by Donna Bollenbach, Suncoast Chapter
Originally published in part in the Plant City Observer to promote Florida Native Plant Month and the Suncoast Native Plant Society Fall Plant Sale.
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
.” The Florida Native Plant Society
(FNPS) chose the month of October because, 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 as well. Additionally, with a slight drop in the temperature, October is the month when many Floridians escape the confines of their air-conditioned home to visit our wonderful parks and preserves, or to work in their gardens.
October is also the month that the many chapters of the Florida Native Plant Society
holds native plant sales. The Suncoast Chapter (SNPS) in Hillsborough County holds their sale at the USF Botanical Gardens Fall Plant Festival.
In anticipation, my husband clears out an area of our yard to make room for our native plant purchases. This year SNPS also had a buying trip to Sweetbay Nursery
in August, so we got an early start to our fall project:
Transforming an eye-sore…
|Our little fall garden in progress|
One small area, close to the road in our front yard, used to be a real eye-sore. It was overgrown with non-native grasses and vines. Right before the Suncoast Native Plant Society annual native nursery buying trip, my husband laboriously cleared out the mess to make room for more natives. In full sun, with moist, but well-drained soil, we decided that 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 and dry to full shade and wet, and everything in between. We had to remind ourselves that everything we purchased also had to planted, which is not fun in the heat of the summer. My husband had done all 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 for the start of our little garden.
A Work in Progress...
Our little garden doesn’t look like much now, but we hope 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” native plant 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. 2.
Note what type of soil you have: Is the soil dry and sandy? Moist and well-drained? Wet? 3.
Go to one of the many Fall Plant Sales sponsored by a Florida Native Plant Society Chapter
in your area, or visit a native plant nursery. Experts there will help you pick plants that are right for your landscape. 4.
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. 5.
When designing your space, traditionally taller plants would 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.
You can create a fall garden with these easy to find natives: Blazing Star
spp., is an attractive wildflower that produces beautiful purple flower spikes in late summer through the fall. Several native species of liatris grow in west central Florida. Some are very tall, and others are short and stout. It can be grown from seed or mature plans can be purchased from a native nursery. All of them prefer full sun, but have different soil requirements. Blazing star will attract a variety of butterflies and bees to the garden.
Goldenrod, Solidago spp., range from 3-6-foot-high with a fall display of golden yellow flowers in slender spikes or bushy heads. They are easy to grow from seed or mature plant, and will readily reseed or spread. When it is not blooming, it is a somewhat inconspicuous disk of basal leaves on the ground. Pollinators love goldenrod, especially bees.
|Goldenrod adds a splash of yellow|
to your landscape.
There are many native grasses that put on a beautiful fall display: Among the most popular are:Purple love grass, Eragrostis spectabilis
, is another purple to misty pink grass that grows 1-3 feet high. It prefers well-drained, if not dry, sandy soils.
Elliot’s Lovegrass, Eragrostis elliottii,
is a wispy grass with profuse tan flowers that bloom all year, but especially in the fall. It likes dry to well-drained soils.
Lopsided Indian Grass, Sorghastrum secundum,
is only 1-2 feet high for most of the year, but has flower stalks that get up to 6 feet tall in the fall. The showy plumbs resemble an upside down Indian headdress, thus the name, “Lopsided Indian Grass.”
|Muhly Grass looks like pink cotton candy from a distance. |
Muhly Grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris,
a showy grass with silky pink to lavender plumbs in the fall. When view from a distance it looks like a purple cotton candy. It grows 2-5 feet in moist to well drained soils, making it highly adaptable for most landscapes.
If your FNPS chapter would like to submit an informative* blog that showcases an event that you are having in October, please email it with images to Donna Bollenbach. *While you may provide information about and links to your event, please make sure your blog has an educational component as well.