A Drought Tolerant Garden from the Ground Up

With approximately 250 days between the last and first frost in Texas, Gulf Coast gardeners enjoy a longer growing season than most. Unfortunately, that benefit goes hand in hand with the hot and humid Texas weather, which can be tough on sensitive plants.

Rather than fight with nature, why not choose drought-tolerant plants? These tough plants can take the heat and look attractive nearly year-round, with bold colors, stunning foliage, exciting forms, and fragrant flowers.

Below is a list of suggested plants for a drought-tolerant garden in the Texas Gulf Coast region.

Drought Tolerant Ground Cover

Frogfruit
Phyla nodiflora
Family: Verbena

  • Height: 1-3 inches
  • Blooms: May to October; tiny, white flowers
  • Soil Type: Sand, loam, limestone; poor drainage is acceptable
  • Light: Full sun or part shade
  • Leaf: Evergreen in warm years
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators
  • Noteworthy: Foliage can develop a tinge of purple in cool winters; do not mow while flowering – mow after seeds have set
  • Use: Rock gardens, hanging baskets, mass planting in flower beds
  • Texas Native: Southeast, East, and North Texas and Mexico

Creeping Phlox
Phlox subulata
Family: Phlox

  • Height: 6 inches
  • Blooms: Spring and early summer; pink, purple, or white
  • Soil Type: Dry, sandy, rocky
  • Light: Full sun or part shade
  • Leaf: Evergreen; awl-shaped foliage
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators; deer tolerant
  • Noteworthy: Unlike other species of phlox, P. subulata is resistant to powdery mildew.
  • Use: Rock gardens; foundations; flower borders; ground cover; native plant gardens; slopes; rock walls

 

Carpet Bugleweed
Ajuga reptans
Family: Mint

  • Height: 6-9 inches
  • Blooms: Spring to summer; tiny, blue-violet flowers up to 10 inches above the leaves
  • Soil Type: Humus rich; tolerates moderately dry soil
  • Light: Part shade to shade
  • Leaf: Evergreen; foliage is a stunning purple color
  • Wildlife: Deer and rabbit tolerant
  • Noteworthy: Plants can be cut back or even mowed on a high setting after flowering to remove spent flowers and encourage new foliage
  • Use: Small spaces; containers; rock gardens

 

Woolly Stemodia
Stemodia lanata
Family: Figwort

  • Height: 4-10 inches
  • Blooms: April to November; tiny, lavender, or white flowers most of the year
  • Soil Type: Chalky, sandy, dry soil
  • Light: Full sun
  • Leaf: Evergreen in a warm climate; silvery colored foliage
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators
  • Noteworthy: Woolly Stemodia pulls the heavy metal and selenium out of the soil. Because of this, the plant can be toxic to cattle/livestock where soil contains selenium
  • Use: Trail over rock walls; hanging baskets; containers
  • Texas Native: South Texas and Mexico

Blackfoot Daisy
Melampodium leucanthum
Family: Sunflower

  • Height: 6-12 inches
  • Blooms: March to November; wide, yellow, daisy-like flowers
  • Soil Type: Dry, rocky, chalky, gravelly, sandy soil
  • Light: Full sun to part shade
  • Leaf: Evergreen, narrow leaves
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators and granivorous birds
  • Noteworthy: The flowers of Blackfoot Daisy are honey scented
  • Use: Rock gardens
  • Texas Native: Central, West, and North Texas; central and southwest United States and Mexico

 

Dahlberg Daisy
Thymophylla tenuiloba
Family: Sunflower

  • Height: 6-12 inches
  • Blooms: March to November; yellow, daisy-like flowers
  • Soil Type: Rocky
  • Light: Full sun
  • Leaf: Evergreen; strongly scented needle-like foliage
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators
  • Noteworthy: All parts of this plant are poisonous if ingested
  • Use: Rock gardens; desert gardens; flowerbed borders; containers; hanging baskets
  • Texas Native: Southeast, Central, and South Texas to Mexico

 

Wine Cup
Callirhoe involucrata
Family: Mallow

  • Height: 8-12 inches
  • Blooms: Spring and summer; wine-colored and white varieties
  • Soil Type: Rocky, sandy, clay, loam, sandy loam, gravelly
  • Light: Full sun
  • Leaf: Evergreen
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators
  • Noteworthy: Flowers open in the morning and close in the evening. After pollination, they remain closed.
  • Use: Front of a flower bed; native plant garden; formal garden; trailing over a rock wall; hanging baskets
  • Texas Native: Spans the southeastern United States and Texas to northern Mexico

Drought Tolerant Mid-Level Plants

Texas Creeping-oxeye
Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida
Family: Sunflower

  • Height: 8 inches – 3 feet
  • Blooms: Summer to frost; small, yellow to orange daisy-like flowers
  • Soil Type: Rocky, gravelly, chalky
  • Light: Full sun to part shade
  • Leaf: Semi-evergreen; may go dormant in cold winters
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators and granivorous birds; somewhat deer resistant
  • Noteworthy: This plant stands upright like a tiny shrub in full sun. It can also take on more of a spreading, groundcover look in the shade
  • Use: Rock gardens; flowerbed border; native plant garden; containers
  • Texas Native: Central and South Texas to Central America

 

Indian Blanket
Gaillardia pulchella
Family: Sunflower

  • Height: 1-2 feet
  • Blooms: Showy red and yellow flowers appear in summer. Supplemental watering may extend the bloom period.
  • Soil Type: Sandy, chalky
  • Light: Full sun to part shade
  • Leaf: Rosette of lobed leaves
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators
  • Noteworthy: These wildflowers reseed easily and often grow along roadsides
  • Use: Wildflower garden; native plant garden; rock garden; containers
  • Texas Native: Spans Texas and the southwestern, southeastern, and central United States to Mexico

 

Black-eyed Susan
Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’
Family: Sunflower

  • Height: 1-3 feet
  • Blooms: Summer and fall; bright yellow petals with black center
  • Soil Type: Various types of soil
  • Light: Full sun to part shade
  • Leaf: Hairy, oval leaves in a rosette and along bloom stems
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators and granivorous birds
  • Noteworthy: Cut flowers make a fabulous floral display
  • Use: Perennial border; cottage garden, native plant garden

 

Autumn Sage
Salvia greggii
Family: Mint

  • Height: 2-3 feet
  • Blooms: Spring until a hard frost; red, pink, orange, white, or purple flowers; edible flowers make a nice garnish
  • Soil Type: Rocky, sandy, loamy
  • Light: Full sun to part shade
  • Leaf: Evergreen; minty fragrance
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators; deer resistant
  • Noteworthy: Prune this sage in early spring to avoid a leggy plant. Pruning back a third of the plant will promote a thicker, compact shape.
  • Use: Borders; foundations; native garden; low hedge
  • Texas Native: Central, West, and Northeast Texas

 

Gulf Coast Muhly
Muhlenbergia capillaris
Family: Grass

  • Height: 2-3 feet
  • Blooms: Fall; airy plumes of purple-pink, usually about 6 inches above the foliage
  • Soil Type: Sandy, sandy loam, rocky, clay
  • Light: Full sun to part shade
  • Leaf: Thin, thread-like leaves to 3 feet long; may turn brown in winter
  • Wildlife: Deer resistant
  • Noteworthy: Planted en masse gives the effect of a pink cloud hovering over the garden
  • Use: Winter interest; native plant garden; accent plant
  • Texas Native: Southeast, East, Central, and South Texas; Spans the eastern and central United States to Central America and the West Indies

 

Purple Coneflower
Echinacea purpurea
Family: Sunflower

  • Height: 2-3 feet
  • Blooms: Almost year-round if mild winter; dark pink to purple; great as cut flowers
  • Soil Type: A variety of soil types
  • Light: Full sun to part shade
  • Leaf: Rosette of dark-green, fuzzy leaves that remain throughout winter
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators, granivorous birds, and small mammals
  • Noteworthy: Used medicinally and as a tea; purportedly helps the immune system
  • Use: Butterfly garden; native plant garden; flowerbed border; wildflower garden
  • Texas Native: Spans northeast Texas to the central and eastern United States.

 

Cape Plumbago
Plumbago auriculata
Family: Leadwort

  • Height: 3-10 feet
  • Blooms: Blue flower clusters bloom year-round in warm areas. Flowers grow up to 6 inches across and have sticky hairs on the calyx.
  • Soil Type: Sandy; prefers acidic soil
  • Light: Full sun
  • Leaf: Semi-evergreen; may die back in a hard freeze.
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators
  • Noteworthy: Prune heavily to encourage compact growth or let it grow naturally along a supporting structure for a vine-like effect.
  • Use: Tropical garden; low hedge; groundcover; along fence lines

Drought Tolerant Shrub Level Plants

 

Esperanza
Tecoma stans
Family: Trumpet Vine

  • Height: 3-6 feet
  • Blooms: Spring to fall; clusters of yellow, tubular flowers
  • Soil Type: Rocky, sandy, loamy
  • Light: Full sun
  • Leaf: Deciduous; may die back in the winter but should grow back from roots
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators and hummingbirds; deer resistant
  • Noteworthy: Prune back the flowers and seedpods to encourage more flowers and a fuller-looking plant
  • Use: Specimen; shrub border; containers
  • Texas Native: East, Central, West, and South Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Florida, and subtropical to tropical Americas.

 

Texas Lantana
Lantana urticoides
Family: Verbena

  • Height: 3-6 feet
  • Blooms: Summer and fall; yellow to orange flower
  • Soil Type: Clay, loamy, sandy
  • Light: Full sun to part shade
  • Leaf: Semi-evergreen; may lose leaves depending on winter temperatures
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators and birds; deer resistant
  • Noteworthy: Dark blue to black fleshy, toxic fruit is a food source for birds; flowers on new wood, so periodically cut back
  • Use:  Specimen; native plant garden; wildlife garden
  • Texas Native: Southeast, East, North, Central, West, and South Texas; New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico.

Cherry Barbados
Malpighia glabra
Family: Barbados Cherry

  • Height: 3-8 feet
  • Blooms: Long bloom time from spring through winter; pink, fragrant flowers
  • Soil Type: Sandy, loamy, clay; limestone
  • Light: Full sun to part shade
  • Leaf: Evergreen to zone 9; may lose some leaves in a hard freeze
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators and birds
  • Noteworthy: Flowers are followed by bright-red, spherical, edible berries high in vitamin C.
  • Use:  Low hedge; native plant garden; specimen
  • Texas Native: Spans Southeast, Central, North, and South Texas to Caribbean South America.

Turk’s Cap
Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii
Family: Mallow

  • Height: 3-9 feet
  • Blooms: May to November or beyond; deep red to salmon blooms that never fully open, looking like the twisted end of a candy wrapper; edible
  • Soil Type: Tolerates most soil types
  • Light: Part sun to deep shade
  • Leaf: Deciduous; large, dark green
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators, birds, fruit-eating mammals
  • Noteworthy: Edible flowers with a sweet taste can be used in salads and as a culinary garnish. Edible fruits resemble tiny apples with a crisp, mild flavor
  • Use:  Pollinator garden; wildlife garden; native plant garden; back border; specimen
  • Texas Native: Spans Southeast, East, Central, and South Texas to the southeastern United States and Mexico

 

Hummingbird Bush
Hamelia patens
Family: Madder

  • Height: 3-15 feet
  • Blooms: Spring to winter; red, orange, or yellow tubular flowers
  • Soil Type: Tolerates most soil types
  • Light: Full sun to part shade
  • Leaf: Large, tropical leaves often turn red before plant freezes to the ground in cold winters
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators and birds
  • Noteworthy: Can grow to 15 feet after a mild winter. Cut back as the plant becomes leggy. Prune for shape throughout the year.
  • Use:  Middle to back of perennial garden; hedgerow; bird garden; native plant garden; pollinator garden; specimen

Drought Tolerant Trees

Texas Lilac Vitex
Vitex agnus-castus
Family: Verbena

  • Height: 10-15 feet
  • Blooms: Summer and fall; lavender-colored, 7-inch flower spikes (or less often pink or white)
  • Soil Type: Tolerates most soil types
  • Light: Full sun
  • Leaf: Deciduous
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators
  • Noteworthy: Thought to bloom better when allowed to experience drought stress
  • Use:  Shrub border; foundation; cottage garden; butterfly garden; seasonal screen; specimen

 

Mexican Plum
Prunus mexicana
Family: Rose

  • Height: 15-35 feet
  • Blooms: February to April; delicate, white, fragrant flowers form before the foliage
  • Soil Type: Sandy, loamy, clay, limestone
  • Light: Full sun
  • Leaf: Deciduous
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators, birds, small mammals
  • Noteworthy: Beautiful, textured bark; purple, ripe plums can be eaten fresh or made into jelly
  • Use: Specimen; edible garden; wildlife garden
  • Texas Native: Spans East, North, Central, South, and Southeast Texas to the central and southeastern United States and Mexico

 

Texas Ebony
Ebenopsis ebano
Family: Pea

  • Height: 20-30 feet
  • Blooms: Summer; fragrant, creamy-colored, fluffy flowers
  • Soil Type: Tolerates most soil types
  • Light: Full sun
  • Leaf: Evergreen; dense foliage provides heavy shade when mature
  • Wildlife: Attracts pollinators, birds, small mammals, deer
  • Noteworthy: Deer and small mammals will eat the seeds from the bean-like pods. Deer have been known to munch on the leaves from the spiny, zig-zagged branches.
  • Use: Specimen; edible garden; wildlife garden
  • Texas Native: Spans Southeast and South Texas to Mexico

Shagbark Hickory
Carya ovata
Family: Walnut

  • Height: 60-80 feet
  • Blooms: Spring; inconspicuous
  • Soil Type: Sandy, loamy, clay
  • Light: Full sun, part sun, or shade
  • Leaf: Deciduous; foliage turns golden in the fall
  • Wildlife: Attracts squirrels and birds which feed on seeds and catkins
  • Noteworthy: The bark of this Texas native tree peels in curls, making for an attractive focal point in the landscape
  • Use: Specimen; wildlife garden
  • Texas Native: Spans Southeast, East, and North Texas and central and eastern North America to Mexico

Growing Tips

As you choose plants for a drought-tolerant garden, remember to select plants of varying sizes to add interest and excitement – from soft ground covers to flowering shrubs to welcoming shade trees.

Just because a plant is labeled as drought-tolerant doesn’t mean it should be left to fend for itself. As a plant matures and becomes established in the garden, the drought-tolerant plant can survive on water from rainfall without additional irrigation. However, these plants might look neglected if you do not provide supplemental water.

Remember to account for the size of the mature plants and include a mix of ground covers, trees, and everything in between. Combine evergreens with deciduous plants and choose plants with different bloom times to add interest and provide food and shelter for wildlife.

By following these tips, you should be well on your way to establishing a drought-tolerant landscape. As you reduce your supplemental irrigation over time, your wallet and the environment will thank you.