13 Best Native Plants for Your Austin Garden

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Close-up of bright yellow blooms from a Missouri primrose plant

The weather in Austin seems to match the city’s unofficial slogan, “Keep Austin Weird,” which is why native plants are such a smart choice for your Austin yard. Native plants are adapted to hot summers, mild winters, long droughts, and sudden flash floods.

Here are some advantages of native plants:

  • Drought tolerant: Native plants are acclimated to the local climate so they can easily survive dry conditions, heat, and humidity.
  • Support wildlife: Plants adapted to the region provide food and shelter to birds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
  • Low maintenance: Fertilizer, irrigation, and pesticides are seldomly needed to keep a native yard healthy.

But how do you choose which native plants are best for your Austin yard?

To give you a little inspiration, we’ve spotlighted 13 best native plants for Austin — but our picks represent only a sampling of the flowers, trees, and shrubs that thrive in this area.

1. Winecup flower (Callirhoe involucrata)

bright pink petals from winecup flowers, with white and yellow centers
Malcolm Manners | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The winecup flower, also known by its common name, purple poppy mallow, is one of the most common wildflowers in Texas.

As its name suggests, the petals on winecup flowers form the shape of a chalice. They close in the evening and reopen during daylight hours. A telltale sign that a winecup flower has been pollinated is that its flowers remain shut, even after dawn. 

Aside from their vivid purple color, these perennials make good ground cover since they lay low to the ground and have a wide-spreading range. Although drought-tolerant, winecup flowers will go dormant in summer without extra watering. The colorful flowers also draw many visitors to your garden, such as bees and butterflies.

  • Plant type: Ground cover
  • Hardiness zones: 4-8
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Dry to medium
  • Soil: Well-drained, sandy soils
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 6 inches to 1 foot

2. Prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida)

cluster of light purple prairie verbena flowers
mikeumo | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Prairie verbena — with its distinct round, light purple flower clusters — is often found along roadsides and trails. You can find several varieties of verbena sold in nurseries, but prairie verbena is your best bet because it is a native variety.

Since it easily germinates, you can add prairie verbena to your garden with seeds or cuttings.

Like winecup flower, prairie verbena is also drought-tolerant and makes for great ground cover. It can provide food and shelter to a variety of wildlife, such as butterflies, birds, and bees.

  • Plant type: Wildflower
  • Hardiness zones: 5-8
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Most soil types; well-drained soils are essential
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 6 inches to 1 foot 

3. Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)

cluster of spikey-looking bright blue mistflowers
bobistraveling | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The eye-catching blue mistflower is a fast-spreading wildflower. The bulbs bloom into delicate, bluish-purple airy flowers that have a fuzzy appearance. The plant is considered invasive or aggressive, so be selective where you place it in your landscape. Also, to prevent it from sagging, it should be pruned in summer.

Blue mistflower thrives in moist soil rich in organic material, so you will often find it near ponds and lakes. It’s very vulnerable to fungal disease, particularly powdery mildew.

  • Plant type: Wildflower
  • Hardiness zones: 5-10
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Most soil types; moist, fertile soils that are poorly drained are essential
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-1 ½ feet 

4. Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)

clump of ornamental grass little bluestem
Joshua Mayer | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

This ornamental prairie grass is referred to as little bluestem due to the blue hue on the base of the blades. The grass will get tall flowering stalks, and in the fall, the foliage will turn a golden chestnut color. This showy grass complements almost any Austin outdoor space. 

Like other natives, little bluestem is a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plant. It is perfect for Austin’s climate because not only can it withstand heat and dry conditions, but also holds up well to occasional flooding.

It’s recommended that little bluestem be cut back to at least 6 inches in the winter to promote growth in the spring. 

  • Plant type: Ornamental grass
  • Hardiness zones: 3-9
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Most soil types; dry to medium-saturated soils that are well-drained are essential
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 3-4 feet

5. Yuccas (Yucca spp.)

large green and yellow yucca plant
Megan Hansen | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

There are several varieties of yucca, but the local species we recommend include pale-leaf yucca (Y. pallida), soft-leaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia), big bend yucca (Y. rostrata), and twist-leaf yucca (Y. rupicola). Yuccas vary slightly in appearance, maintenance, and size. 

Pale-leaf yucca: Its bluish-green leaves have a waxy appearance.

Soft-leaf yucca: As its name suggests, it has a softer look than other types of yucca with its downward-curving leaves.

Big bend yucca: This tree-like yucca has bluish-green, bell-shaped blooms.

Twist-leaf yucca: The narrow, olive-green leaves twist as they grow.

Part of the agave family, these yuccas tend to adorn clusters of white blossoms during their growing season. Deer love yucca blooms and moths are drawn to the twist-leaf yucca in the evening.

  • Plant type: Succulent
  • Hardiness zones: 4-11
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Low to very low, depending on variety
  • Soil: Varies; well-drained soils are essential
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: About 2 feet

6. Wright’s purple skullcap (Scutellaria wrightii) 

single light purple skullcap flower
Joshua Mayer | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Wright’s purple skullcap is also referred to as shrubby skullcap or bushy skullcap. Part of the mint family, it’s named after the notable botanist Charles Wright. Wright’s purple skullcap can appear shrub-like but with small, violet blossoms. Once Wright’s purple skullcap has bloomed, it can attract pollinators such as bees. 

This shrub is a great choice for sustainable yards because it can withstand drought and heat. Wright’s purple skullcap can spread up to 1 foot, so if you want to keep it compact, cut it back by about one-half of its size.

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 7-9
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Well-drained sand and/or loam
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 6-10 inches

7. Rockrose (Pavonia lasiopetala)

vibrant pink rockrose flowers
David Prasad | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Rockrose can be described as a Texas hibiscus. The deep pink, papery blooms open wide in the morning and close later in the day to keep it protected from the heat. Rockrose can survive in poor-quality soils where other plants can’t, like rock gardens or coastal landscapes.

If rockrose gets too much shade it can develop fungi, such as powdery mildew. Rockrose can grow loosely with open branches, so it’s important to regularly prune it during the winter months. 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 8
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Most soil types under dry to normal conditions
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 3 feet

8. Missouri primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa)

vibrant yellow missouri primrose in a bush
John Powers | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Despite its name, Missouri primrose doesn’t live only in Missouri. The plant is said to originate from the southern and central United States. Missouri primrose has elongated buds that bloom into bright, canary yellow flowers. The plant typically blooms in the evening, so it attracts pollinators like hawk moths.  

Hard freezes can damage Missouri primrose foliage, so it’s best to take precautions during times when temperatures drop below 32 degrees. Damaged leaves can always be cut back to about 3 inches or so. 

  • Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Hardiness zones: 3-7 
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Low 
  • Soil: Rocky to sandy soil and sandy loam; well-drained and dry to medium moisture
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-1 ½ feet

9. Flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii)

orange, tubular flower of a flame acanthus
Earl McGehee | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

This native shrub is commonly referred to by its nickname, “Texas firecracker.” The plant is strewn with reddish-orange, tubular flowers. The beautiful blossoms draw hummingbirds and butterflies to your yard or garden. Like Wright’s purple skullcap, this variety also was named after botanist Charles Wright

Flame acanthus is a medium-sized shrub that can spread up to 4 feet, so it can provide good coverage and act as a short hedge. During cold spells, flame acanthus leaves may brown. If this happens, you should cut back this shrub by ⅓ to ½ before the weather warms. 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 7-10 
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Very low
  • Soil: Many soil types; well-drained soil is essential
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 3-5 feet 

10. Flameleaf sumac (Rhus lanceolata)

bright yellow, orange and red leaves from a sumac plant
Kaarina Dillabough | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

This native shrub is also referred to as prairie leaf sumac and prairie flameleaf sumac. It gets its name due to the fire-like display it puts on in the fall with its impressive scarlet red leaves. However, flameleaf sumac is a sight to see year-round because it presents beautiful white blossoms during warmer months. Flameleaf sumac is also a haven for many animals, like birds, bees, and small mammals.  

This round-shape tree has branches that can spread up to 20 feet. A good way to determine whether a flameleaf sumac is a male or female is by looking at the fruit at the end of its branches. Female flameleaf sumac have a tight, cone-shaped cluster at the end. 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 6-8
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Very low
  • Soil: Most soil types (loam, sand, and clay)
  • Duration: Deciduous
  • Mature height: 12-15 feet

11. Roughleaf dogwood (Cornus drummondii)

Close-up of the leaves and white berries of roughleaf dogwood
Melissa McMasters | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Roughleaf dogwood typically blooms from May to June with clusters of small, white flowers. In the summer, it will bear fruit that attracts birds, which makes it great for a habitat garden. Once the temperature drops, roughleaf dogwood foliage will turn deep red.

Like flameleaf sumac, roughleaf dogwood also can reach 20 feet wide. Shade-loving plants would thrive living under or near the tree. 

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Hardiness zones: 4-9
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Most types of soil; normal to saturated soil conditions are ideal 
  • Duration: Deciduous
  • Mature height: 12-20 feet

12. Lacey oak (Quercus laceyi)

Lacey oak can be found throughout Hill Country and is a staple in Austin and Round Rock landscapes. Lacey oak foliage is a light, dusty orange color during shoulder seasons. Lacey oak leaves will eventually turn dark green with a gray or blue hue in the summer. The lacey oak does not have showy flowers, but it produces plenty of acorns.

Lacey oak was named after Henry Lacey, who first identified and collected it on his property near Kerrville, Texas. These trees are resistant to oak wilt but are particularly susceptible to oak phylloxera insects. These pests appear as light orange blotches on leaves and are related to aphids. These pests can eventually cause browning and leaf loss if not managed. 

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Hardiness zones: 7
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Very low
  • Soil: Rocky soils, particularly with those with limestone
  • Duration: Deciduous
  • Mature height: 30-50 feet

13. Cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia)

Cedar elm can be found throughout North America, but it is becoming increasingly popular in Texas. Other than occasional pruning, it does not require much maintenance. Its flowers are quite small and not particularly showy; however, once the temperature drops, cedar elm foliage turns a pretty golden color.

Cedar elm is quite hearty and can withstand drought, flooding, and poor soil conditions. Even though it can endure extreme conditions, cedar elm can be affected by pests and fungal diseases such as elm beetle, aphid, powdery mildew, and dutch elm disease. 

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Hardiness zones: 6-9
  • Sun: Sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Very low
  • Soil: Most soil types (clay, loam, sand); well-drained soils are essential 
  • Duration: Deciduous
  • Mature height: 50-75 feet

How to choose the best native plants for your Austin garden 

How to choose the best native plants for your Austin yard? Start by looking for species acclimated to the Austin area, which is in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hardiness zone 8.

It also helps to know your soil type, and that can be a challenge in Austin.

Here’s why: The Austin area is divided into three different ecoregions: Edwards Plateau, Blackland Prairie, and Post Oak Savannah. Each ecoregion has a different soil type.

For example, you’ll likely find thin layers of limestone and caliche soils in the Edwards Plateau, whereas the Blackland Prairie soils are rich in clay. If you live in the Post Oak Savannah region, your soil is sandy and loamy.

All three areas are lacking in rich, organic matter, and thin soil layers make it hard for deep root systems to thrive. Luckily, most native plants are used to that. It’s important to know where your home is located so you choose the best native plants for your soil type. 

Why are native plants a smart choice to include in your landscaping? The 13 best native plants we selected can handle the seasonal mood swings that Austin often encounters, so it’s hard to go wrong with any of these for your yard.

Most of our 13 picks also are drought tolerant and can withstand direct sunlight. Most of these plants are also perennials, which means they’ll come back year after year when temperatures rise.

Need a little more inspiration? For more native shrubs, perennials, and trees for your Austin garden, check out the City of Austin’s Grow Green online search tool and Texas A&M University’s online resources. 

If you need help deciding on the best native plants for your yard, contact one of our Austin lawn care professionals to help you incorporate native species into your landscape.

Main Photo Credit: cultivar413 | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

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