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Plant City Observer Thursday, Sep. 15, 2016 2 years ago

How to start a Florida native plant garden

There will be many events in October for Florida Native Plant Month.

Donna Bollenbach
Suncoast Native Plant Society

For the second year in a row, the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners and the mayor of Tampa have officially proclaimed October as “Florida Native Plant Month.”

While many states have stunning displays of spring flowers, Florida’s mild climate provides for a spectacular showcase of native flowers and grasses in the fall. With a slight drop in the temperature, October is the month when many Floridians escape the confines of their air-conditioned homes to visit parks and preserves or to work in their gardens. 

October is also the month the Suncoast Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society has one of its largest native plant sales at the University of South Florida Botanical Gardens Fall Plant Festival. 

In anticipation, each fall my husband clears out an area of our yard to make room for our native plant purchases. This year SNPS had a buying trip to Sweetbay Nursery in July, so we got an early start to our fall project.


One small area, close to the road in our front yard, used to be a real eyesore. It was overgrown with non-native grasses and vines. My husband laboriously cleared the mess to make room for more natives. In full sun, with moist, but well-drained soil, we decided his little D-shaped garden would be the perfect spot for a fall display of native grasses and wildflowers.  

The hard part about visiting a native plant nursery is not going overboard with your purchases. Sweetbay has native plants for every location: full sun to full shade, dry to wet, and everything in between. 

We had to remind ourselves everything we purchased also had to be planted, which is not fun in the heat of the summer. My husband did the labor to prepare the garden, so it was only fair to let him pick the plants. He picked out muhly grass, lopsided Indian grass, love grass and liatris. 


While our little garden doesn’t look like much now, it will grow into a spectacular display of purple and pink, and when we go to the Suncoast Native Plant Society fall native plant sale at USF in October, we will purchase goldenrod and native sunflowers to add yellow to the palette. 

If you would like to plant a fall garden, here are some simple steps to get started:


  Pick a small area in your yard that gets full sun and clear out the sod, non-natives and weeds. 


 Note what type of soil you have: Is the soil dry and sandy? Moist and well-drained? Wet?


Go to the Suncoast Native Plant Society Fall Plant Sale on Saturday, Oct. 8, and Sunday, Oct. 9. Volunteers will help you pick four to six native plants for your landscape. 


Plant your purchases. Most natives will require watering until well established, but pay attention to the needs of your specific plants. Some of them do not tolerate over-saturated soils. Mulch with an eco-friendly pine straw or leaf litter. 


When designing your space, traditionally taller plants should be placed in the back of the garden and shorter ones up front, but if you want to create a meadow effect, intermingle the taller grasses and wildflowers in the center of the garden and put shorter specimens along the edges. 


Fall Native Plant Sale 
When: 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8, and Sunday, Oct. 9
Where: University of Florida Botanical Gardens, 12210 USF Pine Drive, Tampa

The Suncoast Native Plant Society meets at 7 p.m. the third Wednesday of each month at the Hillsborough County Extension Office, 5339 County Road 579, Seffner.


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