Growing Miniature Plants in Houston
by Donald Ray Burger
Attorney at Law

I have a garden railroadbased on the narrow gauge Colorado & Southern Railroad. Large Scale trains run through an area based on the Clear Creek Division of the C & S in Colorado. Thus, it is sort of a rock garden. I want plants that match the scale of the trains (one inch of model equals 20.3 inches of the real world). They can't be too tall, and the leaves need to be on the tiny side.

This is my list of miniature plants that I have tried for the heat and humidity that is Houston.

Blue fescue (Festuca glauca) These small grasses look so good in the store, they are hard to resist. They get between six to ten inches high. Grow in clumps. When they grow. Seems like anything with blue leaves doesn't do well in Houston. I have tired this grass several times, all unsuccessfully. Leave it for cooler climes.

Corsica Mint (Mentha requienii 'Corsica') Tender perennial. Full to part sun. Blooms in summer. Needs well-drained soil. Creeping habit. Mine barely reaches one inch. Tiny leaves. However, mine has not flourished, although it struggles on. Purchased June, 1997

Creeping Fig (Ficus pumila) Perenial with fairly small leaves which spreads by clinging roots. This is often sold as an indoor plant. I decided it was too invasive. Purchased September, 1997.

Dianthus Bath's Pink (Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Bath's Pink') Perennial groundcover. Grows to about 4 inches high. Spreads to about ten inches. Pink blooms. Mine bloomed in April of 1998. It bloomed in March in 2000. Part to full sun. Needs well-drained soil. Mine has survived our Houston heat and humidity for several years now. If we get no rain for a couple of weeks it will start to die unless ykou give it some water. It usually dies in dections, so ykou have a warning. Just water it a couple of days in a row and all will be well. I highly recommend this plant. It gives a "grass-like" effect without having to be mowed. Not invasive. Purchased September, 1997.

Dwarf Nandina (Nandina domestica "Harbour Dwarf"). Perennial shrub. Under two feet. Unlike the regular nandina, the dwarf produces no berries.

Dwarf Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria "Nana"). Perennial shrub. Ours only reach about 18 inches high, but I have seen them to two feet. No berries on this dwarf. Can be pruned to a tree-like shape.

Germander, Wall (Teucrium chamaedrys) Perennial. This is a dwarf upright shrub that grows to about 15 inches. In groups it gives the impression of a forest. This was the favorite germander of George Washington. It reponds to pruning and is sometimes grown as a formal clipped border. Needs full sun. Rose or mauve blooms. Purchased September, 1997.

Ice plant (Aizoaceae aptenia). Perennial succulent in Houston, but doesn't like the cold. Drought tolerant when established. Vivid red flowers about 3/8 inches in diameter. Allegedly a good plant for rock gardens. Cascades nicely. However, it has not been a consistent grower for me. It always looks great in the store, but I can't seem to make it flourish.

Irish Moss Irish moss is not a true moss. I have tried several times to get it to grow in my garden railroad. Sun or shade, good soil or crushed granite, nothing seems to work. I have concluded that it (like its cousin Scotch Moss does not like our heat. Pass it up.

Junipers These plants have never grown for me. They turn brown almost overnight and die quickly. Most likely caused by a spider mite attack. I have read that spider mites like junipers. May be our heat. Not recommended at present, although I have heard that a weekly spraying of liquid seaweed keeps the spider mites away.

Ophiopogon Japonicus 'Silver Mist' (Ophiopogon Japonicus 'Silver Mist") Perennial. Grows to 6-8 inches tall. Sun or shade. Grass-like clumps. Variegated leaves with a touch of silver. Purchased September, 1997.

Santolina Santolinas are herbs. What you find in the nurseries is mostly Gray Santolina and Green Santolina. For whatever reason, I have not had much luck with the Gray Santolina. However, the Green Santolina works beautifully in my garden railroad. Green Santolina looks like a full tree, only it is only six to eight inches high. Very spreading. And the truck structure is visible enough to show itself with good effect. Tolerates poor soil and sparse water very well. Our heat is no problem and the plant over-winters well. Highest recommendation for a miniature tree that keeps its size and shape without pruning.

Sedums This is a large group of plants, ranging from gigantic to tiny. With few exceptions, it is rare for the smaller sedums to be sold under their scientific names. That means you are mostly on your own. Several have tiny "leaves" and are suitable for the garden railroad. They seem to do well in our heat. However, because of their "plump" leaves, sedums will not take foot traffic.

Scotch Moss : Please see the section on Irish Moss. Both plants have been repeatedly unsuccessful in my garden.

Thyme(Thymus vulgaris) Thyme is found in the herb section of garden shops. Be careful what variety you purchase. Upright thymes can grow to 18 inches tall. Some of the creepers get up to six inches tall. However, there are creeping thymes that stay in the one to two inch range in height. These are the so called "flat creepers." I consider the flat creepers suitable ground covers. The thymes I use in my garden railroad have stayed under one to two inches tall and spread quite nicely. Thyme thrives in a rock garden enviroment. Once established, thyme little supplemental watering and likes our heat. It is somewhat invasive, but pretty easy to pull up if it goes where it is not wanted. Thyme gives a nice "mat" effect once it gets started. It has been my experience that when you go to buy a thyme the scientific name is usually missing. Labels normally just say "Thyme." Look at the leaves. For the garden railroad you are looking for tiny leaves. Look at the stems. If you can see stems, the height will probably be too big. Look for low growing mats. However, if you luck out and get scientific names, Thymus adamovicci Thymus caespititius and Thymus pseudolanuginosus are thymes that are reputed to be flat creepers I have also tried a thyme labeled (Thymus vulgaris x citriodorus 'Argentius'), which is a variegated creeping version of an upright thyme with tiny leaves touched with silver (purchased June, 1997). It requires more care that non-variegated varieties and periodically dies out in my garden railroad.

This page created September 30, 1997
Last revised August 31, 2002

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