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Fa la la flora

Most plants are dormant in winter. But there are a few that will make your landscape a yuletide treasure.

From holly and mistletoe to poinsettias and Christmas trees, plants have always played a part in celebrating winter holidays.

In the garden, winter can be overlooked because most plants are dormant. But there are a few plants that will add cheer to an otherwise sleepy landscape.

Deciduous holly or possumhaw puts on quite a show during the holiday season. Cheerful red berries borne along bare stems add a flash of color to South Texas winter landscapes and provides a much-needed meal for wildlife. Also consider its cousin, evergreen yaupon holly.

Possumhaw leaves and fruit.

Spice up your Christmas tamales with a native subshrub that may be in your yard right now — chili pequin (Capsicum annuum). Often mistaken for a weed, this spicy petite pepper can be enjoyed until the first frost. It looks great in a formal landscape when planted en masse. With little white, star-shaped flowers and red and green peppers that resemble Christmas lights, this plant couldn’t look more Christmassy if it were wearing an ugly sweater!

Red and green aren’t the only holiday colors. For Jewish Americans, Hannukah is celebrated with blue and white. Salvia ballotiflora lights up any garden with small blue and white flowers. Trim it back in February to produce a more tidy, full form. Its bloom time is spring and summer, but miraculously this medium shrub reblooms just in time for the festival of lights.

Shrubby blue sage leaves and flowers.

Scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea) is a hardworking hummingbird favorite that blooms year-round. A hard freeze will slow it down, but it’ll bounce back in spring. Pair it with frostweed in a dry shady spot to provide a pollinator buffet. When winter temperatures dip below freezing, frostweed (Verbesina virginica) puts on a dazzling display with delicate ribbons of ice that burst from the base of the stem.

frostweed bud closeup

A reliable December bloomer that’s often overlooked in the nursery trade is pink thoroughwort (Fleischmannia incarnata). Its fuzzy white blooms resemble falling snowflakes.

Using evergreen plants to decorate in winter is a practice that dates back thousands of years, and they’re a reminder that warmer times are ahead.

Not sure what to choose? Here’s our list of lovely native Texas evergreens to choose from.

Kevin Pride
Kevin Pride
Kevin is a SAWS Conservation Field Investigator and a self-proclaimed nature boy. He has a background in restoration ecology and is zealous about native plant landscapes that use zero irrigation. Kevin spends his free time deep underground surveying caves or hiking barefoot with his daughter, Daisy, and their dog.
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