By Susan Albert
Being ecologically responsible involves not only how we conserve energy and water inside the home but also how we extend this into the landscape. As gardeners in Oklahoma and Texas, we can reduce our environmental footprint by the types of plants we choose and how we take care of them.
One of the simplest ways to make a big impact outside is to grow native plants that are well adapted to the environment. Native plants function as habitat for wildlife and sustain our pollinators. Because they are acclimated to our growing conditions, they also require less water, fertilizer, and pesticide. Excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has long been an environmental concern.
Here is a sampling of native plants suitable for South Central gardens. You can find many of these selections at Lowe’s during the gardening season.
Trees improve air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and releasing oxygen. Deciduous trees block sunlight from the house in the summer, helping to cool it. In the winter, when leaves have dropped, sun can reach the home, helping to warm it. Evergreen trees can buffer wind speed, reducing loss of heat from homes.
- Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) — Shade tree with deciduous needles reaches 50 to 70 feet by 25 feet; full sun, various soils. Zones 4–10.
- Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), pictured — Showy ornamental, with white bracts in early spring, grows 15 to 30 feet tall and wide; full sun to part shade, average soils. Zones 5–9.
- Sothern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) — Broadleaf evergreen with creamy, white flowers grows 60 to 80 feet by 40 feet; full to part shade, various soils. Zones 6–10.
- Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica) — Heat- and drought-tolerant evergreen grows 40 to 50 feet by 25 feet; full sun, various soils. Zones 7–9.
- Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) — Drought-tolerant shade tree, featuring large seed pods, grows 60 to 70 feet tall; full sun, various soils. Zones 3–8.
- Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) — This multi-branched, flowering, drought-tolerant tree reaches 15 to 25 feet tall; thrives in full sun in well-drained soils. Zones 7–9.
- Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), pictured — Large, columnar trunk with pale-green needles reaches 60 to 90 feet by 25 feet; full sun, various soils. Zones 6–9.
- Shumard red oak (Quercus shumardii) — Drought-tolerant oak with colorful fall foliage grows 40 to 60 feet tall; full sun, various soils. Zones 5–9.
Shrubs placed around the outside of the home can have the same energy-saving effect as trees. They also provide shelter and food for wildlife such as songbirds, butterflies, and honeybees.
- Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) — White bottlebrush blooms adorn the shrub in early spring. Plant in sun to part sun in moist, acid soil. Vibrant fall color. Zones 5–9.
- Sweetspire (Itea spp.), pictured — White bloom spikes cover this shrub in spring, in sun or shade. Cultivated Itea grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Good fall color. Zones 5–9.
- Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) — White flowers bloom spring to summer, fading to pink. Leaves resemble oak tree leaves. Good fall color. Zones 5–9.
- Deciduous holly (Ilex decidua) — Plant male and female cultivars to get red berries in fall. Thrives in full or part sun in poorly- to well-drained soil. Zones 5–9.
- Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) — White to pink flowers emerge in spring on shrubs ranging from 5 to 10 feet tall. Several cultivars available, including ‘Diabolo’, ‘Center Glow’, and ‘Little Devil’. Zones 2–8.
- ‘Color Guard’ yucca (Y. filamentosa ‘Color Guard’), pictured — Flower stalks rise in late spring. Variegated leaves are drought tolerant. Zones 4–10.
- Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)— Flowing, 3- to 5-foot stems bloom in midsummer, then produce clusters of magenta or white berries in fall. Zones 5–8.
Native perennials often provide seeds and/or pollen and nectar for wildlife.
- Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) — Pink, drooping flowers bloom in summer on plants 30 inches high; sun to medium shade. Zones 3–9.
- Rose Turtlehead (Chelone oblique), pictured — Rose-pink flowers form in fall on plants 2 to 3 feet tall; sun to medium shade. Zones 5–8.
- Large-flowered coreopsis (Coreopsis grandiflora) — Yellow flowers bloom in June on plants 12–18 inches tall; sun to light shade. Zones 4–9.
- Liatris spp. — Tall, purple spikes bloom midsummer on plants 18–48 inches tall; full sun. Zones 3–8.
- Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’), pictured — Golden sprays brighten the fall garden on plants 2 to 3 feet tall; sun to light shade. Zones 4–8.
- Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) — Coral-color, trumpet-shape flowers bloom from spring to frost on heavy vine; sun to light shade. Hummingbird favorite. Zones 4–10a.
- Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) — Bright-orange clusters bloom off and on all summer on this rounded shrub up to 3 feet tall; sun to light shade. Zones 3–9.
- Aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolius), pictured — Small lavender daisies bloom profusely during the fall on 3-foot stems; sun to part sun. Zones 4–7.
Be kind to Earth. Follow the lead of our 10 regional gardening contributors and leave a smaller environmental footprint.Learn More