9 Best Native Plants for Houston

Gold and green white oak leaves

Houston homeowners can save money, time, and energy on their gardens and landscapes by following one simple strategy: Grow native plants. From Houston’s mighty white oak to its resilient gulf muhly grass, these 9 best native plants for Houston can be a great benefit to your yard. 

So what’s all the fuss about native planting? We’ll show you. Native plants:

  • Are adapted to local soil conditions, allowing them to flourish without fertilizer
  • Are resistant to the area’s diseases and pests, requiring fewer pesticides
  • Protect the environment against excessive chemical use
  • Help gardeners save money on fertilizers and pesticides
  • Are accustomed to local precipitation, which means less irrigation is needed
  • Are a valuable food source for local animals
  • Restore natural habitats
  • Are rarely invasive
  • Are relatively low-maintenance 
  • Encourage biological diversity

So what are our 9 best native plants for Houston area lawns and gardens? Let’s take a look:

1. Shumard red oak (quercus shumardii)

Close-up of shumard red oak leaves
F. D. Richards | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

If you want your landscape to make a statement, plant a Shumard red oak. The Shumard red oak can reach heights 80 to 120 feet tall and is a favorite here in the Lone Star State.

This fast-growing tree produces large acorns every two to four years, treats for hungry deer and squirrels. The Shumard red oak is easily recognizable by its deeply-lobed, bristled, 7-inch long leaves and striking scarlet foliage in autumn. 

The breathtaking oak is also an excellent shade tree, making it the perfect canopy for your shade garden. 

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Hardiness zones: 5-9
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Clay, sand, loam, well-drained
  • Duration: Deciduous perennial 
  • Mature height: 80-120 feet 

2. White oak (quercus alba)

Leave a treasured gift that will last for generations to come. The long-lived white oak lasts between 200 and 300 years, with some living even longer. The valuable wood is often used for crafting furniture and aging whiskey. 

Before planting a young white oak, make sure the tree has plenty of space to grow, and you’ll need to be patient. This tree grows only 1 to 2 feet per year, but a mature white oak can reach up to 100 feet with a canopy spread 80 feet wide. 

Like Shumard red oaks, white oaks make excellent shade trees, bear a food source for animals, and provide a natural habitat. 

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Hardiness zones: 3-9
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Clay, sand, loam, acidic, well-drained
  • Duration: Deciduous perennial
  • Mature height: 100 feet

3. American holly (ilex opaca)

Close-up of red berries on an American holly evergreen plant
NatureServe | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Recognize those dark green leaves and bright red cherries? Yep, the American holly leaves are the same leaves you see decorating windows, wreaths, and mantels at Christmastime. Instead of decorating with plastic American holly branches this year, why not grow a real one in your Houston backyard?

The American holly is a slow-growing evergreen, but you needn’t wait too long for the berries to appear. An American holly grown from seed needs to be 3 to 5 years old to produce berries. Only the female American holly trees grow berries, though, and a male tree needs to be nearby. 

Songbirds will flock to your yard to eat the berries. But don’t take any bites yourself — the berries are poisonous to people and pets. 

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Hardiness zones: 5-9
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Sand, loam, acidic, well-drained. Do not grow in clay. 
  • Duration: Evergreen perennial
  • Mature height: Typically grows under 25 feet tall, but some can reach 50 feet or more

4. Carolina jessamine (gelsemium sempervirens)

Carolina jessamine is a twining vine. It can turn any fence or arbor into a spectacle of cascading, fragrant yellow flowers. This native vine creates an excellent privacy screen, too, blocking any wandering eyes from peaking through the trellis or chain-link fence.

The trumpet-shaped flowers are amongst the earliest bloomers to appear late winter through early spring. But don’t mistake those pretty blossoms for honeysuckles — all parts of the plant are poisonous and should not be consumed. 

  • Plant type: Vine
  • Hardiness zones: 7-10
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Clay, sand, loam, acidic, well-drained
  • Duration: Evergreen perennial
  • Mature height: 10-20 feet

5. Coral honeysuckle (lonicera sempervirens)

Close-up of coral honeysuckle blooms
Paul VanDerWerf | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Also known as trumpet honeysuckle, coral honeysuckle is another eye-catching vine to show off in the landscape. 

Coral pink on the outside and yellow on the inside, the vibrant flowers attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. You’ll even spot some busy birds snatching the ripe berries. The flashy evergreen vine is also a larval habitat for the snowberry clearwing moths and Spring Azure butterflies. 

  • Plant type: Vine
  • Hardiness zones: 4-9
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Clay, sand, loam, slightly acidic, well-drained. It acclimates to many soil types. 
  • Duration: Evergreen perennial
  • Mature height: 15-20 feet

6. Passionflower vine (passiflora incarnata)

The fresh fruit hanging from the passionflower vine can be eaten right off the vine or made into sweet jelly. The yellow fruits are called maypops, and they’re packed with edible pulp (just don’t swallow the seeds). 

This showy vine boasts intricate flowers with delicate, fringed tendrils and large pistils and stamens. The fragrant flowers bloom in summer and are a sight to behold. 

  • Plant type: Vine
  • Hardiness zones: 6-10
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Clay, sand, loam, well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 6-25 feet

7. Gulf muhly (muhlenbergia capillaris)

Gulf muhly, light pink ornamental grass
smallcurio | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Gulf muhly grass is striking. The swaying ornamental grass produces airy pink blooms in fall, giving your landscape a bold pop of color after the summertime blooms end. 

You’ll hardly notice the growing plant, too. The low-maintenance grass tolerates poor soils, pollution, and drought and has little to no pest and disease problems. 

Plant gulf muhly in the masses if you want the pink hues to be a showstopper. The grass makes attractive foliage along the borders of lawns, walkways, and gardens. 

  • Plant type: Ornamental grass
  • Hardiness zones: 5-9
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Low to medium
  • Soil: Clay, sand, loam, rocky, well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-3 feet

8. Black-eyed Susan (rudbeckia hirta)

Give your Houston lawn prairie-cottage vibes with a splash of black-eyed Susans. These daisy-like flowers are sure to add a dose of sunshine to your home with their golden yellow petals and dark cone centers. 

Black-eyed Susans will attract plenty of pollinators to your garden, too. You’ll often see these native wildflowers flourishing in meadows, prairies, and open fields. If these flowers can survive the wild, they’ll be right at home in your low-maintenance garden.

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 3-9 (varies by species)
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Clay, sand, loam, acidic, moist, well-drained
  • Duration: Biennial or short-lived perennial
  • Mature height: 1-3 feet

9. Texas lantana (lantana urticoides)

Close-up of yellow and pink clusters of blooms from a Texas lantana plant
Amy the Nurse | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Is your rock garden looking more like a pile of rocks than a garden? Give it a makeover with drought-tolerant, deer-resistant Texas lantana. 

This spreading shrub has a stunning summertime bloom of tiny, tubular, clustered flowers. The dense clusters vary in color, including reds, oranges, and yellows. As the flowers age, the clusters put on a beautiful multi-colored show. 

Texas lantana can handle many different soil types, but it does need good drainage. Prepare for birds and butterflies to stop by your bright-colored plant. But beware: While the vibrant flowers may look appetizing to pollinators, all parts of the plant are poisonous and should not be consumed. 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 8-11
  • Sun: Full sun 
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Sand, loam, clay, well-drained. Tolerant of many soil conditions. 
  • Duration: Deciduous perennial
  • Mature height: 6 feet

How Native Plants Help Your Houston Garden 

Non-native plants can make gardening a burden. They’re not always accustomed to the local soil conditions and climate, which means they need extra fertilizing and watering. Non-native plants are also more susceptible to the area’s pests and disease, making pest and disease control a headache. 

On the other hand, native plants are right at home in your Houston garden. They’ve adapted to the local soil, climate, and weather conditions, allowing them to flourish without chemicals or excessive watering. 

Native plants are good for your garden’s ecosystem and the environment. They’re good for your wallet, too. 

More Native Plants for Your Garden

If we’ve piqued your interest about native plants for your Houston yard or garden, the Native Plant Society of Texas has a comprehensive list of native plants for the greater Houston area

And remember, whenever you shop around for native (and any other) plants, always make sure they are suitable for Houston’s USDA hardiness zone 9a.

If you need landscaping advice on how to incorporate some of these native plants into your yard, you can always call on a Houston lawn care professional to help. 

Main Photo Credit: Puddin Tain | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

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