Monday, May 12, 2014

Landscaping With Native Plants in South Florida

Today I was thinking we could talk a little bit about using native plants.   When I first started gardening as a youngster (in the southern end of Miami now called Palmetto Bay) it was lots of fun visiting the plant nurseries with my parents picking out all kinds of cool stuff.   Upon our return I would either draw the leaves or emboss it by put a leaf under paper then rub over it with colored crayons leaving an imprint of the leaf and all it's veins.  They were fairly detailed even with their botanical names and everything.  Gosh I wish I still had those.  Any way the older I got the more I wanted to know about "exotic tropical" plants.  I would ride my bike around neighborhoods far-and-wide searching for unique species.  I would trade any of my plants I had multiples of for plants from other people's collections or ask for a cutting.   In my mind I was on my way to having to have the ultimate plant and orchid collection!  By the time I was a senior in high school, my parents allowed me to build a shade house in our backyard.  I had that thing so filled to the brim with plants and orchids that my parents thought for sure I would be a botanist.

Then in August of 1992 Hurricane Andrew came and left.  In it's wake were miles of destruction, devastation and parts of South Florida that were in complete desolation.  Within the previous sentence was also my shade house, my entire collection and lots of hard work....just gone, all within a few hours.  I had a few months before I had to be back at college, so our neighbor, also a collector, and myself decided to scout through the wreckage to see if we could find any of our plants.   This adventure lead us to amassing a brand new collection of plants.  We found plants among the wreckage though not our own.  We found our local Home Depot was actually throwing everything in dumpsters, yippee for us (even their wooden pot benches from the garden center).   People actually found us by word of mouth and literally gave us their orchids because they couldn't take care of them.  And we also unfortunately we found them in abandoned homes.
Our house after Hurricane Andrew came through August 24, 1992
The top picture was after we did weeks of cleaning & clearing.
The bottom two pictures were the day after.
My boyfriend (at that time) & I building my greenhouse (1989/90)
 & then after Hurricane Andrew made it into firewood (1992)
So why the long story about me...well, because even though I liked natives I didn't consider them something of value.  Back in the day my mind set was all tropical..."jungle exotics from afar, oh my!"  So speed up to present day, yup, you guessed collection's a combo of tropical's and native's, the best of both worlds!   Believe it of not , natives are now becoming a hot commodity as much of our natural lands are being destroyed for a new strip mall or bank or gas station or coffee shop.  Hopefully this post will help those non-native folks think kinder thoughts and reconsider using them in their landscapes and/or help preserve the lands we have.  By the end of this post you are going to be surprised at how many beautiful native plants there are to choose from!

For conversation sake in this post, the plants will be native to Florida.

First, the best place I suggest you start is a field trip to visit some of the following.
While you are there take some pictures of the plants you like so you can look them up and/or talk to the guides/employees/rangers utilizing their vast knowledge as to what the plant species are.
- visit your federalstate and county parks to see what a natural habit in your area looks like and see what native plants are indigenous to your area;
take a hike and/or bike through some local trails;
- visit botanical gardens like The Deerfield Beach Arboretum in west Deerfield Beach,
Flamingo Gardens in Davie,
Bonnet House in Fort Lauderdale beach,
Miami Beach Botanical Garden on Miami Beach,
Fairchild Tropical Gardens in Coral Gables,
Vizcaya Gardens in Coral Gables
Pinecrest Gardens in SE Miami,
The Kampong National Tropical Botanical Garden in Coconut Grove,
Ann Norton Sculpture Garden in West Palm Beach
Mounts in West Palm;
- take a walk around your neighborhood to see what grows well in your area; if you see a neighbor's yard you like, strike up a conversation with them to get their feedback and experience with what worked for them;
- visit native plant growers like Plant Creations in Homestead or Native Choice Nursery in Boynton Beach, Living Color in Davie and Nuturf in Pompano Beach;

Now that you have picked out a few natives you thought would be great for your yard, lets go to the internet.  This is a good place to get acquainted with additional pictures of the plants, their names, their growing requirements, how big they grow and where you can purchase them.  Please note, not all plant nurseries carry native plants so it's best to call first.
Try looking for some of the following:
- gardening blogs;
- try using websites like Plant Real Florida to find local native plant nurseries in your area;
- native plant societies like Florida Native Plant Society and their blog, or just google 'Florida native plant societies' and you will be sure to find a local chapter you can contact;
- your local university extension offices like the University of Florida and your county agricultural departments like Broward, even your city will have information like Coral Springs and Pompano Beach;
- look to booksmagazines & websites to gain additional knowledge and inspiration;
- look for local gardening clubs like Boca Raton's, these are a great place to share information;
- also online forums like Dave's Garden Forum and Palm Talk are great places to learn from;
- talk to local landscapers with knowledge in natives and/or find inspiration from international landscape architects like Raymond Jungles;

Ok so we have educated ourselves on some natives we like, now it's time to get dirty.  We have to find out where in your yard will these lovely plants go?  A few questions will help us determine that.  For an example let's use the wild coffee, so far we found out that it does best in filtered sun as an under story plant, can sustain short dry periods and prefers moist forest type soil but can be grown in different soil types such as alkaline, acidic, sandy, loamy, etc.

We also found out that it has added benefits for/to the environment.  Wild coffee has berries that are staples to many birds and animals diet, many native butterflies like the zebra longwing butterfly drink the flower nectar and for you it is a very low maintenance plant, yippee.

We have already asked the question about the plants growth habit, "is this an aggressive growing plant?", "what is the maximum height and width this plants gets?", "does it drop it's leaves every year (deciduous plant)?", "is this the right place for this plant?".  With which we learned that wild coffee is an incredibly easy plant to grow with it's dense round shape growing to about 7 ft high by 4-6 ft wide.  It is an evergreen, meaning it does not drop it's leaves like deciduous plants do.  Wild coffee's are a very tame multi-stemmed shrub that stay put where you plant them.

So back to the question "where in my yard do I put this native?"  Through our small bit of research we know exactly where to plant the wild coffee...under the black ironwood tree along the perimeter of your property for a beautiful bright green low maintenance privacy hedge.  See you did it, yippee!

To quote the amazing Ms. Martha Stewart "it's a good thing" to use as many native plants specific to your region as possible whether you live in South Florida or elsewhere.  With a little bit of research, I am sure you can find some wonderful natives you will love.  So now that you have the tools to find native plants for your area, get out there and start planting and sharing your knowledge!

Feel free to contact me with any questions and/or comments!

Happy Gardening and many best wishes,


  1. very interesting and informative post!!thanks

    1. Thanks Sharon, so glad you like it! Wishing you a great week!

      Happy Gardening & Best Wishes,

  2. Oh that hurricane! Sheri, glad you were not affected. You have wild coffee plant? How interesting! Will go to that link and read up after this. Thank you and you have a great day!!

  3. Hi Stephanie, actually we were affected though not nearly as bad as some others. It's amazing how such tragedy can bring the human race together to help others in need.
    Yes, there a few different indigenous Caribbean coffee plants but the one experts consider a FL native is called wild coffee. Can you grow coffee in Malaysia?

    Wishing you a great week!

    Happy Gardening & Best Wishes,

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  5. Hi Sheri:
    You are great to mention native plants to your readers. I have a 2.5 acre yard that is nothing but native plants which my wife Donna and I started planting when we moved in 22 years ago. We see barred, great horned and screech owls, bald eagles, many kinds of migrating warblers and other birds, snakes, box turtles, native frogs and toads, ruby throated and buff bellied hummingbirds and hundreds of butterflies that breed and feed here.
    But the best reason to use native plants is simply that they look better. They may go in looking a little rough, but within a few months they become lush and much more beautiful than the booooring Green Island Ficus that you see everywhere mixed with Trinette. They also look better with once or twice a year hand pruning rather than the squared look that I feel ruins a plant.
    I look forward to reading more of your comments,
    Carl Terwillliger