Sally Scalera

Brevard County Horticulture Extension Agent
3695 Lake Drive -- Cocoa FL 32926 -- 321-633-1702

Adding natives to save
time, money and effort

August 15, 2009

I have a great idea that could save you time, money and effort when it comes to gardening and it might even help you to attract more wildlife to your yard. What is my great idea, you are wondering? My idea is to have everyone add a new native plant or two to their landscape this fall. It could be a tree, shrub or maybe some wildflowers.

There are many advantages to planting natives such as: many native attract wildlife, help conserve water because of their low water requirements, require a lot less fertilizers and pesticides Ė if any at all!

Native plants generally have fewer pest problems, can handle our environmental conditions and natural soils (which means you donít have to continually add organic matter to the soil like you should for the ďexoticĒ or non-native plants in your landscape to help them stay their healthiest.)

As with any plant, native or exotic, you must match the right plant to the right spot. The four main things you need to check out for any new plant you want to add to your landscape is its preference for light conditions, soil pH, soil moisture and mature height and spread. Every plant has preferences or tolerances when it comes to light, pH and moisture. If the plant you add matches the conditions found in its new location then that plant will have fewer problems over its lifetime.

Some gardeners desire to have only natives in their landscapes while others have some favorite exotics along with some natives. Then there are others who only have exotics because maybe they arenít aware of some of the neat natives we have and/or they donít see them for sale at the garden center that they shop at. The good news is that the availability of native plants is slowly getting better so, if you look you may find a few natives for sale at your favorite garden center or nursery, or you can check out a native nursery!

Here are some very ornamental natives (and all but one will help to attract wildlife to your yard) that you might consider adding to your landscape.

  • Southern redcedar (Juniperus silicicola) medium tree, evergreen, 30-45 feet tall, 20-30 foot spread, full sun to partial shade, high drought and salt spray tolerance, tolerates a wide range of pH, well drained soil, attracts birds.
  • Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) small tree, deciduous, 12-20 feet tall, 10-15 foot spread, full sun to shade, prefers acid soils, attracts birds and mammals, very cold tolerant.
  • Coral bean (Erythrina herbacea) small tree, deciduous, 5-15 feet tall, 4-8 foot spread, full sun to partial shade, well-drained soils, attracts hummingbirds, tolerates a wide range of pH, cold and drought tolerant.
  • Firebush (Hamelia patens) shrub, evergreen, 8-10 feet tall, 4-6 feet wide, full sun to shade, attracts hummingbirds and butterflies, can tolerate wet or dry soil, tolerates a wide range of pH.
  • Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) shrub, deciduous, 4-6 feet tall, 6-10 foot spread, full sun to partial shade, attract birds, cold and drought tolerant.
  • Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) vine, evergreen, full sun only, tolerates a wide range of pH, drought tolerant, attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.
  • Tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) wildflower, 2-3 feet tall, 2-3 foot spread, full sun, drought tolerant, attracts hummingbirds and butterflies, self-seeds.
  • Blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella) wildflower, to 1 foot tall and 2 foot spread, full sun, drought tolerant, attracts butterflies, self-seeds.
  • Sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa) ground cover, to 1 inch tall and 4-8 foot spread, full sun to partial shade, tolerates wide range of pH, can tolerate wet or dry soils, turf alternative that can be mowed, great for soil erosion control.

Considering that all exotic plants (or non-natives) need amended soil whereas natives donít, you could consider growing natives as a form of low-impact gardening - they require less effort and still look good. If every homeowner who doesnít have any natives in their yard now, starts adding them to their landscape it can be a win-win situation for both the gardener and the environment. So, if you donít have any natives in your landscape how about adding a few? If you already have a few natives, how about adding a few more? Remember, variety is the spice of life!