Learn about the native plant landscaping project


On June 21, I joined Dr William Lester, UF / IFAS Hernando County Extension Lawns and Gardens Coordinator / Master Gardener; Lily Browning, with Florida-Friendly Landscaping, and Alice Smith, Master Gardener Volunteer, where I heard about their native plant landscaping project that took place at UF / IFAS Hernando County Extension Office . The goal of this project was to replace the landscape in front of the UF / IFAS Hernando office with all native Florida plants. This project was carried out throughout the pandemic and also has an ongoing goal of teaching locals that cultivating the natives saves on irrigation. Perfect timing for this native plant briefing as it was the first day of National Pollinator Week.

This project was first started by a group of UF / IFAS master gardeners during the height of COVID to get people out into the fresh air and the sun, where they could also distance themselves from each other by completely safe. Alice and other gardeners swapped the landscape in front of the office so everything is now a native Florida plant and they look gorgeous! Dr Lester said many people think native Florida plants only look like weeds, but many of them bloom and attract attention. Let the extension office attest!

What determines a native plant is whether scientists can determine if the plant was here in 1513, when Ponce De Leon arrived. However, the fossil record for the native Florida plant called Coontie dates back 25 million years.

Besides being beautiful, another benefit to native plants is that they require very little maintenance, in addition to weeding. You don’t need to spray pesticides or fertilizers often, the less chemicals are released into the environment, the better. Once the roots of the plant are established, the plant will do just fine without any further irrigation except during times of drought. Even so, just place your garden hose or portable watering can over the plants. Alice Smith explained that the flower native to Florida, the Gaillardia or hedge flower, does well in low water landscapes, especially sandy soils, which we have here in Hernando County. It also adapts to all kinds of soils all over Florida. It is an annual, so once the season is over the plant recedes into the winter, but in the spring new plants arrive to replace the dead ones.

Another huge benefit of native planting is providing food for our pollinators. Alice Smith commented on the flowers at Hernando’s office: “After I planted them and they started to bloom, the pollinators arrived. Now we have native bees, honey bees, wasps and butterflies. The host plants for butterflies are native wildflowers and vines. For example, Alice planted a native Common Buckeye on which she recently spotted a ton of caterpillars, even a chrysalis! It’s gone now, so she guesses it’s turned into a pretty butterfly. Corceestan Passion Vine is another good host plant for butterflies and in particular for our state butterfly, the Zebra Long Wings.

In addition to planting native plants for our pollinators, you are also planting for our bird population, which has experienced a rapid decline in recent years, especially our migratory birds. You provide insect nutrients to birds and their babies when they nest. During the current climate crisis, native plants are the best to plant. They have evolved over the millennia and have already been affected by climate change, providing constant nutrients to your local wildlife. “If your plants don’t have holes, then they don’t add anything to the ecosystem,” Alice said. When planting native plants for your home, keep biodiversity in mind to attract a variety of pollinators, not just specific plants.

The UF / IFAS Master Gardeners have a nursery located behind the Hernando County Fairgrounds, near Hernando County Animal Control. Turn east on US Hwy 41 onto Oliver Street. Here, they offer a variety of locally grown plants as well as a ton of native Florida plants, many of which are hard to find in department stores. They are open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8:30 p.m. to 12 p.m., ready to provide plant and gardening expertise. Alice Smith was also kind enough to provide me with a list of native plants for low water landscaping in west central Florida.

Please stop by the Hernando County Extension Office to learn more about each of the Florida natives that are planted up front or for help on how to start planting natives. Each plant in front of the desk has a QR code displayed with it that will take you to a website with more information on that specific plant.

You can always call the UF / IFAS Hernando office to rack your brain with all your gardening questions.


Terri S. Tomasini