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Florida-Friendly Plants (4/18/2015)


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Florida-Friendly Plants

 By:  Master Gardener Susan Nugent 

My bottlebrush, Callistemon spp., appears to be surrounded by pollinators, both bees and butterflies dancing around its blossoms. A hummingbird darts around the blooms, ignoring other plants. Sitting in the shade of its branches, deep within the tree, a female cardinal is eyeing the birdfeeder, hoping for a handout. Plants like this small tree help determine what wildlife we view out our windows, in our gardens and around our yards, and, most importantly, what wildlife we help sustain. Here are a few ideas for attracting more wildlife with examples of Florida-friendly plants to accomplish this goal.

For our pollinators we need plants blooming from early spring through late fall. One of the longest-blooming plants in my garden is the sweet almond bush, Aloysia virgata. In spring, it quickly recovers from winter cold, sending off its almond scent along with producing white flower clusters until frosts stop this evergreen's blooms in winter. Bees and butterflies both enjoy its blossoms throughout the long season. In the heat of the summer, when it's difficult to think about gardening after 9 a.m., the anise hyssup, Agastache foeniculum, a favorite of mine and pollinators, provides sweet nectar.

For the butterflies we must provide host plants as well as nectar plants. Butterflies lay their eggs near or on plants that the emerging caterpillars will devour. For example, monarch caterpillars ravage milkweed, Asclepias spp., and zebra longwings chomp down the passion vines, Passaflora incarnata. Each butterfly has host plants specifically for its use, so a variety of plants also is important. Which butterflies do you want gliding through your garden? You will need to check what the host plants are.

This also is a reminder that butterfly gardens do not always look perfect. When those monarch caterpillars are feasting, the milkweed looks very scraggly; when the zebra longwing scarfs down the passion vine, that part of the garden looks stringy. Often we put our butterfly gardens in our backyards. However, the milkweed I planted there decided it likes my front yard much better. Thankfully, my neighbor's child loves butterflies. Watching the monarchs sucking nectar from abelias, Abelia spp., and then floating through the yard over many other nectar plants more than makes up for the scrawny stems of milkweed.

Sustaining bird populations means we also must add plants with berries to our yards. Walter's viburnum, Viburnum obovatum, wax myrtles, Myrica cerifera, and yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria, are three trees that birds enjoy consuming. When I decided on purchasing an American holly, Ilex opaca, the nursery staff told me the birds would get drunk on its berries. That overindulgence has yet to happen, but the berries are devoured each fall. My blueberry bushes also provide berries, mainly because I don't cover them to keep either the birds or squirrels away. Other gardeners wanting to harvest their own treats might cover them with netting.

Our yards will be more diverse as we think about a variety of plants to attract and sustain a variety of wildlife. Enjoy the transformation.

 

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