Grown Your Own – April 2013

Spring has finally sprung, and some of us are just itching to add some new, colorful plants to our gardens. With local water and fertilizer restrictions, it makes sense to look for varieties that don’t require much care once they’re established.
I’ve assembled my personal “Top Ten” list of flowering plants that are easy to grow and provide great color and texture to the landscape. They are all drought-tolerant, and many will return in the spring (either from the roots or from seed) even after a hard winter. Their flowers attract bees and butterflies and perhaps even an occasional hummingbird.
1. The family of salvias includes both annuals and perennials that bloom throughout the growing season. I have had great luck with red and pink varieties that grow to about 12-15 inches. Another taller variety (24-30 inches) has beautiful deep blue and black flowers.
2. Lemon-scented geranium (Pelargonium citrosum) has fuzzy leaves with a wonderful citrus scent. It can survive a freeze, and it will branch out to about 12 inches tall and 24-36 inches wide. The small pink flowers are some of the first blooms of spring.
3. Yellow alder (Turnera ulmifolia) is a woody perennial (3-4 feet) with dark green leaves and loads of lovely, flat yellow flowers. It produces lots of seedlings, which some may find objectionable, but I save them to share with other gardeners.
4. Periwinkle (Vinca) is a low-grower with lots of colorful bloom varieties that can help make your garden “pop.” Use it as a border or groundcover.
5. Gaura lindheimeri sports small, wing-like flowers on tall (12-15-inch) spikes. When there’s a breeze, the blooms look like white butterflies hovering over the garden. Gaura may not survive a winter freeze, but it’s worth purchasing again if it doesn’t return in the spring.
6. Bulbine is a wonderful border plant with spiky green leaves and yellow or orange flowers that provide long-lasting color.
7. Two great native grasses are muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) and
8. Elliott’s love grass (Eragrostis elliottii). Both are at their best in the fall when muhly displays feathery pink flowers, and love grass puts out branches of tiny white seeds, providing quite a “flowerless” show.
9. Glossy abelia (Abelia x grandiflora) thrives in our sunny, hot Florida weather. It’s a versatile shrub with arching branches, shiny dark green leaves and loads of small pink and white flowers.
10. The sweet almond bush (Aloysia virgata) can be kept at shrub size with occasional pruning, but why not let it grow into a small tree to provide a little shade? The spiky white flowers are extremely aromatic, making your garden a sweet-smelling retreat. Last summer my “tree” was visited by hundreds of Monarch, Fritillary, and Sulphur butterflies in a single afternoon. What an unusual and spectacular sight!
If you’d like some help coming up with your own top ten list, visit Once you’ve established where you live in Florida, enter the type of plant you’re looking for. Next, add more information about your garden such as light and soil conditions. You will get a list of plants that will help make growing your own a success.

About Aline Clement

Aline Clement is a master gardener with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.