As every North Texas resident knows, winters in this part of the country are typically quite mild. In fact, this last winter clocked in as the region’s fifteenth warmest on record. You do not need to have lived here for long, though, to have experienced the flipside of North Texas’ mild winters: its scorching-hot summers. Many homeowners in the area assume they can kiss their green gardens goodbye as soon as 100-degree weather hits. But, it is possible to enjoy a stunning landscape during the blistering summer months, as long as one is strategic about which plants they grow, and where.
Just ask Tim Wardell, who works as the marketing coordinator at the Frisco gardening center Shades of Green. Mr. Wardell says the business has benefitted from Frisco’s flourishing population. He feels it is his mission to educate people about which plants thrive in North Texas’ unique climate. “We have a couple of things working against us,” Mr. Wardell explains. “Firstly, we only have two seasons: hot and not hot. And, then, our heavy clay soil, which is black, thick and holds water, can be very unforgiving.”
It is possible to cultivate a green thumb as long as one is equipped with some basic horticultural understanding. Flora that thrive in morning shade and afternoon sun, for instance, will suffer if they are not planted in morning sun and afternoon shade. And the summer sun can be the death knell for some garden varieties, especially when afternoon temperatures skyrocket to the triple digits. Since Frisco is chock-full of people who are recent out-of-state transplants, that can be an especially tough lesson to learn. “What may grow great in Southern Calif. is not necessarily going to make it through a Texas summer,” Mr. Wardell points out. “Our summers kill more plants than our winters ever have, and that is part of the learning curve for people relocating to Frisco.”
Although summers in Frisco can be tough to get used to, Mr. Wardell says warm winters are a boon for the landscaping business. Other parts of the country are forced to contend with four feet of snow every winter, so it is nearly impossible to install new landscapes. Here, gardeners have carte-blanche to create stunning scenery virtually year-round. “We are blessed in that almost any time of year we can work on landscapes,” Mr. Wardell notes.
When people first move to the state, they are often surprised when they encounter issues growing the same plants they did back home. In addition to sun and water, soil type is a major factor in a shrub’s success. Heat and drought-resistant azaleas, for instance, thrive in the acidic soil found across the Southeast. In contrast, North Texas’ heavy, black clay is alkaline. As such, Mr. Wardell advises people to populate their gardens with alkaline-loving plants. “For the most part, we have decent soil,” he says. “We malign it a lot because it is hard and heavy, but once you get your flowerbed in May, it is just a matter of fertilizing it every now and then.”
Corporate plant nurseries typically order on nationwide contracts and that all but ensure the quality of its products will suffer. Although one can easily purchase non-native plants at big-name businesses, North Texas homeowners will always have the best luck when they invest in indigenous species. Plus, native plants are more resistant to the region’s prominent pests and diseases. “These plants were here long before the first pioneers rolled in on their covered wagons,” Mr. Wardell says. “They have evolved in harmony with this climate and soil, and they just come back year after year.”
One heat-loving perennial that does particularly well in this region is Texas Lantana, a low shrub that produces orange and red flowers from spring until the first frost. Mr. Wardell owns some that are more than 10 years old! Another local favorite is the ground-covering Texas Skullcap, which blooms profusely in either purple or red. Zexmenia is an orange or yellow-blooming perennial that can survive in both full and partial sun. Texas Betony is tough as Texas, but its spikes of ruby-red flowers attract copious butterflies and hummingbirds. “I am a sucker for day lilies,” Mr. Wardell admits, adding he has 22 varieties in his backyard. “Day lilies only bloom from springtime until June, but there are about six weeks where it is just a glorious display of color.”
Some plants that thrive in Texas also boast medicinal uses. In recent years, Mr. Wardell has noticed a surge in the number of people who express interest in so-called “farmacy” plants, which are grown for homeopathic or holistic uses. One common example is aloe vera, which can be cultivated for both culinary and medicinal purposes. It is frequently used to treat ailments like sunburns and canker sores, and is effective in helping to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. Sage is another therapeutic plant that can be used for cooking. It has been proven to alleviate sore throats and fight colds. The nutritious herb parsley is also quite versatile, and it is used as an anti-inflammatory aid and a gastronomic garnish.
Before beginning a landscaping project, Mr. Wardell asks his customers to provide a picture of their yard. That way, he can better understand which plants to recommend based on the designated space’s dimensions, and whether it is exposed to sun or shade. Sometimes, if the client does not have a photo of their yard with them, Mr. Wardell will ask them for their home address. Then, he pulls up a street view of their home on Google Maps to better understand which direction the plants will be facing and how much sun they will receive.
Plant parents frequently overwater their garden. “If they walk outside and they get hot, they seem to assume their plants are hot as well,” he says. “Or, if they are thirsty, they think their plants must get thirsty.” Some will water their lawn every day in an attempt to revive a plant’s drooping, wilting leaves, but that often exacerbates the problem. “If you cough once, it does not mean you should start drinking cough medicine by the bottle; there might be another reason for the cough,” Mr. Wardell illustrates. He also notes that many indigenous plants have roots that burrow beneath the ground, where there is much more moisture than the topsoil lets on.
Yes, Texas summers can be brutal for one’s greenery, but Mr. Wardell notes that outside of Southern Calif. and Fla., the Lone Star State holds an enviable position within the horticultural world. As long as one is armed with perseverance and the proper knowledge, it is possible to enjoy a beautiful, vibrant garden all year round. “If you mix your plantings just right, you can literally just go 12 months out of the year and still have colors and flowers happening in your yard,” Mr. Wardell insists. “But it all starts with having the right plant, in the right place.”
Simone Carter is a freelance journalist and avid lover of all things arts related.