It has always been of interest for people to keep plants around; thus, to extend this our biological interest to also have a self-sustainable yard, is not only more economical, but also a step closer in an ecological assimilation to the nature around us.
The lawn is hard to rival, but the next biggest chunks of a yard around a regular house are the hedges: and the first one we could consider a native alternative for, is the high maintenance Benjamin Ficus.
It is highly popular for its dependable and “clean” look; however, if they are not regularly trimmed they can seriously grow way over your head: a 50 feet tree or so next to your house! In addition, with their aggressive roots, they can easily crack any house in two: if planted close enough.
Furthermore, if they get too thirsty, or if they are not fertilized enough, the plants can come up with a leaf-drop that makes it look like you are growing “sticks”; or the insects can be invited by a lowered defense caused by any weakness. (Got White flies?)
Native plants are adapted to locally available nutrition’s and insects-conditions. I have seen the locally native Coco Plum (Chrysobalanus icaco) with its blushing red new growth has become more and more popular as a 4-5 feet hedge. Fast growing up to 10 feet or more, it can also be trimmed as a Benjamin-hedge; and once established it takes very little moisture.
In looking for more great alternatives, I asked Jeff Wasielewski; MD College Professor in Horticulture, and a South Florida Horticultural Specialist on Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden.
The first thing he says is “You don’t always have to have a tall hedge of the same plants.” Then he hands me a list of plants that also can be mixed and matched. Not only you don’t have to trim those plants, or water and fertilize them: they also attract birds and butterflies.
West Indian Cherry (Prunus Myrtifolia) is fast growing and can easily reach a height of 10 feet or more. With its 8 feet wide columnar growth and glossy leaves, it is an excellent screen-replacement for Benjamin Ficus. Although the fruits are not edible, they attract many species of birds. Full sun or partial shade.
There is also a native Florida Boxwood (Schaefferia frutescens) with a moderate growth to10 feet, and 8 feet wide. It has small dark green leaves and small white flowers and produces a fruit that will attract several species of birds. Full sun and partial shade.
Although, his real favorite is the Firebush (Hamelia patens,) it flowers in great quantities almost year round and attract Humming birds and butterflies. If it is planted near the native passionflower: Passiflora suberosa, you will have a complete habitat for the zebra longwing butterflies. It grows naturally to 10 feet, but can also be trimmed and kept as a 3-4 feet scrub. Best in full sun. Useful in a mix, as single plant or as a beautiful hedge.
He also recommend three moderate growing native Stoppers, found in Florida hammocks, that can be grown as a Benjamin hedge: thus, with only one optimal light trimming per year:
Simpson Stopper (Eugenia Simpsoni; also Myrcianthes fragrans) can reach the height of 10 feet with its columnar growth. The attractive small leaves are dark green, and the small white flowers are somewhat fragrant: although, the small orange fruits are much sought after by birds.
Red BerryStopper (Eugenia confusa) can reach a height of 15 feet with a spread of only 3-4 feet. New leaves and fruits are red, and attract a various species of native birds. Mature leaves are glossy and rounded, coming to a pronounced point. This is an excellent screen-replacement for Benjamin Ficus.
Spanish Stopper (Eugenia foetida) or “Box-leaved Eugenia” has small glossy leaves, small white flowers and dark red or black berries. It will reach the heights of 15 feet and attract native birds.
However, if you need a scrub or hedge in a shaded area, he adds the Wild Coffee (Phsychotria undata) to his list, as an elegant native with its glossy and deeply grooved leaves. It has a clean look and slow growth up to 8 feet height and spread, and there is no need of pruning here either.
If there is a will, it usually finds a way; thus, if we all have the goal to live a sustainable life, we will together also make the ecological direction to remain a sustainable one.
Expect a follow up article about small trees in a self-sustainable yard.
If you have any questions about plant-care, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have any yard-project going on, check www.floridayards.org for tips and info.