As we look forward to spring planting, now is the time to create your garden plan. While the climate in Florida allows for a wide range of plants to grow, using Florida native plants has a wide range of benefits, including: Saving time and money, reducing water use, using less chemicals in the landscape, reducing pollution runoff and attracting wildlife.
Florida native plants are adapted to the soils and weather pattens of the area. They are adapted to the low nutrient soils, hot summers and periods of drought. Not all natives have adaptations to all conditions. It is important to know the conditions in your yard, so that you can select the best plants for your garden. Native plants are also adapted better handle native pests and diseases. This will reduce the amount of chemicals that need to be applied to keep the plants looking healthy.
When planning for any plant in your landscape, it is important to think about the look that you want in your yard, and the limitations that your yard had. Note where you have shade, sun, dry spots and wet spots. Each of these areas will support different plants. Additionally, you want to think about what animals you want to attract. Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to flowers with similar shapes. Other birds will be attracted to berries produced by the plants. Many insects used native plants during different stages of life.
Turf is not the only option for a ground cover. There are many groundcovers that can be used to add color to your yard, attract pollinators and reduce water and chemical use on your lawn. A few great options for sunny locations are sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa) and turkey tangle fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora).
Sunshine mimosa gets between 1-3 feet tall but can tolerate occasional mowing. This is a great drought tolerant plant that attracts butterflies and other pollinators. Another interesting feature is that the leaves will close when touched.
Turkey tangle fogfruit can grow under the same sunny conditions as the sunshine mimosa. In fact, you can put them in a mixed planting together. Fogfruit flowers are smaller than the sunshine mimosa but will still attract a selection of pollinations. Growing to 1-3 feet, this will also take light mowing.
Florida has many native plants with beautiful flowers that attract a wide range of pollinators. They range in size from small, herbaceous plants, to shrubs and trees. Swamp milkweed (Asclepias perennis) is a wonderful native, as it attracts monarch butterflies as a host plant and food source. This plant grows to up to 2 feet in part shade. Being found natively in wet habitats, this plant prefers moist soils.
Firebush (Hamelia patens) is a shrub that grows up to 15 feet. It can be trimmed into a small tree, but regular maintenance is needed to keep a tree form. This plant will attract several different types of pollinators, most notably, hummingbirds.
Sweet acacia (Vachellia farnesiana) is a small tree that reaches 15 to 20 feet in height. It is drought tolerance and requires full sun. The yellow flowers produce a sweet smell and attracts a range of pollinators. This plant does have thorns, which need to be considered when selecting a planting location.
Things to remember
The most precious commodity that any of us have is our time. Anything that can save us time is seen as a benefit. While a native landscape is not maintenance free, it does reduce time spent watering, fertilizing and spraying. These acts also save money, whether you normally do it yourself or hire someone to do it.
The reduction of chemical and fertilizer use reduces pollution entering our waterways. This helps to improves water quality and aquatic habitat. Nutrient and chemical run-off into waterways results in reduced water quality that can impact the health of the ecosystem and recreational activities in the area. By planting natives, you help to increase the health of our aquatic systems.
Extension programs are open to all persons without regard to race, color, sex, age, disability, religion, or national origin.
Jamie Daugherty is the Residential Horticulture Agent of the UF/IFAS Lake County Extension office. Email her at email@example.com.