Thursday, July 30, 2009

Let the Sunshine In

On my way out to get the mail, I had to stop and admire the beach sunflower I planted in the front yard this spring. We don't spend much time in the front yard, but it is the side of the house most people see, so we try to keep it looking nice with minimal effort. Beach sunflower is a fantastic Florida native that fits the bill perfectly. It works as groundcover in full sun or partial shade, and is incredibly drought-tolerant once established.

I planted it this spring after trying several other plants out under this tree in front. I planted some mondo grass, but it didn't do much of anything. I tried several kinds of annuals, but the heat was just too much, even in shade for part of the day. Finally, I decided to try beach sunflower. Since this plant generally grows directly on sand dunes, I knew it should be able to tolerate hot dry conditions.

Because it's a Florida native, of course it was somewhat difficult to find. Fortunately, all the native plant nurseries in the area carry it pretty reliably. I bought mine at Wilcox Nursery in Largo, my favorite place for native plants. We planted four plants under the tree, facing west, back in March. They were watered in and established within about 3 weeks, and since then, I haven't done anything to them. They just grow and bloom and grow and bloom!

We also planted one by the mailbox. Personally, I prefer it to the neighbor's marigolds, but I suppose some prefer a more "manicured" look.

Note that these plants have a spread of 2-3 feet in all directions. Again, that's one plant by the mailbox. This is a true groundcover - one plant will spread to fill in space where you need it.

It does seem to draw some butterflies; I saw a Horace's Duskywing visiting it one day. Since it's in the front yard, where we don't spend much time, it's quite likely that other butterflies visit when we're not looking.

Although I prefer to be in My Florida Backyard, I like knowing that I can keep the front yard looking friendly and cheerful with plants like beach sunflower.

P.S. Just to remind you how much Gulf Fritillary caterpillars love passionvine, check out all the little guys competing for food on this one leaf! (Gee, I wonder who's gonna win?)

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