Plants to Please Florida Gardeners

Handpicked as the best of Florida's plants, these award winners stand out in Florida gardens and landscapes.

Each year a distinguished jury of growers, horticulturists, retailers, landscape professionals, and University of Florida faculty members handpicks a selection of Florida's best plants. Begun in 1999, the Florida Garden Select plants program is designed to promote the use of superior and proven plants. Florida Garden Select plants are ideal for most Florida gardens. Many of the selected plants can thrive beyond Florida into most Southern states. Check hardiness Zones to be sure.

Pineapple guava (Acca sellowiana) Pineapple guavas are among the most versatile of plants. This lovely evergreen shrub responds well to pruning. Left to its own devices, it will grow 8-10 feet tall but is easily pruned into any desired form; it makes an especially marvelous hedge. The unusual spring flowers are pink and white with a burst of bright red stamens in the center. They are edible, and you may find them in your salad at better restaurants. An egg-shape, edible fruit ripens in the fall and has a mild pineapple flavor. They grow best in full sun or light shade. Zones 8-11 Note: Pineapple guava is also referred to as Feijoa sellowiana.

Yellow African bulbine (Bulbine frutescens) Hailing from South Africa, this is a heat- and drought-tolerant superstar. Yellow African bulbine reaches 1-1.5 feet in height, has succulent foliage, and boasts bright yellow star-shape blossoms. It flowers over a long period, and removing spent flowers will encourage it to keep blooming. If the plant begins to look untidy, prune it back. It might reward you with more of its sunny flowers. For best results, it should be planted in well-drained soil, preferably enriched with compost. The fresh leaves produce a jellylike juice that is wonderful for burns, much like Aloe vera. Zones 8-11

Camellia hiemalis 'Shishigashira' These camellias are often called Christmas camellias because they flower in late fall and early winter. 'Shishigashira' has bright rosy pink double blossoms and flowers abundantly. In fact, by planting a group of these lovely camellias together, the color creates quite an impact. They also look lovely planted with other shade-loving plants such as fringe trees and azaleas. Because they grow just 4-6 feet tall, it's easy to tuck them into small spaces. Plant in acidic soil. Zones 7-9

Japanese holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum) Japanese holly fern has lustrous dark green foliage that bears a strong resemblance to holly. It grows to form a mound 2 feet tall and about 3 feet wide. Holly fern prefers rich, acidic soil with good drainage. Pruning isn't necessary except for removing a tattered frond now and then. While it tolerates more sun than most ferns, it does best in partial to full shade. Japanese holly fern can be used as a houseplant in fairly bright light or in containers on the patio. Of course, it is also lovely planted under trees or in shady borders with hostas and impatiens. Zones 8-11 See more about Japanese holly fern. Discover other top ferns.

Chestnut cycad (Dioon edule) This is a bold plant with 6-foot-long, gray-green, leathery leaves that taper into sharp points. It is long-lived and considered a great choice for low-maintenance landscapes. Plant a pair in large, decorative pots to create an Asian atmosphere. It gives a tropical feel planted under the canopy of taller trees. Chestnut cycad grows to about 12 feet tall and wide and is one of the most cold-hardy cycads for the South. Remember to wear gloves when handling this plant and site it away from walking paths because of its sharp points. Zones 8-11

Purple lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis) This showy ornamental grass fits perfectly into a low-maintenance landscape. Purple lovegrass will thrive in sandy, poor, dry soil in full sun and is drought-tolerant once established. It will grow 1-2 feet tall and 1 foot or so wide. The blades of grass are numerous but thin and range in color from bluish to grayish green. In late summer, the wispy stalks bear tiny purple flowers that look like a cloud of color just above the ground. It will spread slowly and may be divided every few years. Zones 4-11 See more about purple lovegrass.

Powderpuff mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa) Powderpuff mimosa is a beautiful yet tough, low-growing groundcover that reaches just 6-9 inches tall. This little wonder is native to Florida and grows and spreads quickly. It is prized for its powderpuff pink blossoms that are tipped with yellow and attract butterflies to the garden. It flowers for much of the year but goes dormant in the coolest months. It is also referred to as sensitive plant because its dainty fernlike foliage will fold up when touched or watered. Although the foliage looks fragile, it is quite resilient and can withstand light foot traffic. Zones 8-11

Firebush (Hamelia patens) This bright, beautiful native shrub will help attract butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden. The showy tubular blossoms are reddish orange to scarlet. The fruit changes from yellow to red and finally to black and is usually present at the same time as the flowers, making firebush a real standout in the garden. In Zones 9-11, it is completely hardy and has many landscape uses. It responds well to pruning and is often used for hedging. It can grow up to 10 feet tall and works well with other native shrubs such as beautyberry and coral bean. Zones 9-11

Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) A plant for all seasons, this American native will always attract attention. Ranging from 5-8 feet tall and wide, this shrub needs room to grow. It looks particularly nice in the shade of a live oak, hickory, or magnolia tree. Its amazing white blossoms can grow to nearly a foot long and remain on the shrub for many months. The flowers mature to a reddish pink and finally to tan and are ideal for flower arranging. In winter, you'll appreciate the multicolor exfoliating bark. Oakleaf hydrangea prefers partial shade and limy soil. Zones 5-9 See more about oakleaf hydrangea.

'Acoma' crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica 'Acoma') If you asked people in Florida to name their favorite flowering shrub, they'd probably answer crape myrtle. It is an incredibly beautiful plant from its long-flowering blossoms to its multicolor bark. 'Acoma' reaches a modest height of 10-12 feet tall and wide with a semiweeping form. New foliage is dark bronze turning to glossy dark green in summer and finally purple to red in autumn. The pure white summer blooms stand out brightly against the dark foliage. It's resistant to powdery mildew. Zones 7-9

Evergreen tropical wisteria (Millettia reticulata) Tropical wisteria is a fast-growing, woody vine, perfect for a trellis, fence, or gazebo. As the name implies, the blossoms are similar to wisteria. The flowers are delightfully fragrant, reddish purple in color, and hang down like ripe bunches of grapes. The flowers bloom in early summer and the vine will rebloom if the spent flowers are removed. Unlike the common Chinese wisteria, this one is not invasive. It prefers full sun to light shade and a sturdy support as it can climb up to 30 feet tall. Zones 7-10

Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem' Older Southern homes are often graced with majestic Southern magnolias but few newer homes have room for such a large tree. 'Little Gem' comes to the rescue, growing just 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide. The dark green foliage shines like polished leather, and the warm brown reverse adds a layer of interest. The foliage is prized for its use in floral arrangements and holiday decorating. Fragrant white cup-shape flowers bloom off and on all season long. Plant it in full to part sun in moist, acidic soil. This tree must be protected from winter wind and sun in northern areas. Zones 7-9 See more about 'Little Gem' magnolia.

Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha) Mexican sage and Florida's hot weather go together perfectly. This is a large perennial, growing 4-5 feet tall. Give it plenty of room to grow in your sunny perennial or shrub border. The foliage is soft and gray, attractive in its own right all summer long. The real show begins in the fall when the purple or white flowers bloom and butterflies seemingly appear out of nowhere. Even after the flowers are spent, the purple calyces remain, extending the season of interest greatly. Mexican sage also makes a good cut flower and holds its color when dried. Zones 7-10 See more about Mexican sage.

Stoke's aster (Stokesia laevis) Stoke's aster flowers for several weeks in summer with large fringed blossoms that look similar to cornflowers. Choose from many colors including blue, lavender, pink, and white; all of them attract butterflies. These are best grown in full sun in the front of the border. They are evergreen or semievergreen and will provide some color all year long. The plants grow 1-2 feet tall and make great cut flowers that will last a week or more in the vase. Some winter cover with mulch is appreciated in cooler regions. Zones 5-9 See more about Stoke's aster.

'Fire Power' heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica 'Fire Power') Firepower aptly describes the intense superior red fall color. This particular nandina was selected as a winner because of its lime-green summer foliage, red-hot fall color, and compact size. They will only grow 2 feet tall and wide (no pruning!), so plant them in groups. They'll stand out dramatically in front of evergreens. They also work well as a tall groundcover and as an edging plant. Some protection from the hot afternoon sun is appreciated. Generally speaking, deer tend to leave plants in this family alone. Zones 6-9 See more about heavenly bamboo.


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