Right mix of exotics, natives reward gardeners in hottest months

David W. Marshall

Summer is a challenging time in the North Florida garden, yet it can be a very rewarding time, too. The difference between getting discouraged and in enjoying the summer garden is in knowing what plants to grow.

Our summer heat and humidity is too much for some of the plants that we see gardeners growing through the summer in other parts of the country. Yet many garden plants which have their origins in tropical areas of the world thrive through our summers, and our winters are mild enough that these plants re-sprout from the ground late each spring and act as perennials here.

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We do not want to use non-natives that are invasive and spread into woodlands or areas where we don’t plant them. But we can plant non-natives (exotics) that are well-behaved garden plants. Many of our common garden plants, azaleas for example, are exotics.

The key to success in the garden is to use plants that are well-suited to the site and to our weather conditions.

Powderpuff bush (Calliandra spp.) provides bright red powderpuffs of flowers summer through fall.

Well-behaved imports 

In my garden right now, Turk’s cap, native to Texas, Mexico, Central America, and northern South America, as well as parts of the West Indies, has been flowering since spring. Thryallis, another central America native, is just starting to bloom. South African natives, plumbago and Bauhinia galpinii, also do well for us.

Firebush, native to all the Americas, has recovered from the winter’s cold damage and is about ready to start flowering. Don’t forget the South American native, angel’s trumpet or Brugmansia, with its large, fragrant trumpet-shaped flowers.