Grow Green With Florida Native Plants - Guide to Greater Tampa Bay

Grow Green With Florida Native Plants

Woman with flowers, eco-friendly garden Kali

The wild, diverse array of Florida foliage celebrates local beauty with minimal, eco-friendly upkeep.

These are two reasons native plants are an excellent choice for the spring planting season. They are also why Kali Rabaut, a gardener, florist and owner of Sunrise Florals and Suncoast Compost in Tampa Heights, suggests planting native species this season.

Native Florida plant breeds have a strong survival rate, Rabaut said. From the diversity of swamp sunflowers to the yucca, Florida’s litany of native plant species represents many alphabet letters.

The list begins with Carolina jessamine and continues with the Chickasaw plum, fakahatchee grass, firebush, gaillardia, gopher apple, liatris, oakleaf hydrangea, prickly pear, redbud, saw palmetto, sea grape, spiderwort, wax myrtle and wild coffee. No need to be intimidated by the long list. Rabaut recommends visiting local plant nurseries specializing in native plants to find the best ones for front and backyard landscapes.

“The folks who work there are very knowledgeable and can help guide you toward the right plants for you,” Rabaut said.

Florida native plants and butterfly
Credit: Little Red Wagon Native Nursery

Florida Native Plants Nursery in Myakka, Little Red Wagon Native Nursery in Tampa and Wilcox Nursery and Landscape in Largo are other great places to find native Florida plants.  

Native species vary greatly in size, shape and color. Take some time to look at popular Florida species. In addition, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences is an excellent resource for finding out more about gardening with endemic plants.

IFAS notes that beautyberry, muhly grass, coontie and Southern magnolia are popular native species. The extension offers many more options, as well, with informative links on each type.

IFAS also provides other resources on native plants in an overview report and species subtopics and other informational publications. For example, to go native with shrubs, IFAS recommends Adams needles, bay-cedar and Florida boxwood bushes. Or, go big and home with the Florida state tree and plant a sabal palm in the front yard.

Credit: Jensen Taylor

Rabaut also recommends visiting the Florida Native Plant Society to learn more about other Sunshine State species to purchase. In the end, Rabaut encourages people to think critically about their lawns, which require so much water and fertilizer to stay green.

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Like native species, all plants have certain conditions they need to survive and thrive. It is key to choose the right plant for the right place.

“Sunshine mimosa, peanut grass and jasmine are great native and Florida-friendly ground covers that can make a wonderful alternative to a lawn,” she said. “I no longer have a lawnmower. Instead, I have thousands of plants that bring life and beauty to people and animals in my neighborhood.”

With spring planting soon to go in full bloom, consider going indigenous. It is not only an environmentally friendly choice, but a gorgeous, double blossom for any garden.

By Angela Underwood

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