Tips for landscaping in the shade in West Texas

Alison Watkins
| Special to the San Angelo Standard Times

The summer heat is scorching, and those with large shade trees in the landscape are surely enjoying the cover that the canopies provide, reducing electricity bills and helping to keep the home and yard cooler. But landscaping in the shade can be challenging – turfgrass does not grow well in shade, and there are many popular landscape plants that need full sun to thrive and bloom.

Some of the particularly difficult spots include the north side of the home, the center of large live oak trees, or narrow sides of the yard between a tall fence and the home. In these cases, it’s best to choose plants that are particularly well-adapted to shady conditions and avoid turfgrass. Live oaks have thick canopies, and often the lawn thins out or goes bare around the trunk of large live oaks—even shade tolerant St. Augustine grass. Consider whether it could be feasible to create a bed around the trunk with a groundcover like Asian jasmine or mondo grass.

It’s important to use drought-tolerant, well-adapted plants in the landscape to reduce the need for water, fertilizer and pesticides and to have healthy, thriving plants with less effort. But as wonderful as shade is, most native, well-adapted plants to West Texas do best in full sun. Many of the plants that love shade will need acidic soil and lots of moisture to grow well. So finding tough plants that don’t need a lot of water can be especially hard for shady yards in West Texas.

Small ornamental trees and large shrubs that can handle part shade include redbud, Mexican buckeye, rough leaf dogwood, American beautyberry, althea, oakleaf hydrangea, glossy abelia, nandina, possumhaw holly, and yaupon holly. Mexican buckeye blooms attractive pink flowers in the spring, while yaupon and possumhaw holly have bright berries in the fall. Rough leaf dogwood and oakleaf hydrangea prefer the eastern half of the state but can be grown here in well-prepared, deep soil.

Flowering perennials that will grow and bloom in the shade include Texas gold columbine, lyre leaf sage, autumn sage, mealy cup sage, and turk’s cap. And a couple of interesting foliage plants to try would be leopard plant and inland sea oats.

To have the best success with landscaping in the challenging West Texas climate, prepare soil with compost before planting, utilize drip irrigation and finish off with a three- to four-inch deep layer of wood mulch. Water anything newly planted frequently at first, but gradually train plants to go longer between thorough waterings to help train deeper roots that can survive heat and drought.

Allison Watkins is the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agent for horticulture in Tom Green County. Contact her at

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