If you have added wildflowers to your landscape, you’ve probably learned how adaptable they are to a wide range of environmental conditions. Although it is a challenge to introduce wildflowers to a dry site, many species will adapt and flourish once established.
According to the Florida Native Plant Society Suncoast Chapter’s landscape manual The Right Plants for Dry Places, all Florida counties from Levy, Marion and Volusia south to Broward County are considered dry. Other counties have many dry areas where development has traditionally occurred.
Typically, your landscape qualifies as “dry” if puddles disappear within a few minutes after a heavy rain.
All the following wildflowers can be grown throughout Florida. Some wildflowers prefer 8 to 10 hours of full sun per day and thrive in the heat. The best examples are found on beaches, but these plants can also be used inland to fill large beds with continuous color from summer through fall:
|Dune sunflower (Helianthus debilis)|
Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella) - Light grey-green narrow leaves create a soft background for bright 3-inch, yellow-and-red flowers that float 10 to 18 inches above the ground, forming a mass display. Love this one because it proliferates each year from previous year’s seeds. Both species respond to late-summer pruning that renews foliage and flowers, which last until cold weather.
Plants whose habitats are open sunny areas in sandhills or flatwoods can make a nice addition to your landscape while being drought-tolerant. These plants typically bloom for three to six weeks, so combining several species will ensure longer blooming and an interesting diversity. There are many species that fit here – here are just a few of my favorites:
|Greeneyes (Berlandiera spp.)|
White Beardtongue (Penstemon multiflorus) - This member of the snapdragon family has white flowers on terminal panicles that are supported above lance-shaped basal leaves in a clumping rosette. This summer bloomer may also attract hummingbirds. It makes striking statement when planted in groups of five or more.
|Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)|
Bluecurls (Trichostema dichotomum) - Bluecurls forms a mist of light blue with its delicate airy appearance of small flowers with long feathery, curved stamens on a 1- to 3-foot plant. It is a short-lived perennial that blooms in late summer but will reseed prolifically if the soil below is unmulched. This member of the mint family is popular with bees and small butterflies.
|Paintbrush (Carphephorus corymbosus)|
Goldenaster (Pityopsis graminifolia) - If you are lucky to have gopher tortoises on your property, you may already have Goldenaster growing as its food source. This colony-forming plant spreads by underground stems and has nice silvery, lance-shaped foliage that makes a low groundcover. In fall, 1- to 3-foot spikes of bright yellow, half-inch flowers appear on multi-branched stems.
We consider sunny landscapes as dry, but partial and full-shade landscapes also can qualify. They can be difficult to landscape with wildflowers because they tend to be more open in nature and may have natural leaf mulch. Try these species:
|False Petunia (Ruellia caroliniana)|
Frostweed or White Crownbeard (Verbesina virginica) – The Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville recommends this little-known plant as a pollinator magnet. Frostweed’s natural habitat is shady hammocks, where it grows to 3 to 4 feet, but it does well in sunnier locations, too. The flowers are a cluster of white with green central discs. The large, coarse, scalloped leaves may be more adapted to the background in a bed or a forest-edge planting where it can form colonies.
Even with drought-tolerant plantings, remember that your garden may need supplemental water during prolonged times without rain. If plants look wilted and do not recover overnight, an application of one-half to three-quarter inches of water will renew vigor. Light mulching can help reduce evapotranspiration and reduce wilting. Some perennials go dormant in the heat of summer, dying back to roots waiting for cooler fall or winter weather, when they will produce fresh leaves.
By finding which plants are best suited to your dry areas, you can concentrate them in your plantings and create a great visual display that you can enjoy rain or shine!
Claudia Larsen owns and operates Micanopy Wildflowers, a native-plant nursery in Micanopy.
FIND SEEDS: www.floridawildflowers.com
FIND PLANTS: PlantRealFlorida.org