Landscaping with Florida Native Plants
Landscaping with Florida native plants is economical and benefits our Northeast, Florida ecosystems requiring less water, fertilizers, and pesticides to sustain than non-native plants. “They are acclimated to everything that Northeast Florida can hand them the cold, the heat, the extreme drought that we can have from time to time, but also the deluge of rain we get a couple of months of thunderstorms back to back to back,” said Matt Barlow, Earth Works garden center manager. “And they are also pest and disease resistant because they evolved right here.” Native plants are also important to the ecosystem as a source of food, shelter, and habitat for native wildlife including amphibians, birds, insects, mammals, reptiles and non-native migratory species.
Native plants host beneficial insects, pollinators, and decomposers that form a healthy natural ecosystem. For example, there are 24 oak tree varieties native to Florida, which support over 500 species of moths and butterflies. According to the National Wildlife Federation nearly 100% of songbirds depend on these insects as a key food source. Remove the native plants and the insect and dependent animal species populations crash. “More than 100 species of vertebrate animals are known to consume acorns in the US, including mammals such as white-tailed deer, gray squirrels, fox squirrels, flying squirrels, mice, voles, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, gray foxes, red foxes, and wild hogs,” according to the University of Florida. “Birds that feed on acorns include wild turkey, bobwhite quail, wood ducks, mallards, woodpeckers, crows, and jays.”
Outside of their natural environment non-native species have fewer natural predators resulting in invasiveness crowding out native species without providing a similar degree of benefits to the ecosystem. A few non-native invasive plants you may be familiar with include camphor trees, Japanese honeysuckle, kudzu, melaleuca, mimosa, sword fern, torpedo grass, and water hyacinth.
Earth Works carries a variety of Florida native plants including Walters Viburnum. “It’s a great slow-growing shrub that you can use as individual plants, as focal points, but also as a hedge row,” said Barlow. “They do grow thick and dense and are evergreen. They bloom white in the Spring. Once we come out of Winter and the temperature starts to warm up the flowers pop. They do hold their buds sometimes for a very long period of time. Their buds when they are closed are kind of a rosy color, which gives the shrub in Wintertime going into Spring this really nice look and then they pop open and their covered with tiny white flowers. These are a very easy addition to your garden.”
Other Florida Native Plants typically in stock include Silver Buttonwood, Ixora, Fakahatchee Grass, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Muhly Grass, Seagrapes, and a variety of palms including the Silver Saw Palmetto, and our Florida State Tree the Sabal palm.
The Florida Native Plant Society lists 663 native plants in its database. However, most Florida native plants are not commercially available for purchase. Where native plants are grown commercially it is typically by small independent growers who cannot keep up with the commercial demand for the natives they grow. Propagating native plants to nurture commercially favorable ornamental characteristics results in what is called cultivars. “Many native plant experts and enthusiasts do not consider man-made cultivars as being native, although it might be argued that selections or hybrids could have occurred under natural conditions,” according to the University of Florida. “When purchasing native plants, ask for a plant by its scientific name. Also ask about the origin of the plant. Plants that were derived from seed or plants of natural populations in other parts of the country might not perform well in Florida.”
Zamia integrifolia the Coontie palm is another popular commercially available Florida native plant. “It’s called the Coontie palm, but it’s not an actual palm,” said Barlow. “It’s actually a cycad. It gives you a palm or tropical look without actually being a palm. They’re more of a small loose, but densely compacted shrub. Loose in the fact that they are not branched like other types of shrubs. There is a lot more separation and distance where all the stems come from the base rather than a branching type plant like a traditional shrub. They don’t require any pruning. So those of you who are looking for a low maintenance plant the coontie is a great addition. Also, the coontie is versatile. It can grow in the sun, part sun, and into almost some completely shaded conditions. It’s very versatile and easy to grow.”
Florida native plants occur in diverse biomes including marshes and swamps, prairies, hammocks, sandhills, scrub forests, upland forests, and more resulting in the need to match your choice of natives to your conditions. It’s also important to understand the significance of your area’s plant communities. For Duval County alone the plant communities include; Beach Dunes, Hydric Hammocks, Mangrove Swamps, Maritime Forests, Pine Flatwoods, Saltwater Marshes, Sandhills, and Wetland Swamp Forests. Native plants adapt in these areas in relation to one another in ways that we continue striving to understand.
Salt tolerant native seagrapes are better suited for the coastal landscape than Florida’s state wildflower the Coreopsis found in fields and along roadsides across North Florida. Landscaping for Florida native plants requires considering the various categories of natives available including flowers, grasses, ground covers, palms, shrubs, trees, and vines. Search these categories at www.floridayards.org. Likewise, a variety of Florida native palms including the Florida State Tree, the Sabal Palm, and palmettos are available at Earth Works and seasonal varieties of other natives like anise.
There are small local companies that afford us the opportunity to buy Florida Native plant seeds and advocates of planting natives share them through local and national seed exchange programs and on social media. Visit our Seed Saving & Exchange blog that contains extensive information about these activities and information about groups like the 13,000 member Seed Savers Exchange.
For more information on landscaping with Florida native plants in Northeast Florida stop into Earth Works garden center and speak with Barlow, another garden guide, or schedule a consultation with one of our landscape designers to help you with your Florida-friendly landscape.
For comprehensive solutions to your specific lawn, garden and landscaping need contact Earth Works of Jacksonville online and at 904-996-0712. Earth Works operates a retail Garden Center/Plant Nursery in Jacksonville and provides landscaping, hardscaping, water features, lawn care service, lawn spraying, and drainage solutions.
Earth Works proudly serves clients in Northeast Florida, including Jacksonville, Ponte Vedra Beach, Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Jacksonville Beach, Nocatee, St. Johns, Fleming Island, Orange Park, Middleburg, Green Cove Springs, Amelia Island, Fernandina, and St. Augustine.