By: Liz Baessler
Blue porterweed is a low growing south Florida native that produces small blue flowers nearly year round and is an excellent choice for attracting pollinators. It’s also great as a groundcover. Keep reading to learn more about using blue porterweed for ground coverage.
Blue porterweed plants (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) are native to south Florida, though they have since ranged throughout most of the state. Since they are only hardy to USDA zone 9b, they have not travelled farther north.
Blue porterweed is often confused with Stachytarpheta urticifolia, a non-native cousin that grows more aggressively and should not be planted. It also grows taller (as high as 5 feet or 1.5 m.) and woodier, which makes it less effective as a groundcover. Blue porterweed, on the other hand, tends to reach 1 to 3 feet (.5 to 1 m.) in height and width.
It grows quickly and spreads out as it grows, making for an excellent groundcover. It is also extremely attractive to pollinators. It produces small, blue to purple flowers. Each individual flower stays open for only one day, but the plant produces such a large number of them that they are very showy and attract plenty of butterflies.
Blue porterweed plants grow best in full sun to partial shade. When they are first planted, they need moist soil but, once established, they can handle drought quite well. They can tolerate salty conditions too.
If you’re planting them as groundcover, space the plants out by 2.5 to 3 feet (1 m.). As they grow, they will spread out and create an attractive continuous bed of flowering shrub. Cut the shrubs back vigorously in late spring to encourage new summer growth. Throughout the year, you can prune them lightly to maintain an even height and attractive shape.
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When you live in an area as hot as Texas, you can expect prolonged periods of heat and drought. Although many parts of the state have just emerged from one of the longest, most severe periods of drought in Texas history, the lack of consistent rainfall is a reality here in Texas for the long-term.
To make things even harder for homeowners, local governments have enacted watering restrictions to conserve this precious resource, so you may only be able to turn on the sprinklers once a week during the summer months. The result, unfortunately, is often brown grass, dying shrubbery and wilting trees. Thankfully, there are many plant species which have adapted to our climate.
Many ornamental plants simply can’t survive in the hotter weather. Choosing the right flowers for your yard can make it look beautiful throughout the year, year after year. Some of the best choices for Texas yards are several types of columbine, Coreopsis, Fall aster, firebush, plumbago, rock rose, several sage varieties and the shrimp plant.
Both red and yellow Columbines do well in the Texas heat. These flowers prefer moist and well-drained soil and can tolerate part shade as well as sunny conditions. Columbines often go dormant during the summer months, when water is scarce. Some hummingbirds flock to these flowers. In late May, trim spent foliage from this species to keep it happy and healthy.
The Lance-leaf Coreopsis has yellow, daisy-like blooms and does well in both sun and part shade. The species is native to east and southeastern parts of Texas and attracts butterflies. The Coreopsis will produce more flowers if you prune the plant of spent blooms.
This native plant with small, delicate purple flowers can tolerate both sun and part shade. As the name suggests, blooms peak during fall months and the plant serves as a nectar source. You’ll want to lightly prune this plant during spring and summer to keep its shape compact.
This plant’s distinctive tube-shaped orange-red flowers attract hummingbirds. The firebrush turns a burgundy color during autumn and needs to be protected in case of severe winter weather. After the first hard freeze, cut back this species to six inches to encourage new spring growth.
This attractive flower, which has either sky blue or white blooms, has light green foliage. Plumbagos do best in morning sun and afternoon shade and can also do well in part shade. Plumbagos attract butterflies and may need to be cut back to about six inches if you experience a hard freeze.
This small native shrub attracts butterflies and rarely blooms after the spring months. Rock rose blooms resemble those of the hibiscus and can be vulnerable to mildew when placed in the shade. You’ll want to cut this flower back by about a third in late winter.
The Cedar, Cherry (or Autumn), Jerusalem, Majestic, Mealy Blue, Mexican Bush, Big Red, Russian, San Luis and Tropical Sage varieties are extremely hardy and withstand the Texas heat with ease. They thrive in full sun and are deer and rabbit-resistant and several types attract hummingbirds to your yard. Most species benefit from being pruned after the year’s first freeze.
This flowering species does best in the morning sun and afternoon shade. Its flowers resemble shrimp, which explains how the plant got its name. Shrimp plants also attract hummingbirds and do best when cut back to six inches in the winter to encourage new growth.
For some, the beauty of a garden includes flowers, shrubs and other plants growing in containers around the patio, deck, porch or garden. The best heat-tolerant container plants are also perennials, so you can include them in your garden by themselves, making it easy to switch between a regular garden plant and a container plant, while also allowing you to have the beauty of flowers all year round, regardless the temperature outside. Some species that do well in Texas are geraniums, hibiscus, lantana, pentas and verbena.
These traditional flowers do well in containers, borders and beds. Geraniums come in many colors and can be planted alongside other flowers in window boxes and large tubs. This species does best in light shade in summer and can grow up to three feet.
Think of a tropical rainforest and the first thing that pops into your head is visions of hibiscus flowers dripping from overhead. Hibiscus plants make fantastic centerpieces in a container garden. They do need higher temperatures to thrive, so if you move them inside during cooler weather, make sure to put them in a greenhouse or bathroom, where they can get enough humidity. When full-grown, hibiscus will need support by tying them to a stake in the dirt.
Luscious orange, yellow, pink or lavender-colored flowers overflowing your containers make the lantana perfect companions for your outdoor activities. In the past, lantanas could get unruly, making them unsuitable for containers, but newer varieties have gotten a handle on the spindly shoots. Lantanas also draw butterflies, adding to the charm of these colorful flowers. Just make sure the dirt in the container doesn’t dry out completely or you’ll find your lantanas wilting from thirst.
Pentas have beautiful flowers which produce nectar that attracts bees, hummingbirds and birds. Pentas can be lavender, red, pink and white and do best in well-drained soil. Usually, you will need to pinch back the plant to promote flowering. Pentas do best in very bright shade.
Over 250 varieties of this flowering plant grow across the warmer climatic zones of the United States. This attractive blooming herb, which thrives in full sun, has been around since the ancient times. Verbena works well in a hanging basket and attracts butterflies.
Heat-resistant container gardens are excellent additions to any outdoor living areas, but they do need to be kept well-watered. They will also need to be brought inside on those rare occasions when the Texas temperatures drop below 45 degrees.
St. Augustine grass is the most common choice for homeowners. It is the most popular grass for lawns and has the appearance of a lush, green carpet in front of your home. There are some drawbacks to it, including being one of the more high-maintenance grasses in Texas. It needs more water than most grasses, which means your beautiful lawn of May will be brown and lifeless by the middle of August.
Zoysia grass is a great alternative to St. Augustine. It has the same lush appearance, but is hardier and more wear-resistant than St. Augustine. Because it grows slowly, it needs less mowing, which is a big plus. As beautiful and hardy as it is, however, it does need to be fertilized as much as once a month and is a bit difficult to maintain, since it does not recover well from damage. It’s best to consult with your lawn care professional to determine if Zoysia grass would work well for your lawn.
The best alternative to St. Augustine and Zoysia grass is Buffalo grass. It’s more rugged than the other grasses, mostly because it is native to Texas and is found throughout the most arid regions of the state. It needs less watering and grows no more than five or six inches, so you can go a few weeks without mowing. It may not win any beauty contests, but it would win “Miss Congeniality” you’ll need to put less work into it to make it look acceptable.
The other two types of grass you’ll see most often in Texas are Bermuda grass and Rye grass. They’re both heat-resistant grasses, much like Buffalo grass. Because of their hardiness, they are often over-sown into lawns with less hardy grasses to make sure the lawns are green throughout the year, regardless of the weather.
Ground cover are plants that grow close to the ground and are excellent for growing under shrubs and bushes, around trees and in the place of grass. Ground cover can be all green or include low-growing flowering plants, depending on how it fits into the rest of your garden plan.
If you’re using ground cover in shady areas, remember most heat-tolerant plants need some shade. Periwinkle, sweet woodruff, hosta and creeping thyme are perfect ground cover for your shaded areas, especially if there’s some morning sun or dappled sun throughout the day.
For the sunny areas of your yard, plants like phlox are perfect ground cover, as they are particularly heat-resistant and work well just about anywhere in your garden.
To give your yard definition, you’ll probably want plants of varying heights. American beautyberry, Japanese aralia, desert broom and rosemary are good choices for Texas lawns and gardens.
This native plant sports purple berries in fall and winter. The American beautyberry works well in your understory, and can be a target of deer and local wildlife. This species does not need pruning and often grows from three to five feet tall and wide.
This large plant that prefers full shade looks like it comes straight from the tropics. Although the Japanese aralia may die back under harsh winter conditions, this species can reach a height of up to 10 feet. During the fall, the aralia produces small cream-colored flowers.
The desert broom may lose leaves during a drought but is very adaptable. This evergreen shrub with white flowers usually grows to be between three and six feet tall. Because the plant can spread so easily, the desert broom is considered invasive in some parts of the country.
Not only is rosemary a versatile herb, but it’s also a great heat-tolerant Texas shrub. With small pale blue flowers part of the year, rosemary can spread quite a bit in your yard and can even serve as a groundcover. This herb attracts bees and needs good drainage to thrive.
Maybe you want a hardy type of shrub that also gives your yard a pop of color. Some flowering shrubs that thrive in Texas that fit the bill are glossy abelia, bottlebrush and germander.
If you are looking for a quick-growing, dense evergreen shrub with nice-smelling flowers, you may want to add the glossy abelia to your landscape. Although this plant’s leaves are quite prickly, the bush can provide a home for birds to nest. You won’t need to prune this plant, which produces red berries alongside pink and white blooms.
Bottlebrush plants are very distinctive, with unusual spiky-red blooms. In addition to being capable of surviving a Texas summer, bottlebrush plants are largely pest and disease-resistant. Bees are attracted to this flowering plant.
The germander stands out with its light colored leaves and light purple flowers. Related to mint and lavender, this herb plant can grow in full sun and part shade, in poor and rocky soil. This low-maintenance, deer-resistant plant can easily be pruned to beautify many parts of your yard.
In recent years, more and more homeowners are considering xeriscaping their yards. What is xeriscaping or desert landscaping? It’s forgoing grass, for the most part, and instead, using native, heat-tolerant plants and ground cover, along with rocks, paving stones and other natural elements. Typical plants used in xeriscaping include mesquite, New Mexico olive and pinyon pine trees for shade. Climbing vines like wisteria, trumpet vine and honeysuckle can be used to add color and attract butterflies, bees and birds to your yard.
Living in Texas is unlike living anywhere else, with its beautiful weather all year round, even if it is a bit hot and steamy in the middle of summer. The best part of living in Texas is that you can have a beautiful yard, lawn, patio and deck, full of flowers and greenery, no matter what time of year it is. ABC Home & Commercial Services has been keeping Texas yards happy and healthy for decades. ABC’s lawn care professionals can help keep your grass cut, your sprinklers working and your landscaping fresh and vibrant. Schedule a service today.