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A shrub for all seasons

No watering, no trimming, and evergreen. That’s why cenizo is the premier plant for a low-maintenance landscape.

Texas sage, aka barometer bush or cenizo, is a stalwart in the Texas landscape. And after last week’s rains, it’s blooming its head off around town.

In fact, with the right combination of summer temperatures and humidity, it can cover lawns, hillsides and valleys all the way from Laredo to the Pecos River with cheery pom-poms of pink-purple flowers. And it does this with no help at all from sprinkler irrigation!

Thanks to the S.M. Tracy Herbarium I always knew this plant as cenizo, which is Spanish for “ash-colored,” a reference to the silvery evergreen leaves. Cenizo makes a drought-hardy native specimen and a great substitute for overused big box shrubs like xylosma, pittosporum and photinia that have struggled in recent winters.

It’s water-saver credentials are impeccable. In fact, once established it doesn’t like “wet feet” or wet roots. Pair it with mountain laurels, a yucca and a scattering of bluebonnets and you’ve got an instant drought-hardy landscape worthy of a Texas patriot.

Since it became available commercially, cenizo has been used a lot in San Antonio, so we tend to take it for granted. For a plant that grows on its own into a perfectly rotund evergreen meatball in full sun, it’s surprising how mercilessly yardmen hedge it into cubes — usually because they’re either planted in deep shade or too close together.

FYI: In a 200-square-foot WaterSaver coupon, a single cenizo can fill 16- to 25-square feet! Fortunately, leggy plants can be cut back and restarted to regain their form in a single season.

But over-pruning doesn’t detract from cenizo’s essential advantages. Many varieties are available in a range of sizes and leaf and flower colors, from ‘Compacta’ to ‘Green Cloud.’ ‘Lynn’s Legacy’ is a Texas Superstar: fairly compact with green-leaves (rather than silver) and much more frequent blooms during the hot season.

Enjoy all the varieties of Texas sage or cenizo — truly the No. 1 shrub of South Texas.

Brad Wier
Brad Wier
Brad Wier is a SAWS conservation planner. Years in South Texas landscaping and public horticulture gave him a lasting enthusiasm for native plants that don’t die when sprinklers -- and gardeners -- break down. He’d rather save time and water for kayaking and tubing. He is a former kilt model, and hears hummingbirds.
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