Often during lectures I have been asked what my favorite plant is. When you love plants as much as I do, that is a hard choice to make. However, there are a number of plants for the landscape that I would not want to do without. These plants are useful, easy to grow and maintain, and are real winners in our Texas climate.
Liriope is a plant that I would never be without because of how useful it is in the landscape. Sometimes called monkey grass, liriope is a tough, easy-to-grow grass that grows in clumps about a foot tall.
It stays green year-round and has purple flower spikes in early summer. If you want a carefree, almost zero-maintenance plant for borders or hillsides, you cannot go wrong with this plant. It will prevent erosion on hillsides or on any area that water runs off. It is drought-tolerant because it has underground water storage tubers, so very little supplemental watering is needed, even in the worst of summer heat.
Every winter I trim back the leaves just to keep the plant looking its best, but this is not necessary. However, I like to use the trimmings as a mulch around flowers and vegetables. After it dries, it takes on an appearance similar to cut hay, only of a finer texture.
You do not need to buy many of these plants because they will multiply year after year, providing you with as many as you need to outline your flower or vegetable beds or to cover a slope.
Another useful plant that multiplies easily to fill all your needs is cyperus. This is a plant related to papyrus. It has been said that you must grow this plant near water or in a boggy area, but unlike papyrus, cyperus does not need much water.
I often use it in areas too far from the water hose for easy watering. Cyperus grows to about 4 to 5 feet tall, so you can use it as a tall border plant. It gives a tropical look to an area. It is not completely maintenance-free, as you will need to cut it back after the tops die in the winter.
I like to cut the tops up and spread it along with liriope as a mulch ingredient each spring. New shoots will emerge soon and the plants will quickly regrow to their full height. Cyperus can take a lot of shade, making it a great choice for those difficult areas of the landscape.
The answer to the question of what is my favorite plant is rosemary. Rosemary is a great herb for culinary use as well as a great landscape plant.
It comes in a low trailing variety or a large bush about 4 feet tall at maturity. You can trim rosemary into different shapes, such as conical, round or pyramidal. The more you trim it, the more lush and full it gets.
It will grow without the trimming, but the individual stems will become somewhat lanky. Trimming it is a wonderful olfactory experience. The smell is heavenly. Bring some of your trimmings inside to fill your house with its aroma.
Chicken and rosemary cooking in the oven will make your mouth water. You can also put springs of rosemary on the grill in a small tin of water. As it smokes, it will impart its wonderful smell and taste to your barbecue. Try this with chicken or pork to see how you like the flavor.
Rosemary is prone to one pest in the garden — spider mites. Watch for these pests and trim off any leaves which have been invaded. I do not recommend using a pesticide with any plant that you are going to eat, so stick to mechanical removal.
I would never want to do without small flowering trees in my landscape. Most of these are sold as large shrubs or small trees. Even if they are listed as shrubs, these little trees are large enough to provide shade adequate to most areas of the landscape. If they get too tall, they are easily and safely able to be pruned without having to call in a tree-trimming service.
Most of the small flowering trees I list here will lose their leaves in the winter. This is not a disadvantage. Use them by your outdoor area, such as a patio, and you will have shade in the summer and sun to warm you in the winter.
Some of the best easy-care flowering trees are vitex, althea, crepe myrtle and redbud. Most need good drainage and good air circulation but give them that and they are practically maintenance-free. Why have a plain tree when you can have a tree with beautiful flowers? Check out the supply at your local nurseries and buy one or two to add to your landscape this fall.
Oxalis may be a plant that is less familiar to some of you, but you should get to know it. I’m not talking about the common weed, oxalis, with little yellow flowers that is such a pest in the garden.
This is the good oxalis. It comes up from bulbs in the springtime and is just covered with pink flowers so dense it is hard to see the little clover-shaped leaves beneath. Once you have planted this little flower, it will come up year after year. It often volunteers to spread itself around the garden so you end up with several clumps in unexpected places.
Oxalis can be hard to locate, but any good quality nursery should have it. There is a more commonly available purple-leafed variety, but this plant is not as lush and vigorous as the green-leafed variety with pink flowers.
Since it is hard to find, snatch it up the first time you see it. After a few years you will have all you need and can dig up some to share with your grateful neighbors. I have never seen pests or diseases affect this plant.
Remember that the best time to plant is in the fall. It can make the difference between success and failure. I hope you will choose to add a few of these winning plants to your landscape this year. You won’t be sorry you did.