairie lower maintenance.

    Greggo, perhaps my parents were flower children and named me Bluestem. They were not and did not. I started the blog anonymously as Bluestem and then I was featured in the newspaper last year and I was no longer anonymous. Check my links for more info.
    We will get to the low 30s tonight, but I am not protecting anything. We start Stage 3 watering restrictions next month which means one watering every two weeks. Next summer could be interesting if we do not get some rain. I may get more interest in my yard then.

  11. Came here via Pam. Stunning. A feast for the eyes.

  12. I too came here via Pam, because I was so impressed with the photos she posted. Your garden looks magnificent right now. A just reward for all your hard work. You've created something very special here.

  13. Thanks for stopping by Lancashire rose and Bernie. This is my favorite time to be in the garden. It is full of blooms and butterflies and best of all, it is not as hot.


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