Native and Adapted Landscape Plants: An Austin gardening resource

For everyone who has moved to central Texas from more-hospitable gardening climates, who has tried (as I did) to plant azaleas, hostas, or dogwoods because that’s what reminds them of home, and who thinks, “Hey, look! This Austin nursery sells this plant, so it must grow well here, right?”—the Grow Green Guide is for you. Actually, the Grow Green Guide—my nickname for the glossy, four-color, extremely useful and FREE brochure called Native and Adapted Landscape Plants: An Earthwise Guide for Central Texas—is for anyone interested in choosing a plant that wants to live here.

Sure, we all know that person who has a border of healthy azaleas, or some other plant that generally prefers a cooler, wetter climate and acid soil instead of alkaline. But most of us soon learn how unhappy those plants are here. Unless you want to be chained to the garden hose, tossing peat moss at your shrubs, you’ll soon search out plants that are native to or that adapt well to our climate.

Luckily, this is not a sacrifice. We have lots of choices for flowering perennials, structural agaves and palms, ornamental grasses, shade-loving shrubs and understory trees, shade trees, and annual wildflowers. You can find many of them in the City of Austin’s Grow Green Guide, a publication from the Grow Green Program, whose mission is to help citizens conserve water and reduce the use of chemicals in the landscape. At a Green Garden Certification program I recently completed, director Kathy Shay gave us a sneak peek at the latest edition, which will be available to the public this Sunday.

Each plant in the guide is represented with a color photo…

…and helpful growing information, including whether it’s a Texas native; whether it prefers the Blackland Prairie clay commonly found east of MoPac or the thin, caliche soil commonly found west of MoPac; water needs; availability; and deer resistance.

The 2009 edition has been overhauled with eight additional pages of plants, including palms, more agaves and yuccas, new shrubs and small trees (like elbow bush, hop tree, Mexican olive, and bottlebrush), additional roses, seasonal native groundcovers like spiderwort and heartleaf skullcap, bulbs, and water plants. There’s even a section on plants for a rain garden, a “shallow recessed garden designed to catch and store rainfall for short periods,” which helps you keep water on your property rather than shunting this precious resource off to the storm drains.

The back of the guide, as in past editions, contains information on turf and turf alternatives, invasive plants to avoid along with non-invasive alternatives, and indexes by both common and botanical names.

You can pick up your free copy of the newest edition of Native and Adapted Landscape Plants on Sunday, February 22, at the Green Garden Festival held at Zilker Botanical Garden from noon to 4:00 pm. The guide is also widely available at area nurseries and home improvement stores. (I’m not sure when the new edition will be distributed to nurseries, but the old edition is still a good resource.) You can also get the Grow Green plant information online.

Update: Bonnie, who commented below, says that the new edition “should be out at Garden Centers around March 1. They are trying to clear out the old inventory before the new ones go in.” Thanks, Bonnie.

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

28 Responses

  1. Robin says:

    Pam, I’m so excited! I heard we were getting a new edition of this wonderful book this year, but had begun to think that was just a rumor. How cool that you have a preview of it, and thanks for posting. Perhaps I’ll drop in at Zilker on Sunday to get one. Awesome!

  2. Gail says:

    Pam, I still have the edition you gave us from Spring Fling 2008 and I don’t garden with your extremes…We have our own. I would love a Central Basin/Middle Tennessee version of this glossy! My best friend from college is moving back to Austin after several years in Hong Kong and wants to redo her yard…this will be a great aid for her! I think I’ll send her the 2008 version to check out. gail

  3. Les says:

    I am so glad to see more and more regional gardening advice available. The rest of our culture may be homogenizing and some of our accents are softening, but the garden world can still enjoy some regional differences.

  4. Town Mouse says:

    Sounds like a great book! Wish I were there…Oh, never mind, I don’t mind just visiting. Virtually ;->

  5. Frances says:

    Hi Pam, what a fabulous resource. We had something similar in The Woodlands but nothing like that here. That I know of, will have to look. The idea of a rain garden has been swirling around in my head. How to make one on a steep slope though? Still frozen tundra here today.

  6. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Cheryl of Conscious Gardening was sharing her copy at the Landscape Design study course earlier this week. I need to find where I put mine!

  7. kerri says:

    What a great resourse. It would be a good idea for each area to have their own guide. I must look to see if we have something similar available.
    Rain gardens seem to be getting a lot of attention lately. I could probably fill a good sized pool with what runs down our driveway when we have a downpour.

  8. jodi says:

    What a wonderful book, Pam! Like others have observed, this would be an awesome resource to have for each area. We have the start of one here in Nova Scotia, but it would need more time and energy than I could put into it to get it to completion any time soon.

  9. Brenda Kula says:

    I love collecting gardening books. Can’t get enough good qualified information. My azaleas are starting to bloom (again), since they are so confused by the strange weather we’ve had this year. But tonight, a freeze is expected.

  10. Diana Kirby says:

    Glad to know there’s a bigger and better edition out — thanks for the heads up.

  11. nickie says:

    LOL I had the opposite problem, I knew how to garden in an arid climate then moved to a wet cold one…boy was I lost!!!

  12. Bonnie says:

    New edition should be out at Garden Centers around March 1. They are trying to clear out the old inventory before the new ones go in.

  13. Layanee says:

    If I ever move to Austin, this would have to be a bible! I think azaleas must look out of place in your Austin neighborhoods and I love seeing the differences between our gardens. If all looked alike, how boring the world would be.

  14. Oh, Pam, you have cut to the heart of the matter. We *do* move. And we *do* get homesick for certain plants. And then we plant them. And we have varied results, but mostly I found it’s an exercise in futility and heartbreak. You’re right. Branch out! Adapt. (Or go back where you came from, which was my ultimate solution!) :)

  15. I picked up one of these last year when I was there. Fun read, but oh-so-different from where I garden. We have snow on the ground again and it is cold out there.

  16. Lori says:

    Oh, I’m so glad they expanded the rose section. I always felt the choices were too limited considering how well certain roses have done in my garden with very little extra care. I’m curious to see which ones they added. IMHO, the entire Knockout family, the Texas Pioneer roses (Except for Republic of Texas– too much blackspot), nearly the entire China class, many of the Teas including Duchesse de Brabant and Madame Antoine Mari, are all excellent choices for this climate. Now I guess I’ve gotta go check the new Grow Guide out online to see how right these predictions are. ;D

    Lori, looks like I goofed. After your comment I went back to see exactly which ones they added and found only two new ones: ‘Grandma’s Yellow’ and ‘Lady Banksia.’ I was misled into thinking there were more because the rose pics are spread over two pages now instead of one. Obviously, many other roses grow wonderfully in Austin. I’d add ‘Valentine,’ ‘The Fairy,’ and ‘Carefree Beauty’ from my own experience. —Pam

  17. Jean says:

    Pam, I used the Grow Green guides when I lived in Austin and I think they’re really great. When I did garden consultations there I always made sure my clients had one. I was at Barton Springs Nursery this past weekend and saw someone who was using it as they were looking at and picking out plants. Invaluable!
    P.S. I found a pink Turk’s Cap at B.S. Nursery and bought it. I hope it’s the same variety as your Pam’s Pink (I think that was the name)!

  18. Pam/Digging says:

    Thanks for your comments, everybody. It’s interesting how many of you from out of town have read Austin’s guide, and I hope you all find—or make!—regional guides for your own locales one day. —Pam

  19. Lori says:

    Pam, yeah, I was pretty disappointed in the lack of new rose additions. But it’s all right– that just means I have one more topic for a blog post. I’m going to wait until everything’s in bloom so I can take some good pictures and make my own rose recommendations. God knows I have plenty to say on that topic.

  20. Hi Pam, great resources! Awhile back I found this page in the Grow Green web pages. It’s still there but does not seem to have links to it anymore. I think it’s very useful. It’s a simple list of invasive plants with recommended native alternatives. If you want to plant THAT, then plant THIS instead!


  21. It’s great to get your hands on regionally appropriate gardening information. It’s even better when you find that information before you learn it all the hard way! Sorry I missed your blogiversary. Congratulations on three great years!

  22. Bob Pool says:

    I see where it showed the Henri Duelberg Sage but not the Anna Duelberg. If you ever read the story about where it was found and how they were growing you would not want to plant one with out the other close by. It’s a great story by Greg Grant, who found them.

  23. VW says:

    That pamphlet certainly sounds helpful! Here in Spokane, we are often lumped together with Seattle in planting guides. But our climate is drier and our soil less acidic, so azaleas, pieris and all those acid-loving plants look half-dead most of the time. I have made up a list of good plants for Spokane but can’t remember if I posted it, will have to check. Thanks for the reminder! – VW

  24. What a wonderful resource for you! And FREE!

  25. Sounds like a wonderful booklet! I’m sharing this post with my Austin daughter in case she missed it.

  26. The guides can be helpful, Pam – I’ve used them for years, but have found that many of the recommended plants are too tender and need sharper drainage than is found in my far NW area. The guide is probably helpful for newer gardeners trying to put together a landscape that will survive.

    But compared to most indulgences, plants are cheap. It’s more fun to use safe plants for the framework but then spend a couple of bucks and take a chance on something you think is beautiful. Be ready to rejoice if it lives or accept loss if it dies.
    Safe gardens bore me. I prefer gardens where the gardener gambles a little.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  27. Dorothy Davis says:

    I would like to get an updated copy of the “Native and Adapted Landscape Plants”. I live in Dallas, Tx 75206 area.


    D., you can find Native and Adapted Landscape Plants online; just click the link. —Pam