Best drought-tolerant plants in sun and shade for color and flowers in your San Antonio garden landscape

Deep in the heart of Stage 2 water restrictions, homeowners need to be mindful when it comes to choosing new plantings for their yard and garden.

The good news is there are loads of drought-tolerant, water-sipping selections available at local nurseries and big box retailers. The bad news is even the most drought-tolerant plants will need some extra water while getting established – but they’ll still save water in the long run.

Mike Fanick, co-owner of Fanick’s Garden Center on the East Side, suggests using the size of the pot the plant came in as a watering guide.

“If you buy something in a 1-gallon pot, give it 2 gallons of water until it’s established, which means it starts sending out new growth,” he said. “If it came in a 5-gallon pot, give it 10.” Water whenever the soil is dry to a depth of one to two knuckles below the surface.

This might sound like a lot, but you can avoid waste by letting the water sink in slowly so it does not run off.

To find the right selections for what promises to be a long, dry summer, we asked several local experts to recommend the best of four types of perennials: ornamentals, shrubs, small trees and groundcovers. They gave us their picks for plants that do well in full sun and those that can handle some shade.

In addition to Fanick, we talked to David Rodriguez, a horticulturist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service at College Station and Andrew Labay, director of horticulture at the San Antonio Botanical Garden.

Here’s what they told us.



Full sun

Experience: Yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers bloom profusely from spring to early fall. Like most of the ornamentals listed here, esperanza is root hardy, meaning it will die back to the ground in a freeze but will usually regrow with the coming of warm weather. Look for Gold Star esperanza, which has larger blooms and blooms over a longer season, from late spring to late autumn.

Firebush: Its trumpetlike orange-red flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies, and it works well in large containers.

Flame acanthus: Less common, this ornamental blooms from summer to fall, producing slender, reddish-orange blooms that hummingbirds love.

Plumbago: Drifts of cool blue, phloxlike flowers bloom continuously through even the hottest of summers.

Pride of Barbados: A true heat-loving plant produces orange-red blooms edged in gold, and prominent, 6-inch red stamens.

Spicy Jatropha

Spicy Jatropha

Sun to partial shade

American beautyberry: It produces striking, grapelike clusters of purple berries in the fall through early winter. Studies show oils in the leaves work as an insect repellent, and the berries are edible, especially when cooked into a jam, and a favorite of birds and other wildlife.

Spicy jatropha: For a truly tropical look, this native to Cuba and Hispaniola puts out red, funnel-shaped clusters of flowers on an evergreen shrub.

Turk’s cap: This mounding plant’s bright-red flowers, said to resemble a Turkish turban, never open completely, instead forming a loosely closed tube. Does best in full shade.

Possumhaw holly

Possumhaw holly


Full sun

Dwarf burford holly: This evergreen hedge grows well almost anywhere, and in the winter it produces bright red berries that attract birds.

Indian hawthorn: A low-growing, densely mounded evergreen, it produces small pink and white flowers in spring and blue berries in fall.

New Gold Lantern: This low-mounding plant is covered with a profusion of round, deep yellow flowers from spring through the fall. Those flowers are a favorite nectar source for bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. The deep green leaves emit a pungent odor when crushed.

Possumhaw holly: Come winter, this tall evergreen shrub produces bright red berries that provide wonderful color when everything else is boring brown. The berries last well into spring – unless the birds eat them all.

Spring Bouquet viburnum

Spring Bouquet viburnum

Sun to partial shade

Boxwood: A familiar hedge plant, boxwoods are evergreens that can be grown tall, trimmed to any shape or allowed to grow wild.

Nandina: This evergreen shrub is easy to grow, has finely textured foliage and produces attractive red berries. It reproduces via underground rhizomes, so it can become invasive unless controlled.

Pittosporum: Dense, mounding shrub can grow huge unless it’s kept pruned, making it good for filling difficult spaces. Compact varieties are available, as are variegated forms with attractive gray-green and cream leaves.

Spring Bouquet viburnum: In the spring, this less common shrub puts out a dainty, lightly fragrant star-shaped pink and white flowers that attract butterflies. It can be planted as a hedge or allowed to run wild.

Anacacho orchid tree

Anacacho orchid tree

Anderson Landscape and Nursery

Small trees

Full sun

Anacacho orchid tree: In the spring, this tree puts out an abundance of tightly clustered, white or pale-pink, orchidlike blooms that attract hummingbirds. Leaves have a cloven-hoof shape, giving the plant its common name, pata de vaca (cow foot in Spanish).

Ornamental pomegranate: The showy, low-growing version of the fruit tree does not bear fruit. Instead, it produces ruffled, orange-red flowers throughout the summer.

Crape myrtle: Available in a multitude of colors and sizes ranging from 4 feet tall to 25 feet or more. Crape myrtles produce clusters of delicate blooms for up to three months during the summer.

Texas mountain laurel

Texas mountain laurel

Tracy Hobson Lehmann, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Sun to partial shade

Texas mountain laurel: Long a South Texas favorite, mountain laurels are slow growers that produce a profusion of showy, grape Kool-Aid-scented blossoms each spring.

Goldenball leadtree: A multi-trunked tree, it produces golden yellow, sweet-smelling puffball flowers from spring through summer. The flaky, cinnamon-colored bark and the airy foliage have their own attractiveness.

American smoke tree: This is an upright tree with a short trunk and open, spreading branches. Come spring, this tree produces loose clusters of red-to-purplish flowers that resemble puffs of smoke. In the fall, the bluish-green foliage turns red and orange.

Beautiful summer flower, Close-up of pink flowering plant.

Beautiful summer flower, Close-up of pink flowering plant.

owngarden, Contributor / Getty Images


Full sun

Pink Oxalis: An old-fashioned plant that needs little attention. Grows only about 1-inch in height and blooms in pretty pink clusters from the spring through the fall.

Spreading rosemary: The foliage has an interesting texture and the plants spread to cover at least 2 feet in diameter. They only grow to about 1 foot deep and do not require any mowing or pruning. The planting bed can be dry, but it needs to be well drained.

A honeybee makes its way over Texas frogfruit in Lauren Simpson's front yard on Wednesday, Sept.  5, 2018 in Houston.

A honeybee makes its way over Texas frogfruit in Lauren Simpson’s front yard on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018 in Houston.

Elizabeth Conley, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Sun to partial shade

Berkeley sedge: This grasslike ground cover grows in 1-foot-high clumps, its long, delicate leaves creating an eye-catching look. Great for planting along pathways and on slopes.

Dwarf Ruellia: Also called dwarf Mexican petunia, pointed leaves radiate off a central area to form plants about 14 inches around and 12 inches tall. It also has blooms that attract the pollinators such as butterflies and hummingbirds. Blue or pink flowers are most common, but there is also white. The more sun it gets the more it blooms.

Frogfruit: Can be used to replace turf grass in all but the most high-trafficked areas. It spreads vigorously and in the early summer through fall, it has stalks with clusters of small white flowers that attract butterflies and other pollinators.

Japanese spurge: This forms a dense carpet of leathery, dark-green leaves 6 inches thick that easily controlled. Unlike other groundcovers, this requires total shade; almost any sun will turn the glossy green foliage yellow. It produces small white blooms on spikes in the spring. | Twitter: @RichardMarini

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