Gardening with native crops | Dwelling and Out of doors Dwelling


Jane Weber Main

Jane Weber


Creating an easy-care wildflower meadow, a butterfly garden or an evergreen perennial privacy screen can be very easy. Homeowners just have to observe and copy nature. Smart gardeners use native plants that have evolved in local soils, weather, cold, and heat zones. Weather and climate determine what can be grown. Local native plants coexist with insect and animal life that occurred naturally before humans downgraded the habitats.

The Southeastern Coastal Plain encompasses the lowlands of the Carolinas, south through Georgia and Florida, and west through southern Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Coastal Texas. No part of Florida is within tropical latitudes; However, South Florida and the Keys are warmed by the Gulf Stream near the coast, making them tropical in the cold hardiness zone 11 with no frost. As far as Lake Okeechobee, South Florida, and along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, it can be subtropical in the cold Zone 10, where frost is rare.

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Southern central Florida has a mild temperate climate in the cold Zone 9 with some frosts and occasional frosts. Inland, north of the Withlacoochee River, which separates Citrus Counties from Marion and Levy Counties and northeast to west of Jacksonville, North Central Florida is in cold Zone 8b with about 10-15 frosty mornings and a few prolonged, hard frosts. Further north and away from coastal temperate waters, winters are getting colder and longer. West Florida, in the rolling pine forests north of the coastal lowlands, Zone 8a is 5 degrees Fahrenheit colder than 8b along the Panhandle Gulf coast.

Although California has cold zones similar to Florida, it has rainy winters and dry summers. Summer is Florida’s rainy season with around 40-50% of the annual rainfall in four months from June to late September. Citrus and the western half of Marion County rains an average of 52 to 56 inches per year. Levy, Dixie, and Taylor grow up to 60 inches annually. Eastern Marion in Zone 9a receives 48 to 52 inches of annual rainfall. Visit the Florida Climate Center ( and click the closest city to see the 30-year average temperature and rainfall in your area.

Wildflowers attract butterflies, bees, wasps, hummingbirds and other pollinators with sweet, nutritious nectar and nutritious pollen. Plant native flowers and these animals will come into a garden. To keep butterflies around, gardeners need to plant specific host plants for each caterpillar species. If, for example, frogfruit, Phyla nodiflora, is planted as a ground cover mixed with lawn grass, then the butterflies White Peacock, Horse Chestnut and Phaon Crescent lay their eggs on it. Small butterflies sip nectar from tiny frog fruit blossoms.

Many small caterpillars feed on grasses. Others dine on leaves and flowers of trees, bushes or vines. Sugarberry and Hackberry trees feed the Hackberry Emperor, American Snout, Question Mark, and Tawny Emperor caterpillars. Passionvines feed Zebra Longwing, Gulf Fritillary and Variegated Fritillary caterpillars. Giant swallowtail caterpillars only feed on citrus trees – mostly Hercules club tree leaves in my garden. Zebra swallowtail caterpillars only eat Asimina pawpaws. Caterpillars graze for 10 to 14 days and then pupate to become adults. Pupae can overwinter in leaf litter or underground. The host plants will soon grow new leaves to replace the tangled leaves without long-term damage.

Companion, self-seeding, low-growing native wildflowers that can be planted in a mowable green space include frogfruit, pink portulaca, portulaca pilosa; Yellow Creeping Oxalis, Oxalis corniculata, and Sunshine Mimosa, Mimosa strigilosa. Little Yellow Sulfur caterpillars feed on Sunshine Mimosa.

In a seasonally mowed or burned meadow, use larger native wildflowers such as beach or dune sunflower, Helianthus debilis; Red salvia, Salvia coccinea; Lyreleaf salvia, salvia lyrate; Liatris Blazing Star, Liatris Species; Florida Brush, Carpheperous Corymbosus; Carolina Ruellia, Ruellia caroliniensis; and goldenrod, Solidago species, among others.

The cultivation of a privacy screen from native evergreen shrubs and trees feeds certain caterpillars. Plants provide protection from predators; Nesting sites for birds, squirrels and other wildlife; and flowers, nectar, pollen, fruits and seeds for food. In addition to gaining privacy on a crowded planet, gardeners will help restore plant and animal biodiversity, reduce pollution and dust, increase oxygen emitted by plants, and store carbon in trees, plants, roots and in the soil .

Jane Weber is a professional gardener and consultant. Half-boarded, she grows thousands of native plants. Contact them at or by phone at 352-249-6899.