March 9, 2020

Growing a True Florida Garden: Plant Native!

By Amanda Rose Newton

Florida is unique in having typical temperate as well as exotic subtropical species all in one place. Embrace what makes living here so special and dedicate a portion (or all) of your yard to native plants. There are many reasons to consider natives, the variety of colors, sizes, and shapes alone offer a magnitude of options. Additionally, they are easy to maintain, require little fertilizer input, and are less susceptible to pests and disease. Many also happen to be host and nectar plants for a variety of insects, including bees and butterflies. They also serve as an excellent food source for all sorts of wildlife and provide additional shelter. By planting natives, you are instantly adding the biodiversity and productivity of your yard, which will make both you and your plants happy. Below is just a sampling of the many options available as groundcovers, flowers, shrubs, trees, and everything in between.


Lawns require multiple applications of fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides in order to keep up their green and lush appearance. By choosing a few native plants as either replacement for your existing lawn or to accentuate your flowerbeds, you will be reducing the need for those products and, in turn, creating a healthier yard for yourself, wildlife, and the county. Living in Florida has made native plants pros at water conservation. By needing less water, that means less work for your irrigation system, saving you money and perhaps more importantly, time. Sunshine Mimosa, Mimosa strigillosa, with its lovely fern-like foliage, spreads out to a beautiful carpet that is sprinkled with vibrant pink blooms off and on throughout the year. For beachside dwellers, dune sunflower, Helianthus debilis, is a wonderful choice. The full coverage of endless bright and cheery sunflower-like blooms will be the talk of the neighborhood


With its unique appearance and modest height, American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana L., can fit in just about anywhere and offers distinctive purple berries that provide not only a burst of refreshing color but also a wonderful snack for birds. Not so much a mosquito fan? Researchers recently found that beautyberry has mosquito repelling qualities. If you wish to invite butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds to your landscape, our native firebush, Hamelia patens, will bring them in droves. The bright orange-red flowers add a striking contrast to year-round green foliage making it attractive for everyone, not just wildlife. Wax Myrtle (Myrica spp), is another low maintenance plant for almost any yard. In addition to providing shade and food for wildlife, it is virtually carefree once established. 


So many native plants are green that we often forget how vibrant the flowers and grasses can be. From the pink plumes of the native muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, to the subtle orange and yellow hues of our state wildflower, Coreopsis sp., there is a native for every palette. Their natural life cycles are reminders of seasonal change and transition, which is not often observed in the Floridian landscape.


If you cannot imagine a Florida yard without a palm tree, consider Florida’s own Cabbage Palm (Sabal palmetto). Native works to its advantage, as it thrives in most statewide conditions and adds a tropical flair to the landscape. Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) is the classic lowland loving tree. With its unique bark and characteristic knobbing knees, it is perhaps the easiest way to add distinct character to your yard.

Finally, all benefits aside, native plants are truly beautiful and add to the functionality of your landscape. When choosing natives, be sure to check out our Native Plants Handout, which gives a more thorough list of the natives available. As is the case with all plants, taking care to know the requirements for each ahead of time and planting it in the right place will enhance success.

We have a whole series of Natives with Norman tutorials that introduce you to many plants that you may not have been familiar with before. Check them out on our youtube channel and happy planting.