One misconception that homeowners often express when considering natives for the home garden is that natives will automatically make gardening care-free without any maintenance or the need for ordinary good gardening practices.
On the other hand another common misleading notion is that natives always have a wild and unkempt appearance when used in these circumstances. This thinking often means homeowners remain unaware of the beauty and plethora of choices readily available to intermingle attractive Florida natives into our home gardens.
Florida is fortunate to have a wealth of resources available to us regarding the principles of using Florida-Friendly plants as well. The benefits for the homeowner to create a beautiful AND healthy garden implementing both native and Florida-Friendly plants are many.
Florida has about *2800 species considered to be native. The most widely accepted definition of a native plant simply put means it was growing here on or before the first European explorers arrived.
Florida-Friendly means using low-maintenance plants and environmentally sustainable practices.
With the right information at our fingertips it is easy to imagine that designing a home garden integrating Florida natives AND Florida-Friendly plants has loads of creative potential for the gardener. Not to mention, once established, this type of landscape is much easier to maintain using less water, less energy, and little or no pesticides or fertilizer.
Implementing the 9 Florida-Friendly principles will help each gardener to acheive better results in this endeavor while enjoying their outdoor spaces including the wildlife your garden will attract, shelter, and feed.
What we've been working toward at Hoe and Shovel is a naturalistic appeal based on a common sense approach. This just means foregoing the typical sheared hedge-row appearances we are often used to seeing in suburbia. At the same time we forsake the appearance of a roadside piney flatwoods scrub. Finding a balance while being environmentally sensitive is our end-goal.
Even though we are located in an established neighborhood we were fortunate to start out with a few undisturbed natural areas on our property that we preserved from the start. As a matter of fact, it was these elements (more than the house even) that first attracted us to our home.
Building outward, from those existing oak trees and saw palmettos, layers and layers of vegetation have been added gradually and over many years to achieve a habitat rich with plant- life.
Each year over the past 10 years more and more lawn has been removed making way for additional borders. Each time a new area is created great care is taken to build the soil first, then plant.
Compost from our own recycled yard waste is always used to amend existing dirt and many times brand new potting soil is purchased and mixed in. Mulch is always placed 2-3" thick after planting using natural products such as oak leaves, pine needles, pine bark, and more recently making my own from the smaller limbs from trees.
During the planning process of each new area the plant materials used for the foundation must meet requirements consisting of cold-hardy and drought resistant trees, shrubs, and perennials. Some are natives and some are **plants that thrive in our area.
Placing these first gives me a good idea of how I want to incorporate other **Florida-Friendly perennials that might not be as resistant to our occasional hard winters. In general, almost in every instance, the species chosen are required to have bounce back capabilities after a frost.
Specific considerations are necessary and important to the success of placement regardless of whether the specimen is native or otherwise.
Careful evaluation of the site should be well thought-out.
Pay close attention to the orientation of the sunlight as it can change with each season.
Review the site to determine the soil moisture and how it is effected by rainfall or other factors such as buildings, driveways, or any other run-off.
The condition of the soil is a big factor in Florida. Often during construction debris or concrete rubble can be buried and affect the alkalinity of soil. Or fill dirt is dumped and there is at best a mixture of different types of sand discovered when grass is removed.
Thinking of our home gardens as just a small piece of the entire ecosystem wherever we live goes a long way toward doing our part to preserve and manage responsibly the environment entrusted to us.
As much as I'm enjoying a more naturalistic approach in my garden I admit I still like my 'edges' clean. Keeping what's left of the lawn mowed correctly and trimmed along the borders is essential. It serves the purpose of delineating the spaces and keeping a tidy aspect while letting the foliage within the borders become a little more free-flowing. Maybe that's just me. Left over from my 'sculptured-hedges' days. But I'm sticking to it because it's the way I like it.
We don't claim to be experts at any of this. We've made lots of mistakes in our learning endeavors and our growing processes. By way of example, even as late as this year, I forgot how big the Natchez Crepe had gotten when its leaves flush out each spring. In the winter when southern sunlight was blazing through its empty limbs I planted some sun-loving butterfly plants. Those are now struggling for enough warm rays through shifting, dappled sunlight in the heart of summer.
There are purist native plant advocates who do not adhere to the idea of tropicals or exotics in our Florida yards. I can't say we adhere to this strict approach as we love our tropicals (the ones that are not invasive) among our natives.
Basically the greatest percentage of our plants meet sustainable requirements. Our tropicals are sited with the same careful consideration for water usage and we find they survive well on rainfall alone when placed correctly.
Now if I could just break my addiction to container plants I might be able to stop dragging a hose around the yard.
You are welcome to access more photos (along with ones viewed here)in my public Picasa web album here which include captions identifying most of the plants used.
*Florida's Best Native Landscape Plants, author Gil Nelson
** Riverview Flower Farm's Florida Friendly Plants
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Welcome to my Central Florida Garden Blog where we garden combining Florida natives, Florida-Friendly plants, and tropicals.