The Q&A Archives: Shade Plants for Zone 9l

Question: We bought a house in south Texas, Zone 9 and we need to do landscaping, there is none right now. I am not familar with plants for this region. I hope you can help.
Thank you,
Maxine Prchal

Answer: I'll start with some pertinent pointers for a first-time gardener in the area:

Temperatures vary widely. If you've been here awhile, you already know that we typically have mild winters with last winter being a little warmer-and a lot dryer-than usual. Horticulturally, we're located at the southern edge of plant-hardiness zone 9, which means plants capable of withstanding 20-to-30 degrees F. can be expected to survive here. Fortunately, we seldom see 20 degrees, but it can get respectably chilly on occasion. Since we're on the southern edge of zone 9, our winter lows generally do not dip below the freezing mark with any frequency.

Although winters can be unpredictable, summer temperatures are usually quite warm, making them potentially more devastating than other seasons. Cool weather-loving plants cannot survive our prolonged summer heat, so forget about trying to grow them.

Rainfall can vary considerably. Long time residents know that rainfall can vary from year to year and even season to season. Although averages tell us little, in most years gardeners can anticipate about 36 inches of precipitation with the summer months having short dry spells. Last year summer was notably on the dry side. Supplemental watering, particularly during summer, is generally essential for the survival of most landscapes and gardens.

Soils have a notorious reputation. Relatively shallow, poor soil is the rule rather than the exception. Our sticky gumbo soil is known far and wide as one tough hombre. But it's by no means hopeless. For optimum plant growth, gardeners will need to improve the soil with liberal amounts of organic matter such as compost, peat moss, shredded bark, etc. Organic matter is the main key to taming our gumbo soil.

The majority of our soils are alkaline, which can affect the availability of plant nutrients, especially iron. Most plants won't be seriously affected, but do not add lime unless a soil test shows pH levels are low.

Acid-loving plants, such as azaleas, camellias and gardenias, usually need periodic applications of soil acidifiers (products containing sulfur) to keep them looking their best.

Trees and shrubs are likely to be quite different. The more distant your move from another area of the country, the more likely you'll find differences. Visit with local nursery or garden center personnel and let them suggest sturdy, dependable varieties for your home grounds. Be sure to consider natives trees and shrubs which have a proven track record.

Fruit crops are fairly dependable. However, you must choose varieties carefully. To avoid disappointment, avoid cherries, most apricots, and, for most gardeners, blueberries. Peaches, plums, pears, blackberries, figs, strawberries, persimmons and some varieties of apples should do well. We can also grow a wide variety of citrus.

Don't try to grow a bluegrass or fescue lawn. Area lawns are usually planted in either St. Augustine or Bermuda grass which does very well here. Zoysia and the hybrid bermudas are very beautiful, but demand extra care and are recommended only if you enjoy yard work and don't mind very frequent mowing!

A pleasant surprise--vegetable gardening can be wonderfully successful. If, like many area residents, you enjoy "growing your own groceries," you will find that most vegetable crops do well here provided you prepare the soil carefully, plant in full sun and plant at the right time. The latter is especially important for spring crops. Both spring-planted and fall-planted gardens can be highly productive.

Here's a link to a helpful website sponsored by Texas A & M Cooperative Extension:

Hope this information is helpful!

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