Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens), also called Texas Ranger or purple sage, is a drought-tolerant, semi-evergreen, woody shrub that is native to northern Mexico, New Mexico and the Chihuahuan Desert of Texas. Featuring 1-inch-long oval, silvery green, fuzzy leaves and purple, white, blue or pink bell-shaped flowers, it grows as an ornamental in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 11. Because humidity after summer rains stimulates flowering, the plant is also known as barometer bush.
Sun and Soil
Texas sage needs four to six hours of sun each day and well-draining soil. It will thrive in soil of any pH but prefers soil with naturally occurring lime or shell. Soil with limestone or shell usually has a pH between 7.0 and 8.2, which is alkaline. If you're not sure what pH your soil is, buy a test kit from a home improvement store or garden center to test it.
Don't add compost or fertilizer before planting -- it may stop Texas sage from flowering.
Reaching around 8 feet tall and wide, Texas sage needs some room. Plant them at least 3 feet apart from each other, 3 feet from foundations and 4 feet from paths, walkways and driveways.
Water newly planted Texas sage every five to seven days for a few weeks until it's well established, allowing the top 2 inches of soil to dry out between watering sessions. After that, rainfall should be enough in most climates.
Water the plant in summer to promote flowering, especially if rainfall is below average. Take care not to soak the plant -- just give it enough water to moisten the top layer of soil. The rest of the time, especially in winter, you don't need to water at all.
Remember: This is a desert plant that will suffer and possibly die from overwatering.
Texas sage is a slow-growing plant, so an occasional trimming of wayward branches is all that is needed to keep it tidy and natural looking. Avoid using hedge trimmers or the temptation to shape your shrub into a block or other unnatural form. Doing so is likely to cause the plant to thin from the center. Instead, use hand pruning shears to trim the plant when it has finished flowering. You can also give it a hard prune in early spring, cutting it back by two-thirds by making alternate branch cuts of varied lengths to thin out the shrub. This will encourage vigorous growth and flowering the following season.
Even if there is no obvious sign of disease or fungus on your plants, it's a good idea to sanitize pruning shears by spraying them with a household antibacterial spray before and after pruning.
Show off your Texas sage by giving it a spot where its breezy form and vivid blossoms will be appreciated, perhaps along a fence or on a corner spot next to the house or garage. Other possibilities include:
- As a hedge or privacy screen
- Around a deck or patio
- Along a driveway or walkway
- As a foundation plant
- As backdrop for flower beds
- Use in low-water areas
Use Texas sage with other sun-loving plants, such as drought-tolerant queen sago palm (Cycas circinalis) which grows in USDA zones 9 through 10. Ice plant (Carpobrotus chilensis), also known as sea fig, is a succulent, dense ground cover that grows in USDA zone 10 that provides textural contrast and visual interest planted with Texas sage in the background. It's invasive in some areas, so check before planting. For low-water gardens in USDA zones 7b through 11, consider desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) as a companion for Texas sage, a tree with willowy foliage and an average height of 20 to 30 feet. Because of its white, pink or lavender tube-shaped flowers, the tree is also known as orchid of the desert.
Texas sage is potentially allergenic because the tiny matted hairs of the woolly leaves tend to capture large amounts of dust particles that could be inhaled while handling the plant. You can avoid this if you wear a dust mask when working with and around the shrub.