By J.C. Amodea, images submitted by writer
Gardening is said to be the best medicine and is essential to maintaining a healthy living environment. During these challenging times, social distancing can be difficult – but why not take advantage of the extra time spent at home to spruce up your sanctuary?
Considering we are in the hottest months of the year, landscaping with hearty foliage and plants and those most likely to survive the sub-tropical Southwest Florida climate is smart. And, what better choice is there than to consider using Florida natives?
How to Plant with Florida Natives
According to Joel Toledo, owner of Green Door Nursery, a boutique garden center in Naples, incorporating natives into your landscape has a two-fold benefit: Florida native plants are adapted to local environmental conditions, so they typically require far less water, and they provide vital habitat for birds and food for many species of butterflies and their larvae.
“The best native plants or foliage due to ease of use, aesthetic appeal and wildlife-attracting qualities include Florida firebush. The versatile plant can thrive in a variety of locations, from dappled shade to full sun, wet or dry. Its colorful, small tubular flowers are present all year long, which are major attractions to several species of butterflies and our seasonal hummingbirds,” says Toledo.
“The Coontie sago with its large fern-like leaves thrives on minimal care and watering. When mature, they present as a dark green mound in the landscape and are perfect used as garden path accents and grouped en masse in garden beds. Jamaican caper is a great underutilized small flowering tree that in the spring and summer months, begins to bloom a display of pink, purple and white flowers, wildly favored by honey bees. With a small 15-foot stature, it is drought hardy and slow-growing, perfect for small residential areas.”
I’m a beginner, how do I start?
For the beginner gardener, Toledo says it’s important to know your gardening space and the fruits and veggies that grow best in summer.
“Does it have full-out blaring sunlight or very shady conditions? If it has standing water in the raining months, is it very sandy. By determining the growing conditions, it will be easier to select the plants that will work best, versus buying ‘pretty’ plants, hoping they will grow. What you think is pretty at the garden center, planting it and hoping for the best is not a good attitude. You have to know your plants; even so, gardening has a learning curve and mistakes will be made,” Toledo says.
“The best pick for growing fruit in the summer months is bananas. They do great in the summer heat and rain and often produce fruit fairly quickly. Plus, there are so many varieties to choose from that you can find the right type for your garden. My personal favorites are the ice cream bananas, which have an amazing flavor, and dwarf finger bananas, which are great for pots and stay fairly small. Great summer vegetables are corn, eggplant, okra, and any type of bean. Florida summers can be stressful on a lot of vegetables, but those tend to be known to handle our hot, muggy summers.”
Other spring and summer gardening tips include making sure to thoroughly water new plantings as they will be very thirsty during hot weather. When selecting plants, Toledo says that independent garden centers will always have the best selection of those that are best adapted to the hot, humid South Florida climate.
Another tip is to think about the size a plant will be at maturity.
“A new gardener will buy a cute, small plant and plant it very close to the house, then in a few years, they find out how fast it grew and how large it is for the area in which it was planted,” explained Toledo.
“You also must know your gardening style. Are you an attentive gardener? Will you remember to fertilize and water your plants often, or do you have more of a c’est la vie attitude – you plant in the ground, and that is as far as you’ll go with caring for it. There’s a huge selection of plants in Florida that will grow well and fit both styles of gardening or something in between. It’s all about knowing what the requirements of your plans are.”
As licensed and bonded landscape contractors, Green Door Nursery offers creative landscape designs for our Naples area, from initial design to project completion. For streamlined landscaping looks, Toledo recommends using simple plant selections and minimal colors.
“Using only bushes in a landscape design is flat and boring. In garden design, we want a tiered look, using the tallest plants in the back and tapering forward to the smallest plants. Going streamlined would be best achieved using only leaf textures and shapes and minimal to no flowering plants,” Toledo says.
Open to the public, hands-on seminars and classes are held from October to April, twice monthly. The classes are designed to provide novices and experts alike with ideas and techniques for improving the home garden.
“Come spend a morning with other gardeners, as a variety of experts in their respective fields share their experience and knowledge. We offer a variety of classes during the season, so that there’s always something interesting, and we rarely repeat classes in a single season,” Toledo added.
Green Door Nursery
Where: 3700 Bayshore Drive, Naples
Contact: Call (239) 403-4736 or visit www.GreenDoorNursery.com. For class schedule information or to sign up for the email list, visit the web site or the Green Door Facebook page for updates on classes and descriptions.
Hours: During the COVID-19 crisis: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday. A limit of six customers in the store at one time; curbside service, pick-up and delivery service available (credit card payments only). For curbside pickup orders, customers remain in their vehicle, and staff will load the vehicle. Orders are accepted via email or by calling ahead and pre-paying only via credit card. A 10% discount will be applied to pre-paid curb-side orders only.