With so many choices online and in stores, how do I choose the best plants for my yard?
Make every dollar count with resilient plants suitable for your site. The challenges, be it slopes, wet sites, dry sites, shady sites are as varied and unique as the people living among them. Time, energy and finances are limitations. You may experience success with screening an eyesore, attracting wildlife, improving resale value, adding beauty to the home and relieving stress with green therapy. Plant selection involves identifying plants that work with your site conditions.
Location, location, location.
What are minimum cold temps in your landscape? USDA provides average annual minimum winter temperatures (1976-2005) viewable by zip code. As an example, Bronson, Florida (zip code 32621) is listed as 9a. Easy summer plants, zoned 8-10, include black eye susan, coreopsis and gaillardia. Seeds of the latter spread with the wind.
USDA zone information is generally listed on plant tags and descriptive catalog text. One benefit of north Florida gardening, caladium and other bulb may overwinter in ground. Croton, a perennial in south Florida gardens (zoned 10-11), is an attractive annual in Bronson. Extend the pleasure by bringing containerized plants indoors. Plants zoned 4-8 are likely to waste away in Florida’s climate.
“Northern apples ‘Golden Delicious’, ‘Red Delicious’, ‘Gala’, or ‘Fuji’, are not exposed to enough low temperatures during Florida’s mild winters.” (EDIS publication Low-Chill Apple Cultivars for North Florida and North Central Florida1) Anna and Dorsett Golden apple are better fit based on average chill unit in north and north central Florida.
Let there be light.
We recently acquired a one gallon citrus. The man of the house planted it where it would receive sufficient light. Citrus are more productive in full sun. Full sun equates to 8 hours or more hours of direct light, year round. Part sun equates to about 4-6 hours of direct light. Many plants benefit from some sort of mid-day protection, especially in summer.
Practical application involves recording light conditions throughout the day, and over seasons on a specific site. Clock, digital camera or pencil and paper are simple but effective tools. I’ve used shovels, chairs and ladders to mark possible planting sites and observe sun patterns as they play off temporary ‘markers.’ As a side benefit, does ‘marker’ placement enhance or detract from line of sight?
Coleus and caladium add interest to shade areas. Shade presents in various forms; filtered, dappled, deep or combinations. Sydney Park Brown has authored an excellent primer on shade with plant selections.
A note on soil drainage and drought tolerance.
Listed as high, medium, low or none as a measure of how well an established plant tolerates arid or droughty conditions. Crape myrtle has high drought tolerance on well drained to medium drained soils. Loquat has medium drought tolerance and prefers well drained soils. Coleus (Solenostemon scuttelarioides) have low drought tolerance and prefer medium drained soils. While all require irrigation until established, grouping plants according to water needs makes maintenance easier long term.
Surprise! Your landscape may have different soil types in different areas. Compacted or poorly drained soils? For optimum root health, select plants adapted to wet soils, low spots, poor drainage, compacted soils or high water table. Louisiana Iris (Iris hexagona) tolerates wet soils and has low to medium drought tolerance. Ornamental muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) has high drought tolerance and can tolerate a wide range of soil moisture. Many cultivars of canna lily tolerate medium drained to wet sites with medium drought tolerance.
Lippia (Phylla nodiflora) may be an option for sunny, well drained to moist soils in difficult to mow areas. Mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicas) tolerates shady areas. The dwarf variety is less than three inches, and does not require mowing. Does your site experience salt spray? It is a windy area? Plant labels provide specialized information.
To dig deeper, please refer to the Florida Friendly Landscaping (FFL) website, Right Plant, Right Place, annual plants, statewide perennials, local extension office, Florida Master Gardeners and reputable nurseries. Growers reveal new cultivars each season. Reply below to share your favorites. I’d appreciate hearing from you.
“It [FFL yard visit] answered a lot of my questions. I’d recommend it to everybody.” ~Suzanne
Dixie, Gilchrist and Levy county residents request a site visit with specially trained yard advisor. Call 352-486-5131 to discuss your landscape challenges and goals. A customized educational (and hopefully enjoyable) experience will address questions. Yard advisors provide UF research-based options. This self-evaluation form will guide the discussion. These principles are discussed during the visit. There is no charge for this service. Until then – Happy Gardening!