Native Shrubs For South Florida

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Archival copy: for current recommendations see or your local extension office.EES59Native Shrubs for South Florida1Alan W. Meerow2A shrub may be defined as a multi-stemmedwoody plant of small size (less than 10 feet tall atmaturity). In some cases, the distinction between"tree" and "shrub" breaks down, since some largeshrubs can be trained to a single trunk and used as asmall tree, while some small trees can produceseveral stems and appear shrublike in the landscape.Shrubs fulfill many important roles in landscapehorticulture. Hedges, foundation plantings, accent,and specimen plantings are all uses for which shrubsare well suited. It is usually a combination of tree andshrub plantings that sets the tone of the landscape anddefines the outdoor living space.South Florida's various plant communitiescontain many native species of shrubs suitable forlandscaping. In recent years, interest in the use ofnative plants for Florida landscaping has greatlyincreased. Some of the reasons for this include theloss to development of natural areas in the state,coastal deterioration due to disturbance of nativevegetation, and concern about water use to supportexotic landscapes composed of introduced specieswith greater irrigation requirements than some nativespecies. The introduction of exotic plants thatnaturalize and, in some cases, out compete nativespecies, has become of great concern in various partsof Florida. Considerable amounts of time, money,and energy are now spent eradicating such plant pestsfrom many areas of the state. Many counties areconsidering landscape ordinances that require apercentage of native plant materials to be used in allfuture developments. Several have alreadyimplemented such ordinances. This will result in aneed for wider availability of native plant materials.Woody landscape plant producers, landscapearchitects, and home gardeners in Florida need tobecome informed about and prepared for theproduction and cultural needs of this type of plantmaterial.Native plant materials are often better adapted toFlorida landscape conditions than some commonlyused exotic species. This is especially true if the siteconditions duplicate closely those experienced by aparticular species in its natural environment. Somenative shrubs (for example, wax myrtle, Myricacerifera) show wide latitude in their adaptation tovery different conditions, while others fail if plantedin conditions not sufficiently similar to their naturalhome.1. This document is Fact Sheet EES-59, a series of the Florida Energy Extension Service, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food andAgricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date: July 1991. Revised June 2004. Please visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu2. Alan W. Meerow, former assistant professor, Environmental Horticulture Dept., Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and AgriculturalSciences, University of Florida, Gainesville FL 32611.The Florida Energy Extension Service receives funding from the Florida Energy Office, Department of Community Affairs and is operated by the Universityof Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences through the Cooperative Extension Service. The information contained herein is the product of theFlorida Energy Extension Service and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Florida Energy Office.The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educationalinformation and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.For information on obtaining other extension publications, contact your county Cooperative Extension Service office. Florida CooperativeExtension Service/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences/University of Florida/Christine Taylor Waddill, Dean.

Archival copy: for current recommendations see or your local extension office.Native Shrubs for South FloridaCoastal South Florida VegetationZonesWhen choosing native shrub species, it isimportant to understand both the conditions at theplanting site and the conditions in the original habitatof the species being considered. In south Florida, themajority of the population is concentrated within a10- to 12-mile-wide coastal area. Moving shortlyinland from the coast, three vegetation zones areencountered: the pioneer, the scrub, and the forestzone.The pioneer zone occurs on the primary dunesthat build along the beach front with wave action.Few plants are adapted to this harsh environment, andof these, even fewer are shrubs. Well-adaptedspecies function as sand binders. Sea oats, Uniolapaniculata, a perennial grass, is the most importantspecies in the pioneer zone. Many of the plantstypical of the pioneer zone are discussed in detail inthe companion publication, Native Ground Covers forSouth Florida (EES 60). Where wave building isabsent, mangroves and saltwater marshes replace thepioneer zone. Mangroves are woody plants especiallyadapted to withstand intense salinity and saltwaterflooding and are extremely important in stabilizingand building south and central Florida's coastlines.The maintenance or replanting of mangroveassociations requires special care outside the scope ofthis publication. Ask your cooperative extensionagent about Florida Sea Grant and Department ofNatural Resources publications that address thereplanting of mangroves.The scrub zone occurs where dunes havestabilized, some organic matter has accumulated, andthe salinity of the soil is lower. It often intergradeswith the pioneer zone. Scrub is rich in shrubs. Sometypical members include: sea grape (Coccolobauvifera), wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), saw palmetto(Serenoa repens), cocoplum (Chrysobalanus icaco),sea lavender (Mallotonia gnaphalodes), and baycedar (Suyiana maritime). Scrub also occurs furtherinland on ancient dunes that formed when much ofcoastal Florida was underwater, but inland scrub willusually include several tree species as well as shrubspecies not found in the coastal scrub. Scrubformations support a number of rare, threatened, or2endangered species. Little original coastal scrubremains in much of southeast Florida.The forest zone occurs yet further inland wheredunes have stabilized completely, salinity is yetfurther decreased, and soils have accumulatedsufficient nutrients to support trees. The term "forestzone" is really a broad umbrella for various types oftree communities, including slash pine woods (Pinuselliotii var. densa) and hardwood hammocks. Littleremains of mainland south Florida's unique coastaltropical hammocks composed of many tree speciescharacteristic of the Caribbean islands. Many shrubspecies occur in the understory and at the margins ofthese pine and hardwood forests, including indigoberry (Randia aculeata), firebush (Hamelia patens),locustberry (Brysonima lucida), marlberry (Ardisiaescallonioides), and various stoppers (Eugeniaspecies).In recent years, urbanization in south Florida hasmoved steadily inland towards the Everglades, aunique wetland habitat often likened to a wide,shallow, slow moving river. The original vegetationof this area is dominated by sawgrass marsh, cypressswamps, and island hammocks of hardwood trees,rimmed by a ridge of slash pine woods. Whendeveloping these wetlands, the land is drained anddredged, and much of the muck soil is replaced byfill. Consequently, it may be difficult to reestablishthe original vegetation of these inland areas.Site Factors to Consider WhenChoosing Native ShrubsCareful consideration must be given to thecharacteristics of the planting site before choosingnative shrubs for landscaping. First, some questionsrelating to the past history of the site must beanswered.What was the original vegetation of the area?This knowledge will give an indication of whichnative plants will perform best on the site. Assumingthat the answer to the next question is no, nativespecies that once grew in a given location are likelyto do best when replanted in comparison with speciesfrom very different types of native vegetation.

Archival copy: for current recommendations see or your local extension office.Native Shrubs for South FloridaHave the native soil and/or water flow patternsbeen modified? During development, topsoil is oftenremoved, and original drainage patterns are disturbed.Fill soil of very different quality may have beenbrought in to replace the topsoil removed. If such isthe case, it may be impossible to reestablish the samespecies that once grew on the site, or it may require agreat deal of site preparation and maintenance to doso.Consider the present condition of the site. Doesthe site accumulate standing water? What is the soiltype: muck? white sand? coral rock? Is the siteexposed to salt spray? Will the landscape plants beintegrated with turf, and possibly be subjected toirrigation best suited to turf? All of these factors willinfluence the degree of success with which particularnative species will perform in a landscape. The sizeof the lot may also restrict the use of some specieswhose mature dimensions require a lot of space.Planting Native ShrubsPlanting native shrub species is no different fromplanting exotics. Amending the backfill soil (the soiloriginally excavated from and then returned to theplanting hole) is not recommended. Situate the rootball in the soil at the same level at which it grew inthe field or the container. Large masses of circlingroots in container stock should be slit lengthwise in afew places from the top to the bottom of the rootballto stimulate lateral root production. It may benecessary or desirable to reduce top growth; thisshould be accomplished by thinning out (removingone or several, well-distributed branches at their pointof origin), rather than heading back (cutting all topgrowth back to approximately the same level).Thinning cuts will preserve the natural shape of theshrub.The shrubs should be regularly irrigated afterplanting, and a mulch of organic material isrecommended. A surface application of aslow-release fertilizer can be applied within thedripline of the shrub (the area of soil containedwithin the spread of the shrub's branches) before themulch is put down. If rainfall is received regularly inthe first few months after planting, this may besufficient for the establishment of small container3stock (1-gallon size). If not, periodic irrigation willbe necessary. In either case, careful monitoring ofthe new landscape is essential to make sure that theplants are not water stressed during the establishmentperiod. Larger plants may require a year or more toproperly establish in the landscape. The frequency ofirrigation (weekly, to several times per week duringthe first month) will depend on temperature and thewater-holding capacity of the soil. Irrigationfrequency can be reduced in successive months.Generally, the production of new growth is the bestindication that a shrub is becoming established.Supplementary fertilization 2-3 times per year may bedesirable, at least during the first year after planting.Some native plant producers recommend usingfertilizer formulations with micronutrients (traceminerals) traditionally designed for palms,particularly if the native shrubs are being planted onfill soils.How to Use the Native ShrubSelection TableThe table of native shrub species (Table 1)suitable for use in south Florida will help in makingthe right choices for various landscape situations. Thelist is by no means a complete inventory of thesubtropical or tropical shrub species native to thestate, but it represents those native shrubs that haveproven themselves in the landscape, are availablefrom nurseries, or are judged worthy of wider use andavailability. The table is arranged alphabetically byscientific name, accompanied by one or morecommon names. Special attention should be paid toenvironmental factors such

shrubs can be trained to a single trunk and used as a small tree, while some small trees can produce several stems and appear shrublike in the landscape. Shrubs fulfill many important roles in landscape horticulture. Hedges, foundation plantings, accent, and specimen plantings are all uses for which shrubs are well suited.

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