Between the cooler spring days and the scorching summer heat, it can be a challenge to choose which plants to include in your yard. With the help of local gardening expert Suzanne Thornburg, manager of Sunflowerz Nursery, we've narrowed it down to a top 10 list, along with tips and tricks, to nurture a thriving garden throughout the coming months.
Mona lavender (Plectranthus)
Mona lavender isn't native to Florida, but grows well in its climate. Unlike many flowers, this perennial thrives in the shade or filtered light and grows a purple blossom with bright green leaves on one side and maroon on the other.
"The ideal watering pattern for this plant is one to two times a week," says Thornburg. Apply all-purpose palm and tropical fertilizer every six to 10 weeks to ensure growth. Ideal locations include the side of the house or a fence where it can get shade during the day. It also does well indoors.
Aloe has a wide variety of subspecies and is "extremely hardy and drought tolerant, so they don't need to be watered as often as other plant types," Thornburg says. "Plus, when it blooms, they attract hummingbirds."
Since aloe has different variations, it comes in a range of green hues, from light to dark. It thrives in full sun exposure and doesn't necessarily need to be fertilized, but if you do decide to, every six to 12 months is enough. Aloe can live in a container or in the ground as long as it gets plenty of sunlight.
Blanket flower (Gaillardia Pulchella)
Blanket flower is a Florida native, drought-resistant plant. Despite that, it still handles rainfall well and, when in bloom, it attracts butterflies and bees. This cheery flower needs full sun exposure and no more than one or two waterings per week. All-purpose palm and tropical fertilizer applied once every spring, summer and fall helps it thrive. Blanket flowers do best outdoors where pollinators help it thrive.
Saw palmetto (Serenoa Repens)
Native to Florida, saw palmetto requires little water. This drought-resistant plant loves full sun exposure and all-purpose palm and tropical fertilizer, twice a year, gives it the essential nutrients it needs. Give it room, though. "Saw palmetto can grow quite large, so it should be grown in the ground instead of a pot or restricted area," Thornburg says.
Coontie (Zamia Pumila)
This drought-tolerant, Florida native plant is hardy despite its delicate palm-like fronds. It craves full sun exposure, and all-purpose palm and tropical fertilizer twice a year gives it an extra boost. When fully mature, it attracts a singular species of butterfly called the Atala, which has blue-spotted black wings and a bright red abdomen. These plants do well in containers as long as they're able to dry out between waterings. With shallow roots, they can be planted just about anywhere, and do well both in and outdoors.
Blue salvia (Salvia Farinacea)
Blue salvia (pictured at top), also often called sage, is a Northern native but is drought-tolerant and able to survive Florida summers. It blossoms through spring and fall, and when it does, it attracts a wide variety of butterflies. There are more than a thousand different species of salvia and they vary in size. All-purpose palm and tropical fertilizer once a year before spring helps it thrive. These flowers don't like to be crowded so a spot with space to grow is ideal as long as they get plenty of sunlight.
Firebush (Hamelia Patens)
Firebush has both a non-native and native Florida species. The native plant's color is redder and larger, while the non-native color is more orange and considered to be a dwarf version, says Thornburg. The bright red-orange tubular flowers are drought tolerant and crave full sun exposure. Firebush does well as a landscaping plant to bring a pop of color near the home or patio. Fertilize with all-purpose and tropical fertilizer once every two to three years for best results.
Pentas (Pentas Lanceolata)
Pentas are not Florida natives, but once established, are drought-tolerant and grow quickly. At first, the plants wll need regular watering until they bloom—and once these sun-worshipping flowers do, they attract all kinds of butterflies. Plus, they come in a variety of colors such as lavender, purple, red, white, light and dark pink, says Thornburg. All-purpose palm and tropical fertilizer is ideal for this plant and should be applied every six weeks. Pentas plants prefer well-drained soil that doesn't stay soggy after heavy rainfall and does well both in and outdoors.
Blue daze (Evolvulus Glomeratus)
Blue daze, also known as beach bum blue, is a non-native Florida flower. Despite their name, they also come in red and yellow and are a fan favorite at the nursery, says Thornburg, probably because "They're just about bomb-proof" she adds, "and can withstand not having much water." They do however need full sun exposure, and an all-purpose tropical fertilizer once a month during the summer keeps them flowering. When they bloom, they spread into a blanket of flowers for ground cover or as a bedding plant.
Hibiscus (Hibiscus Rosa-Sinensis)
Hibiscus flowers are originally grown in southern Asia, but there are also species native to Florida and come in yellow, red, orange, white and pink. These bright blossoms aren't drought tolerant and require regular waterings. But it's worth it because when they bloom, they attract butterflies and hummingbirds. They're also versatile in shape. "They can be pruned and shaped to be shorter or grow into a hedge around five to six feet tall," says Thornburg. They can even be maintained in a tree form like a "lollipop on a stick," when trimmed. As long as they're in the sun, they can be safely planted anywhere.
What to consider before planting
First, observe the lighting in your yard throughout the day to square away sunny and shady spots for planting, and choose your plants accordingly.
Consider the ease of watering. Do you have an irrigation system? Will you be watering by hand? If by hand, consider lessening your load with drought-resistant picks.
Because many of these plants attract butterflies, bees and other pollinators, avoid using pesticides that will harm them. If necessary, opt for organic, soap or oil-based pesticides.
Consider the size of the plant at maturity when choosing its home in the yard so they have space to grow and don't require too much trimming.
Palm and tropical fertilizer comes in liquid, pellets, and water-soluble versions in both organic and regular options. Choose whichever works best for you.
For pet owners, make sure your favorite plants are safe for your four-legged friend. Mona lavender, aloe, blanket flowers, coontie, firebush, and blue daze have toxic compounds and can be potentially harmful if ingested. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has a guide here.
To learn more, click here or visit in person, at 7750 Fruitville Rd., Sarasota.