Note: This article comes from the Sun Coast Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society
October is Native Plant Month in Florida!
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.
If you would like to plant a “Fall” native plant garden, here are some simple steps to get started:
1. 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.
Blazing Star, Liatris 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.
Grasses: 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, 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.