Texas Ranger Comes to the Rescue of Waterwise Gardeners
California gardeners looking for waterwise, heat-tolerant plants need not despair. Texas Rangers (Leucophyllum species) will come to your garden’s rescue. When it comes to reliable, waterwise shrubs, true to their namesakes, these Lone Star natives come through in a blaze of glory.
These tough guys have beautiful exteriors – lush foliage and delicate purple-blue flowers. All are cold hardy – often down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit – and evergreen. They all have small, delicate soft leaves in a whirled pattern of opposite pairs. Many varieties have soft gray to silver foliage, which contrasts strikingly with their purple blooms.
Texas Rangers (sometimes called Texas sages) are Southwest natives from the Chihuahuan Desert of Texas, New Mexico, and northern Mexico. While not true sages, they do share the salvia group’s ability to survive in full sun with only infrequent deep watering once established.
They are well adapted to our California/ Mediterranean climate of no summer rain. They blend well with other Mediterranean garden stars such as santolina, rosemary and lavender. The orange bursts of California poppies look great under the cloud of purple and gray of a Texas Ranger, as do the delicate coral bells of Aloe saponaria or A. striate.
Try them with a burgundy ground cover of Sedum spathulifolium ‘Purpureum’ or accent with a soft grassy red contrast of red fountain grass. The soft gray or olive green foliage of the Texas Rangers is a great balance for many color combinations and makes creating your drought tolerant garden design easy as falling off a log.
There are several species and cultivars of this group, which all share a common ability to thrive in dry, hot gardens. All Leucophyllums need good drainage, but will tolerate many types of soil – just don’t over water them. If your soil is clay, add gypsum and volcanic stone or perlite to improve drainage. Planting on a berm or slope will also help. It is not necessary to add compost to the soil – sandy or clay – because these tough characters like lean and mean soils. Plant them in full sun, allow ample room for growth, and only give a light shaping/pruning in the cool months of early spring. Too much shade, water, compost, or fertilizer, are the only things that these shrubs disdain – they love tough love.
The common Texas Ranger, Leucophyllum frutescens, was once the Lone Ranger to be found in garden centers. But there are now several species and many cultivars readily to suit a multitude of garden situations. Three popular rangers are ‘Rio Bravo’, ‘Lynn’s Legacy’, and ‘Cimarron’.
‘Rio Bravo’ (pictured above right) has lush green foliage and displays its iridescent violet blue flowers throughout the summer months. It forms a dense mound of about five feet high and wide and maintains its tightly rounded form with no pruning. Because of its bright green foliage and rounded, dense form, ‘Rio Bravo’ has become a very popular choice for a more formal look.
‘Lynn’s Legacy’ (pictured above left) is a selection of Texas Ranger collected by Lynn Lowrey, a renowned plantsman from east Texas. Lynn’s Legacy has moderate growth rate to about five feet high and wide, and soft olive green foliage. Its winning feature is frequent, profuse blooming, covering it with delicate lavender blossoms.
The compact cousin of the group is ‘Cimarron’ (pictured right), which forms a rounded shrub of about three feet tall and wide. Smaller and denser than its relatives, this cowgirl also is a profuse bloomer. ‘Cimarron’ has a soft silhouette, gray-green foliage, and blue flowers – sometimes giving it the common name of “blue ranger”.
No matter which Texas Ranger you call upon to rescue you from the garden doldrums of hot summer, all will reward your garden with great foliage texture and beautiful blooms.