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Mansfield Magazine

Plants That Make A Point

Jul 18, 2015 02:27PM ● By Kevin

Perhaps I should have had a better “natural obstacle” under the second story window of our house when my teenager jumped out of that window to join friends late one night. Maybe you would like to put some natural obstacles around your house to protect yourself against intruders. Regardless of your reason, there are a number of choices available. Let’s take a look at some barrier plants that offer both protection and beauty.


(Mahonia trifoliolata)

This evergreen shrub native to central and west Texas has rigid, spreading branches that form a shrub three to six feet tall and wide. The holly-like leaves feature three to seven lobes ending in sharp spines. After blooming in February and March, agarita develops edible, pea-sized red berries. 

Agarita grows easily in USDA hardiness zones 7 through 9. Plant in full sun to light shade in any kind of soil as long as it’s well drained. Agarita can easily survive on annual rainfall once established. It has no serious insect or disease problems, and deer leave it alone. Don’t shear this shrub but let it assume its beautiful, natural shape.

Agave (Agave spp.)

Plant agaves across the front of your house, and only the bravest of intruders will venture past them. Agaves are evergreen, succulent plants that, depending on the species, grow in USDA hardiness zones 6b through 10. Their leaves are usually hard or somewhat rigid. Many agaves have sharp teeth along the leaf margins, and almost all leaves have a rigid and very sharp terminal spine.

Plant agaves in full sun in well-drained soil. Too much clay or organic matter in the soil will cause them to rot. If you have clay soil, incorporate 3 inches of expanded shale in the planting area and create a slight mound for the agave. Plant the agave slightly high in the planting hole so that water runs away from the crown of the plant. Agaves benefit from having a few rocks placed around them to cool the soil at the root zone. Organic mulches around agaves can hold too much moisture for many species, and the mulch can sometimes work its way into the crown of the plant where it encourages rot.


No one wants to be stuck by the intimidating spines of this North American native, so plant lots of cactus around your house for extra protection. The spines are actually modified leaves, which can be straight or slightly curved, hair-like, bristle-like or needle-like. Most cacti prefer full sun, although a few will tolerate light shade. Cacti tolerate drought and make great plants for a dry, or xeric, landscape. Many are native to Texas such as several species of prickly pear (Opuntia spp.). Most bloom in spring with yellow, rose-like flowers that are quite beautiful.

Dwarf Chinese Holly 

(Ilex cornuta Rotunda)

This evergreen shrub forms a dense, round shape, grows 3 to 5 feet tall in full sun to part shade, and tolerates drought. The leaves are very spiny; in fact, each leaf has 5 to 7 spines. Because the leaves are so spiny, don’t even think of shearing this shrub. Plant it where its ultimate height will not outgrow the location and require pruning. Running or backing into this shrub will be a painful and memorable experience.

Giant Hesperaloe 

(Hesperaloe funifera)

This clumping, stemless, upright plant grows to 6 feet tall and wide. It features stiff, sword-like green leaves with coarse, white fibers along the margins and sharp, terminal tips. You will certainly make your “point” with this ultimate barrier plant in your landscape! Giant hesperaloe is hardy to -10° F (USDA hardiness zone 6), grows moderately slow and lives on low water. It blooms in the summer by sending up a 12 to 15 foot tall stalk that bears branches lined with creamy-white flowers full of nectar that attracts hummingbirds. Plant this accent plant in full sun and well-drained soil.

Leatherleaf Mahonia 

(Mahonia bealei)

The spiny, holly-like leaves of this evergreen shrub will certainly teach an intruder a lesson to remember. Leatherleaf mahonia grows slowly to a height of 4 to 6 feet and features leaflets 2 to 4 inches long with sharp, marginal spines. Plant leatherleaf mahonia in light to medium shade in any fertile, well-drained soil that has been enriched with organic matter. This shrub grows in USDA hardiness zones 6 through 9.


(Pyracantha coccinea)

This deciduous member of the rose family grows in USDA hardiness zones 6 through 9 and grows 6 to 18 feet tall. It produces clusters of white flowers in May and then an abundance of orange berries in the fall. This shrub prefers full sun for best fruiting and even tolerates clay soil. Pyracantha is susceptible to fireblight and lace bugs. Careful selection of cultivar may provide resistance to fireblight, and planting out from under the eaves of the house where rain will hit the foliage will help control lace bugs. This is one nasty shrub to prune because of the thorns! Plant this shrub along property or fence lines where it doesn’t have to be pruned. No intruder will want to pass through this shrub to your house.

Barrier plants can indeed work in our favor by providing protection as well as beauty to our residential and commercial landscapes. Instead of or in addition to hiring an alarm company or training a Doberman pinscher to guard your property, consider the “natural obstacles” at our disposal in Texas. Who knows, they could even make your teenager think twice before jumping out one of your windows!

Written by Steve Huddleston

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