Top Five Texas Natives for Easy Container Gardening

by Katie Kuchta on January 31, 2018 in Lifestyle, Home,
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Planning a Move to Texas This Year, or Thinking of Expanding Your Existing or New Garden?

Container gardening is an exceptional choice for both veteran gardeners and beginners, adapting perfectly to the diverse climates and urban settings of Texas. Whether residing in a compact downtown apartment or a suburban home with ample patio space, container gardens offer a versatile gardening solution that brings nature closer to home.

Why Choose Container Gardening?

Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

Container gardening offers a myriad of advantages, making it an increasingly popular choice among gardeners, especially in urban settings or areas with less-than-ideal soil conditions. In Texas, where the landscape and climate vary dramatically from the arid west to the humid east, container gardening provides a versatile and practical solution for nurturing a diverse range of plant life.

One of the primary reasons to choose container gardening is the unparalleled control it offers over the growing environment. Soil type, moisture level, and nutrient content can all be customized according to the specific needs of each plant. This is particularly beneficial for growing native Texas plants and other native species that may require a specific type of soil or drainage conditions that are hard to achieve in the ground. Containers can be filled with the perfect soil mix, enhancing the health and growth of these plants.

For city dwellers in places like Houston and San Antonio, container gardening is a great way to make the most of limited outdoor spaces. Balconies, rooftops, and small patios can all be transformed into lush gardens filled with favorite plants. Containers can range from hanging baskets and traditional pots to more creative receptacles like old barrels or custom-made planter boxes, turning a small space into a vibrant garden oasis.

Another significant advantage is the mobility of container gardens. Containers can be relocated to optimize plant health — moved into the shade during the scorching summer months or brought indoors during unexpected cold snaps. This mobility is essential in Texas, where weather can change quickly and drastically. It allows gardeners to protect delicate plants like those with tender yellow flowers or to highlight seasonal stars, making them the focal point of a balcony or garden setting.

Moreover, container gardening opens up the possibility of growing a variety of plants that might not otherwise thrive in a particular region. Exotic plants or non-native species that require specific conditions can flourish in a controlled container environment. Additionally, seasonal gardening becomes simpler. Gardeners can swap out plants to suit the season or experiment with new types without the commitment of planting them in the ground.

In essence, container gardening not only adapts well to the challenges of Texas gardening but also enhances the aesthetic appeal of any space. It allows individuals to personalize their environment, bringing natural beauty into even the most confined spaces. Whether it’s native plants that attract local wildlife or exotic varieties that add a splash of color, container gardens provide a flexible and satisfying way to connect with nature.


Choosing the Right Containers

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

Choosing the right containers for your gardening project is not just a matter of aesthetics; it’s a crucial decision that affects the health and growth of your plants. A good container should match the specific growth requirements of each plant, including size, drainage, and material, which can influence soil temperature and moisture retention.

Material Matters: The material of the container can have a significant impact on the plant’s health. Clay or terracotta pots are porous and allow roots to breathe, which helps prevent root rot by allowing excess moisture to escape. However, they can dry out quickly, especially in Texas’s hot climate. Plastic and resin containers retain moisture better and are lighter and easier to move but may not provide the same breathability. Wooden containers offer a natural look and moderate moisture retention but can decay over time. Metal pots can get very hot, potentially harming the root system, so they’re better suited for plants that prefer warmer conditions.

Size and Stability: The size of the pot is critical, especially for plants that grow quickly or have large root systems. A container that is too small can restrict growth and cause the plant to become top-heavy, making it prone to tipping over. On the other hand, oversized containers hold more soil than necessary, which can lead to waterlogging issues if not managed correctly. For plants like dwarf citrus trees or large ornamentals, choose sturdy, large pots that provide enough depth and width for root development. These containers should also offer stability to withstand Texas’s sometimes strong winds without toppling over.

Drainage Is Key: Regardless of the type of container you choose, ensure it has adequate drainage holes. Good drainage is essential to prevent excess water from pooling at the bottom of the container, which can cause roots to rot and lead to plant disease. If a container doesn’t have holes, you can drill them yourself, or consider double potting — placing a smaller, holed container within a larger, decorative one without holes. Additionally, consider layering the bottom of the container with gravel or similar materials to improve water flow, though this method should not replace having proper drainage holes.

By carefully selecting the right containers for your garden, you can greatly improve the overall health and longevity of your plants. Consider each plant’s specific needs regarding moisture, heat, and space for roots, and choose materials that will best complement these requirements while fitting into the aesthetic of your garden or patio.

Ideal Texas Container Plants

  1. 1. Texas Lantana

Lantana thrives in containers because it allows for excellent drainage, crucial for this drought-tolerant plant. Lantana produces clusters of vibrant flowers that can range from yellow to pink, red, and orange, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. It’s a low-maintenance plant ideal for Texas’s full sun and heat.

Scientific name: Lantana urticoides. Sunlight: Full. Moisture level: Dry. Bloom time: Spring, Summer, Winter. Height: 3 ft. Coloring: Red, orange and yellow. Attracts: Butterflies
  1. 2. Wild Mint

Wild mint is a great choice for a container garden because it tends to spread aggressively if not controlled. It is very attractive to honeybees, and also produces a nice aroma. It can be harvested and used in teas, herbal remedies, and other recipes as well.

Scientific name: Mentha arvensis. Sunlight: Partial. Moisture level: Wet. Bloom time: July – September. Height: 2 ft. Width: 1 ft. Coloring: White, purple. Attracts: Bees
  1. 3. Scarlet Star 

This unique plant requires some investment of time, but it proves to be entirely worth it when it flowers. Bromeliads take a few years to produce a bloom, but when they do, their vivacious colors are sure to wow you for months. This plant is primarily found in Mexico but extends as north as southern Texas. Since it prefers warmer weather, it’s optimal for container planting. This way, if the weather cools as it may in parts of Texas, it can be brought indoors.

Scientific name: Guzmania lingulata. Sunlight: Partial – Shade. Moisture level: Dry – Average. Height: 1-2 ft. Width: 1-2 ft. Appearance: Vibrant red with a white center
  1. 4. Zonal geranium

This plant is well-known by gardeners for its versatility and stunning appearance. It can tolerate a wide variety of soils, pollution, and sun conditions. Take cuttings inside to decorate the house, or leave it untouched outdoors as a marvelous addition to your container garden. In fact, it is frequently used as filler between larger plants in containers.

Scientific name: Pelargonium-hortorum. Sunlight: Full – Partial. Moisture level: Average. Height: 18 in. Width: 24 in. Appearance: Red, purple, pink, orange, white. Leaf type: Evergreen. Attracts: Birds and butterflies
  1. 5. Rough Century

 Although agave occasionally will produce yellow flowers, this native Texas plant is prized more for its dormant appeal than for how it looks in bloom. Agave is a great ornamental plant, especially in southeast Texas, and loves hot, dry weather. It is chosen by many gardeners for its laidback, low-maintenance appeal and edgy appearance. Furthermore, agave syrup can be used as an alternative to sugar in cooking.

Scientific name: Agave asperrima. Sunlight: Full. Moisture level: Dry. Coloring: blooms bright yellow flowers, rarely. Height: 3-4 ft. Width: 4-5 ft. Leaf color: Blue-gray

Additional Container Plants

Bougainvillea: Known for its stunning flower-like spring leaves around tiny flowers, Bougainvillea is perfect for containers as it can be pruned and shaped to remain manageable and beautiful. It thrives in full sun and well-drained soil, making it a standout in any sunny spot.

Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens): Texas Sage is well-suited to containers, which help control its size and maintain the well-drained conditions it prefers. It blossoms with lovely purple flowers after rain, adding a splash of color to drought-prone gardens.

Pentas: Ideal for containers because they can be placed in strategic locations to attract wildlife, Pentas bloom with star-shaped flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. They thrive in heat and can handle direct sunlight, making them perfect for Texas summers.

Succulents (Various species): Succulents are ideal for container gardening as they require little maintenance and minimal water. Their varied textures and forms add interest and beauty to arrangements, thriving in the arid Texas climate.

Oleander (Nerium oleander): Oleander is well-suited to containers which restrict its rapid growth and allow for easier management of its toxic properties. It blooms with beautiful flowers and can be a dramatic addition to any space, thriving in full sun.

Portulaca (Moss rose): This low-growing plant loves the heat and is ideal for containers where its soil moisture and nutrients can be closely controlled. Portulaca blooms in a variety of bright colors, making it perfect for adding vibrant ground cover or cascading floral displays.

Hibiscus: The large, showy flowers of the Hibiscus are perfect for container gardening, where they can be a central feature. Hibiscus plants require consistent moisture and benefit from the excellent drainage that containers provide.

Marigolds: These bright and cheerful plants are great for containers, offering easy pest control and vibrant color. They thrive with plenty of sun and can be placed to enhance the visual appeal of any gardening space.

Zinnias: Zinnias are perfect for containers due to their varied sizes and colors, and they thrive in well-drained soil. Their ability to bloom heavily throughout the season makes them a continuous source of beauty.

Jalapeño Peppers: Growing Jalapeño Peppers in containers allows for optimal soil conditions and easier pest management. They love the heat and are perfect for sunny spots on patios or balconies where they can be regularly harvested.

Herbs (Basil, Thyme, Rosemary, Sage): Herbs thrive in containers as they can be moved to get the ideal amount of sunlight and are kept at a convenient height for regular harvesting. Container gardening also prevents herbs from spreading too widely.

Salvia: This drought-resistant plant is ideal for Texas container gardening as it can handle full sun and prefers well-draining soil. Its spikes of vibrant flowers are excellent for attracting bees and butterflies.

Dwarf Citrus Trees: Container gardening allows for better control over the soil and nutrients essential for the health of Dwarf Citrus Trees. They can also be moved indoors during cooler weather, protecting them from frost.

Lavender: Lavender thrives in containers because it requires well-drained, alkaline soil and full sun, conditions that are easier to maintain in a controlled container environment. Its fragrant flowers and foliage make it a popular choice.

Tomatoes: Growing tomatoes in containers allows gardeners to manage soil quality and moisture more effectively. Containers also make it easier to protect the plants from pests and diseases.

Coleus: Known for its vibrant foliage, Coleus is ideal for shaded or partly shaded container gardens. It’s an excellent choice for adding color without blooms and can be easily controlled and maintained in a pot.

Sweet Potato Vine: This fast-growing vine is perfect for containers where its vigorous growth can be contained and its foliage can cascade beautifully over the sides.

Ornamental Peppers: These plants are well-suited to container life where their colorful peppers can be shown off. They prefer full sun and can be a stunning addition to any sunny spot.

Begonias: Ideal for container gardening, Begonias thrive in part shade and can bring a bright splash of color to shaded areas of a patio or garden.

Ferns: Ferns are great for containers in shady locations. They add lush, green texture and thrive in the controlled soil environment of a container.

Impatiens: These plants are suited for container gardens in shaded areas where their colorful blooms can brighten up dark corners.

Echinacea (Coneflower): Echinacea grows well in containers, where its soil conditions can be carefully managed. It’s resilient, drought-tolerant, and attracts pollinators with its vibrant flowers.


Seasonal Care and Maintenance Tips

Seasonal care and maintenance of container gardens are crucial to ensuring your plants thrive throughout the year, each season demanding specific strategies tailored to the needs of various plants, from early bloomers to heat-lovers and autumn beauties.

Early Spring: This period is a pivotal time for starting your container garden. It’s the perfect moment to plant early bloomers and establish foliage plants, which will mature and flourish by summer. For those living in urban settings, utilizing large planters can allow for the cultivation of a mini-orchard, including small trees or decorative pots of leafy greens. The cooler weather of early spring is ideal for plants that might need help with the transition to the harsher heat of summer, such as purple fountain grass or prickly pear, both of which start their growth cycle in moderate temperatures.

Summer: As the temperatures climb, maintaining hydration becomes critical. Mulching is essential in this season to help retain moisture in the soil, reducing water loss to evaporation under the extreme heat, particularly in areas like Houston. Container gardens allow for the strategic placement of plants needing more protection from the sun, such as those requiring light shade or part sun, which can be easily moved to optimal locations. Plants like Texas rock rose and false aloe, known for their ability to handle southern Texas’s warm weather, are good candidates for summer displays.

Late Spring to Autumn: This transition period is when you should introduce plants capable of handling cooler temperatures and those that add visual interest during the colder months. American Beautyberry and Autumn Sage are excellent choices, providing colorful blooms and attracting wildlife, which adds dynamic life to your garden. Container gardening makes it easy to switch out plants as the seasons change, so incorporating varieties that offer bright color and interesting textures—such as purple blooms or silvery foliage—can keep your garden vibrant as the weather cools.

In preparation for Late Winter and the colder months, consider plants that are known to bloom during these times or have visually striking seed heads and foliage that provide year-round interest. For example, large seed heads from plants like false aloe or decorative grasses can stand out beautifully against a snowy backdrop, especially in larger containers that provide sufficient soil to protect plant’s roots from cold winters. Additionally, the flexibility of container gardening allows for bringing sensitive species indoors or under cover, protecting them from frost and maintaining continuous growth through less favorable conditions.

Finally, gardeners should not overlook the benefits of container gardening for growing culinary herbs and other edibles. Fresh herbs like basil, thyme, and rosemary can be grown in smaller pots or hanging baskets, which are easy to manage and provide accessibility for regular harvesting. This approach not only enhances the flavor of home-cooked meals but also adds a fragrant and aesthetic element to home gardens, proving that container gardening is indeed a versatile and effective method for cultivating a diverse array of botanicals in any Texas environment.


Addressing Gardening Challenges in Texas

Environmental Adaptations: Gardeners in Texas must contend with high heat, sudden temperature drops, and potential drought conditions. Choosing drought-tolerant plants and using containers that can be moved to optimize exposure to sunlight and provide shelter from cold is essential.

Soil and Water Management: Ensuring that your containers have well-draining soil is crucial to prevent root rot. Regularly check moisture levels to maintain optimal hydration without overwatering.

Container gardening is a uniquely rewarding way to cultivate a personal oasis, especially in a state as diverse as Texas. It’s a method that beautifully accommodates both the avid gardener and the beginner, offering a platform to experiment with an array of plants from decorative pots of succulents to large, lush palms. Whether you’re in the heart of an urban environment or on the outskirts of town, container gardening enables you to tailor your green space to fit both personal taste and the specific environmental conditions of your locale.

The flexibility of container gardening means that anyone, regardless of the size of their living space, can enjoy the pleasures of gardening. Small trees can thrive in bigger pots, low growing herbs can spread in shallow trays, and vibrant flowers like white blooms or those with heart-shaped leaves can take center stage in hanging baskets. For urban dwellers, the adaptability of containers makes gardening possible in even the smallest of spaces, allowing for the creation of lush vertical gardens or compact balcony retreats filled with a variety of plants, each selected for their adaptability to partial shade or the harsh afternoon sun of Houston summers.

Moreover, the practical benefits of container gardening in Texas are numerous. Containers allow for greater control over garden soil, making them a good choice for areas with sandy soils or for plants that require a specific type of soil mix. The ability to move pots around means that gardeners can protect sensitive plants from extreme weather, such as the warmer weather that dominates southern regions or the occasional frost in the north. Large seed heads, taller plants, and even those requiring little water can all find their ideal conditions within the confines of the best container chosen for their needs.

Container gardening stands out as a great choice for enhancing your living environment, offering both aesthetic beauty and practical advantages. It’s good news for those looking to add greenery to their lives without the commitment of traditional gardening. With the right container, from plastic pots for moisture retention to decorative clay for a natural look, and the right plant choices, anyone can create a vibrant garden that thrives year-round, bringing nature closer to home, regardless of where you might be in Texas.

Katie Kuchta is a gardening guru, outdoor living expert, and self-proclaimed foodie. She can often be found cooking in the kitchen or on the hunt for the best tacos; follow her on Instagram @atxtacoqueen. All native plant information provided by LawnStarter.