As the second largest state in the union, Texas encapsulates a diverse range of terrains. From balmy beaches to dry, desert landscapes.
In residential areas, the most prominent, natural features are large, shady Oak trees. Given how hot it can get in Texas, these are welcome sites.
For home gardeners and landscape designers, shaded areas can present a challenge. What plants will grow in the shade? Not to mention the summer heat?
Enjoy scrolling through the below list of beautiful and low-maintenance plants that grow well in the shade in Texas.
11 Types of Shade Plants for Texas Climates
When considering plants for your Texan shade garden, only those that prefer limited light and warm climates should be on your list.
Since long periods of dry weather are common here, watering needs will also dictate their inclusion.
These are excellent, low-maintenance choices for plants that grow well in shade in Texas. Foliage with different colours and shapes remains green year-round, leaving you with little to no autumn clean-up.
Some of the easiest shade-loving bloomers are smaller and have more complex flowers and leaves. These have the ability to add delightful interest to your beds and borders when interspersed between larger shrubs.
11 Varieties of Shade Plants for Texas
Shade plants are anything but bland and featureless. In fact, Texas shade plants need a means of reproducing themselves and that means flowers that are just as beautiful as their sun-loving counterparts. Let’s take a look at 11 examples that offer just that.
Large, undulating leaves sprout in a clumping formation with deep veining. Colour and variegation differ on cultivars that range in size from 1 ft to 6ft tall and wide.
In summer, white or lavender, bell-shaped blooms emerge that persist through early fall.
- Ideal Position: Solid green varieties prefer full shade. Variegated types need partial sun.
- Difficulty: Hardy Hostas will need extra water in hot weather.
- Toxicity: While safe around humans, Hostas are toxic to pets.
- Natural environment: Native to moist woodlands, stream banks and rivers.
- Level of required care: Hostas in full shade thrive with at least an inch of water per week. Those in partial sun will need 1-2” per week.
One 10-10-10 fertilizer dose, in spring, will increase tolerance for warm, Texas summers.
2) Coral Bells (Heuchera americana)
Coral bells offer quaint, low-growing foliage and eye-catching, peachy-pink blooms that rarely surpass 18” tall by 36” wide. Their shallow roots are perfect for nestling around the roots of large shade trees.
- Ideal Position: Coral Bells will thrive and bloom in dappled sunlight beneath shade trees.
- Difficulty: Coral bells are low-maintenance and aren’t prone to pest infestations.
- Toxicity: Coral Bells are non-toxic and safe to have around pets and people.
- Natural environment: Indigenous to acidic, shaded areas in rocky forests and rock outcrops.
- Level of required care: In Texas, Coral bells perform best in partial shade and well-drained, moist, slightly acidic soil.
Established specimens are more drought-tolerant than young ones. Water these daily after planting and offer 5-10-5 NPK to promote increased blooming.
In Texas, these lush, shade plants produce mounded bouquets of white, pink, purple and indigo florets amid ovate, vivid green leaves. Different cultivars present mature sizes ranging from 2-6 ft tall and wide.
- Ideal Position: Morning sun and afternoon shade.
- Difficulty: Hydrangeas can wilt and be slow to bloom in too much sun. In shade, these develop strong stems and branches that can easily support their famously large flower heads.
- Toxicity: All parts of a Hydrangea are toxic when consumed.
- Natural environment: Wooded areas, rocky slopes and moist stream banks with fertile, acidic soil.
- Level of required care: 1” of water at each application, in spring and fall. 2”, in summer. Fertile and well-draining soil should be amended with a well-balanced NPK fertilizer that is suitable for acid-loving plants.
Caladiums come in kaleidoscope combinations of red, pink, green, and/or white. These gorgeous Butterfly-like leaves grow on long, thin petioles that rise up directly from the soil, allowing each one to seemingly float in mid-air.
- Ideal Position: Delicate leaves prefer partial to full shade to prevent leaf scorch.
- Difficulty: These are easy to grow in humid, Texas shade gardens.
- Toxicity: Contains calcium oxalate crystals which can cause severe intestinal issues and breathing difficulty.
- Natural environment: These tropical perennials are native to the tropical forests of South and Central America.
- Level of required care: Water weekly (twice that in hot summers) when the soil surface is dry to the touch. Fertilize these heavy feeders with a low-nitrogen NPK for lush growth and vivid color.
Begonias have dazzling, almost metallic leaf patterns that offer a stunning contrast to surrounding, dark green foliage. These also produce single or double blooms in white, pink or bright red that can last through mid-October. Using varieties of this plant with red leaves – such as Begonia Rex – will add even more interest and color to your outdoor space.
- Ideal Position: Dappled sun provides protection against sun scorch.
- Difficulty: Texas shade offers ample warmth and protection for lush, colourful growth on tuberous Begonias.
- Toxicity: Begonias are toxic to both people and animals if consumed.
- Natural environment: Begonias originally evolved in moist, balmy wooded areas and tropical rainforests.
Level of required care: Tuber Begonias prefer moist soil which may mean more watering in summer than in spring, autumn or winter. They respond well to a slow-releasing version of a 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 NPK, depending on the fertility of your soil.
6) Texas Sage
This hardy perennial herb presents Downey, sage-green leaves that remain evergreen throughout the winter, in zones 10 and 11. Pink and Fuschia blooms erupt in spring, which develop ribbons of hot pink, ornamental berries on panicled varieties.
- Ideal Position: Full sun to partial sun is preferred for optimal growth.
- Difficulty: Texas sage is exceptionally drought-tolerant and slow-growing, making it ideal for shady, xeriscape gardens.
- Toxicity: Safe to grow around pets and people.
- Natural environment: Texas Sage hails from the near-desert regions of the Southern US and Northern Mexico.
- Level of required care: Drought-tolerant varieties require only occasional water throughout the growing season. Panicled types that grow in cooler areas will need weekly watering. Both will thrive without supplemental fertilizer, except in very poor soil.
Each vibrant, green fern cultivar displays unique frond shapes and growing habits. Combining different ones in the same shade bed can be captivating, as they grow to between 1-6’ tall and wide.
- Ideal Position: Ferns with delicate fronds need protection from direct sunlight. Varieties with thicker leaves can tolerate a few hours of sun.
- Difficulty: Being semi-tropical, ferns require high humidity in order to thrive. The dry, desert areas of Texas would not be suitable.
- Toxicity: Spores released by sporophyte ferns can be toxic when ingested or inhaled, leading to symptoms from nausea to cardiac issues.
- Natural environment: Wild ferns are most commonly found in damp, shaded forests and rocky terrains and can thrive in zones 4-8.
- Level of required care: Outdoor ferns grow best in moist soil and consistent shade. 1-2” of water per week will promote strong roots and healthy foliage. Fertilizer-sensitive ferns usually don’t require any unless the soil is severely nutrient-deficient.
8) Mountain Laurel
This flowering evergreen is highly ornamental and shines with brilliant colour, even in shaded areas. On a 3’-6’ tall shrub, clustered blooms open in geometric starbursts of red, light pink and white.
- Ideal Position: Partial shade (morning sun with afternoon shade).
- Difficulty: Due to its slow growth rate, Mountain Laurel is easy to grow with little fuss, especially once established.
- Toxicity: Grow with caution as all parts are poisonous and can prove fatal in pets and people.
- Natural environment: Native to humid mountain regions and meadows, these are hardy in zones 5-9.
- Level of required care: Young mountain laurel plants will need water every 3-4 days for the first three weeks, followed by weekly watering to maintain moist soil. Although rarely necessary in fertile soil, a 10-10-10 NPK can be applied when necessary.
An astounding 300 different coleus varieties offer shimmering foliage in jewel-toned hues that create stunning pops of colour and leaf variegation in shadowed spaces. Mature sizes range from 6” by 12” to 3’ tall and wide.
- Ideal Position: Coleus cultivars with mostly green leaves will thrive in full shade. However, those with variegated colours and patterns require a bit of sun to maintain them.
- Difficulty: With sufficient moisture, coleus plants are easy to grow and maintain in most Texas gardens throughout the growing season.
- Toxicity: Coleus is mildly toxic and can cause gastrointestinal upset as well as skin irritation with sap contact.
- Natural environment: Indigenous to warm, humid environments, coleus can be grown in the ground in zones 10 and 11 and in summer containers in all others.
- Level of required care: Coleus plants are sensitive to both overly-dry and overly-moist soil. Water only when actively growing and the soil is dry down 1-2”. An organic, liquid fertilizer, rich in nitrogen, will support healthy growth and vibrant color.
Pulmonaria plants exhibit a range of leaf colours and speckled leaf patterns surrounding dainty clusters of pink, lavender and indigo blooms. Plants reach a compact 12” tall by 18” wide, adding subtle elegance and charm to shady Texas gardens.
- Ideal Position: Partial sun to full shade.
- Difficulty: In areas with too much direct sun and intense heat, Lungworts will not survive. They also tend to perform better on the ground vs containers.
- Toxicity: Stems, foliage, and flowers contain saponins and pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are toxic to people and pets.
- Natural environment: In forested areas with dappled sunlight, lungworts seed themselves beneath conifers and other hardwood trees for shaded protection and will thrive in zones 3-9.
- Level of required care: Regular watering is imperative when Lungworts are planted beneath large trees, as these will absorb all water from the soil. These bloomers require very little fertilizer, if any. Too much will actually inhibit bud production.
This stunning wildflower is well-known for its distinctive and often unusual flowers. Some have soft, multi-level petals, some have spiky petals that jut out from a nectar-filled stamen and others have an appealing combination of both in a wide range of colours. Plants mature to roughly 3’ tall by 2’ wide.
- Ideal Position: Dappled sunlight for vibrant colour and sufficient protection from sun scorch and dehydration.
- Difficulty: Columbine is an easy-to-grow perennial, in zones 3-11, that sees few issues from pests or disease.
- Toxicity: Leaves and stems are mildly toxic. But, seeds and roots contain cardiogenic toxins and are highly poisonous, causing both severe gastroenteritis and cardiac distress.
- Natural environment: Naturally flourishes in diverse, wooded areas where they receive adequate protection from blazing sunshine and inclement weather.
- Level of required care: Moderate soil moisture is necessary for foliage and bloom production. Water when the soil is dry down 2”. A low-nitrogen NPK will promote increased blooming while supporting robust foliage.
Care for Texas Shade Plants
Shade loving plants typically receive sun protection from tall trees or buildings. As such, successful care of plants that grow well in the shade in Texas starts with proper placement and spacing.
Small bloomers with shallow, sub-surface roots can usually be placed in between large tree roots without much risk of them competing for space. These plants will most likely need more frequent watering, however, due to the higher absorption rate of larger tree roots.
Medium-sized shrubs should be positioned at least 6 ft away from large tree roots or the shady side of your home or garage. This is to protect against foundation damage due to excessive moisture and root expansion.
Some of the specimens we’ve seen here prefer higher humidity and precipitation levels, while others are more drought-tolerant. Choosing the right plants for your local, Texan climate is vital to their success.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is partial shade in Texas?
For plants that prefer this positioning in Texas, partial shade and partial sun both mean roughly four hours of overhead sunlight per day, while the rest of the day they’ll be in shade.
What plants do best in mostly shade?
Hostas, ferns, heuchera and caladium grow best in spots with a few hours of dappled sunlight for sufficient photosynthesis, leaving them in full shade for the remainder of the day.
- Texas A & M AgriLife Extension – Plants for Shade
- The University of Texas at Austin – Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center – Plants for Dry Shade
Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.