Landscaping for Florida
One of the best reasons for living at Buckingham Estates is the nature and wildlife that surrounds our community. Oliver and I immensely enjoy the deer, turkey, raccoon, rabbits, bobcat, armadillo, opossum, squirrel, and variety of birds and butterflies that visit our yard. Yes, we like the snakes as well, but the poisonous ones are best viewed through the window from inside the home. But we have made an effort to attract the birds and butterflies.
Saint Augustine grass is certainly lovely to look at, but it requires a considerable amount of water. Many of the professional landscapers set up an ecologically devastating cycle of adding nitrogen to “green the grass”. The nitrogen attracts cinch bugs, which are then treated with pesticides that also harm the butterflies and insect dependent native birds. Governor Charlie Crist signed Senate Bill 2080 into law on June 30, 2009. It contains a provision that residents can plant Florida Friendly and native landscape plants without penalty from homeowner's associations. Oliver and I have been replacing our thirsty grass with native and drought resistant plants that attract the birds and butterflies. USF has a botanical garden and nursery where native plants can be purchased at a minimal cost and they are happy to answer questions and provide recommendations. Another source of basic information can be found at http://www.floridayards.org
Easy to grow, and popular with the hummingbirds and butterflies are the zinnias ( http://www.joyfulbutterfly.com/articles/zinnia-seeds.html ) and tropical sage ( http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/wildflower/completeWildflowerData.asp?id=39 ). The sage leaves can also be used to season foods and brew tea. The gulf fritillary butterfly’s host plant is the passion flower, also known as maypop. In Kentucky, maypop grows wild and is pulled as a weed. In Florida, passion flower, which is available in purple, red, and white is sold and highly desired by butterfly lovers. Plant several passion flower because the fritillary caterpillar will bite into the sap of the vine and can damage or kill the plant if there is not enough food for them ( http://www.ehow.com/info_7961596_caterpillar-control-passion-flower-vine.html ). There are swallowtail butterflies that depend on pipevine as their host plant ( http://www.nababutterfly.com/pipevine.html ) but it needs a trellis or you can let it grow up a large tree.
Spanish needles (http://butterflies.heuristron.net/plants/spanishneedles.html )
bloom a small white flower that grows so easily here in Florida it can take over a yard. Many butterflies feed from the flowers, but I suggest you consider growing it in planters. I have plenty of seeds to share. Coreopsis is another butterfly favorite that is easy to grow (http://www.floridagardener.com/FLNatives/coreopsis.htm ).
National societies supporting monarchs, which migrate through Florida on their way to and from Mexico across the Gulf of Mexico, encourage the cultivation of milkweed. Winter freezes as well as the use of pesticides, drastically reduced the monarch population by approximately 60% in the past 10 years. Milkweed is available in a variety of colors and heights. I encourage everyone to plant plenty of milkweed ( http://www.butterflybushes.com/milkweed.htm ). Monarchs will lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves. The emerging caterpillars will eat the leaves away and starve to death if there is not enough. They do not damage the plant but please tolerate the stripped stalks, knowing you have aided a lovely creature.
The hummingbirds are attracted by red blossoms, so I tend toward the red penta (http://lifestylechick.com/2010/04/penta-%e2%80%93-the-butterfly-and-hummingbird-flower/ ) and butterfly bush (http://www.naturehills.com/about-garden-plants/about-butterfly-bush ).
In addition to other butterfly plants, we also have several types of bushes bearing berries to attract birds. The easiest to grow are the wild purple beautyberry (http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/giam/plants_and_grasses/shrubs_hedges/beautyberry.html ) and the holly provided for many of us by our builder.
Children love learning about butterflies. Once you can recognize caterpillars and know their host plant, the insects can be raised in a 10 gallon aquarium with a wire or plastic lid used for hamsters. You might be surprised at the different colors and shapes of chrysalis as well as the amount of time required for the butterfly to emerge depending on the type of butterfly. Once they emerge, spray a little sugar water on your child’s arm. The young butterfly is likely to stay awhile on the human arm as it drinks up the sugar and dries it’s wings before it takes flight.
Oliver and I live at the end of Portland Oak. You will recognize our home by all the flowers planted out front. Stop by and we can show you the backyard as well. We would love to share a cup of tea and learn which butterflies and birds you have seen in the neighborhood. The yellow walking iris is drought tolerant once established and stays green year round. Almost always, I have cuttings to share.
Remember to kindly pick up after your dog, after all, it is the law.