Weekly Home Horticulture Column
By Master Gardener Susan Nugent
When a friend mentioned that her flatwoods plum (Prunus umbellata) seems to be struggling, a fellow master gardener stated, "Right plant, right place." That mantra is one of the principles of Florida-friendly landscaping. It sounds easy. However, how we determine what plant goes in what spot sometimes takes a bit of thought. Here are the concepts my friend and I considered as we reviewed that reminder.
Is her flatwoods plum in the right climate zone? The right plant can be planted in the wrong climate zone. Many of us moved to Alachua County from other regions of the country. Our favorite carissa plum is wonderful in the Keys, but not well suited here. Other frost-sensitive plants we've tried to coax into growing here can sometimes survive in the warmest section of our gardens or where protection is provided by a tree or near the house. Similarly, some cold-weather plants fail miserably. Many fruit trees need chill hours, hours when the temperatures drop below 45 degrees, to produce fruit. That succulent Georgia peach we longingly recall needs between 650 and 1,600 chill hours. Peach tree cultivars that work well in this area must produce fruit in only 100 to 525 chill hours. In terms of plum trees, the choice of a flatwoods plum or a chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia) is appropriate for this zone.
How much sunlight is this tree getting? We all know which parts of our yard get early morning sun and which parts remain in shade most of the day. When I moved into my home, the developers had planted three young trees in my sunny front yard. Today, once my shumard oak leafs out in early March, my front yard has turned primarily to shade. The original flowers no longer work. So I've been transplanting those sun-loving "right plants" like spireas and salvias to areas where they are much happier and starting to thrive again. In turn, ajuga, bromeliads and a variety of ferns are being moved to the newly shaded areas. Finding the right place is an on-going process. My friend's flatwoods plum gets morning sun and afternoon shade, a nice balance for good growth.
How dry is the soil? Water also affects our selection of "right plant." A downspout provides enough water for a cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalisa) to grow in one part of my garden. Other areas are quite dry. There, false rosemary (Conradina) blossoms for much of the season, a wonderful pollinator attractor. Neither of these plants would survive where the other is. The spot my friend selected for her flatwoods plum is well drained and does not normally have too much water. However, last year, the establishment year for the tree, Gainesville had lots of heavy rain. Perhaps her plum received more water than it needed as it was adjusting to life outside a pot.
This time of year, we study our gardens contemplating ways to enhance various areas. This planning has to consider how appropriate each addition is. My friend and I examined her tree, noting that an abundance of leaves have replaced the meager number of spring blossoms. The plant is definitely showing progress and, yes, it does meet the criteria for "right plant, right place." On May 16, from 8 a.m. until noon, we all have the opportunity to find another "right plant" at the 2015 Ag Fest & Master Gardener Plant Sale at the Alachua County Extension Office on 39th Avenue, just east of Waldo Road, in Gainesville.
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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Tomatoes on the Vine