Create a native landscape — use right plant, right place

Florida has an abundance of beautiful native plants.

There are vines, trees, shrubs, ground covers and a few palms that are native to the state, and can make excellent additions to the landscape.

Coontie, like all cycadas, has ancient origins, according to the University of Florida. This Florida plant, however, is the only cycad native to North America. (Courtesy of University of Florida/IFAS Communications)

Some of these natives even serve as food sources for local wildlife, such as butterflies and some bats, and some can help negate the harsh heat and sun, and reduce the potential for flooding.

However, just because a plant is native doesn’t mean it will thrive everywhere.

Remember: The Florida Friendly Landscaping principle of putting the right plant, right place still applies.

When plants are put in the wrong place, they won’t do as well and, in some cases, they become a problem.

For example, a native that loves the shade won’t survive in the bright sun, or a native that needs to be high and dry won’t make it with “wet feet.”

Putting native plants in the right spots will help prevent many disease and insect problems.

Like other plants, natives need routine maintenance to keep them looking good and living their best life. Occasional pruning and removal of dead tissue is just as necessary with natives as non-native, non-invasive exotics.

Beautyberry, according to the University of Florida, is also called American mulberry. It is native to flatwoods and hammocks, but because of birds, has been spread far and wide.

Planted and maintained correctly, natives will thrive in the Florida landscape.

As with all plants, plant them “high” with the uppermost root of the root ball just above the surrounding soil and mulch, with a layer 2 inches to 3 inches deep that’s no closer than 6 inches from the trunk or base of the plant.

Native plants also need to be watered frequently to get established. Research shows there’s no difference in the amount of water required for establishment between natives and non-native plants.

Keep in mind, however, the bigger the plant, the longer the establishment period; light, frequent hand-watering is best for establishment.

For a three-gallon or smaller plant, irrigate to deliver one gallon of water three to four times per week, for up to five months.

Muhly grass is a native ornamental perennial that produces clouds of flower stalks, according to the University of Florida.

For trees, irrigate with two gallons to three gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter, two to three times per week, for up to six months. Once new roots are observed, less supplemental irrigation is necessary unless there’s an extended period of drought.

There are many great native plants to consider for the landscape, but the basic Florida Friendly Landscaping principles still apply. As with all plants, natives should only be located where there’s enough room for them to grow to their full potential height and width. And, some natives can be aggressive or potentially weedy (i.e., Spanish needle) so be sure to consult the UF/IFAS Aquatic and Invasive Plant directory (http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/plants-by-common-name/) prior to planting.

Consider planting natives such as bald cypress, muhly grass, coontie, and beautyberry, but only if it’s the right plant for the right place.

For a list of native plants to consider in your landscape, visit http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/native-plants.html.

By Whitney C. Elmore

Dr. Whitney C. Elmore is the UF/IFAS Pasco County Extension director and an Urban Horticulture Agent III.

Published August 14, 2019

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