By Erika Webb
This time of year local garden centers are a hotbed of activity. Saturday mornings find people flocking like butterflies and hummingbirds to the brightly colored flowers there. Excitement fills the cool morning air.
Planting provides instant gratification as post-winter drabness is replaced, often in a matter of hours, with bright green leaves and blossoms in emblazoned hues ranging the full color spectrum. Some red mulch caps off the curb appeal.
Fast forward to June and July. Enervating heat has begun to zap both the planter and the planted.
Busy schedules, watering restrictions and fast evaporation have a way of reducing spring's zeal.
But nursery owners, conservationists and other vegetation experts say there are appealing and convenient alternatives.
Self-sufficiency is the key to hassle-free gardening. Planting native is becoming ever more popular in times and locales of drought and consumptive-water conditions.
Conserving water is essential to the future of Volusia's aquifer. Statistics show the majority of water use in Volusia County is for irrigation. By choosing low-water-use plants for landscaping, consumption can be reduced, according to the county's growth management website.
DeBary Nursery owner Beverly McCain recommends three types of groundcover as alternatives to grass: mimosa, Asiatic jasmine and the perennial peanut.
The perennial peanut is used in highway mediums and is a more vigorous grower than some other types of groundcover, Ms. McCain said.
The Mimosa Strigillosa is native to Florida and extremely drought tolerant, very aggressive and fast growing with "pretty powder puff pink blooms."
"Groundcovers grow so thick that they choke out the weeds," she added.
Three shrubs are ideal to withstand drought and cold: the Florida Anise which, Ms. McCain said has small licorice-scented leaves; the Simpson Stopper, which produces red berries "for the birds" and its leaves smell like nutmeg; and the Whorled Class Viburnum produces clusters of white flowers in spring and fall, sporadic in the summer.
These shrubs vary when it comes to height management. The Florida Anise can be trimmed to as low as three feet or left alone to grow to around 20 feet. The range for the Simpson Stopper is four feet to 20 feet. And the viburnum does best from three to six feet.
Wetland trees like the small, tropical-looking, fruit-bearing native PawPaw are well-suited to this climate, Ms. McCain said.
The Chickasaw Plum is another native she recommends. According to the University of Florida's gardening solutions website, this indigenous tree attracts birds, "has beautiful white flowers" and is a solution for "Florida-friendly gardening."
So is the Weeping Yaupon Holly, a true evergreen.
"Its branches actually weep," Ms. McCain said. "The stiff branches don't blow in the wind and it gets red berries in the winter. It grows up to 30 feet, has a 10 to 12 foot spread and is drought tolerant and disease resistant."
The more acclimated to their surroundings plants and trees are, the less likely they are to be prone to disease, she added.
Unlike the name implies, many "wetland" varieties actually are extremely drought tolerant.
"These plants are adapted to poor quality, sandy soils typically located adjacent to tidal wetlands. They are drought tolerant and do not need routine watering, fertilizing or pesticides," according to the Center for Coastal Resources Management website.
Wild flowers like the Blue Porter and a variety of Salvia, including Lady in Red, Coral Nymph and Snow White Nymph, are ideal candidates for Central Florida gardens and landscapes, Ms. McCain said.
Dune, or beach, sunflowers spread quickly across the ground and produce yellow flowers. They grow well in full sun and also are drought tolerant.
Another of her favorites, Coneflowers -- are bright perennials, some of which are used in herbal remedies, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac.
"These flowers are easy to care for, relatively drought-tolerant, and are good for cut flowers. Coneflowers are daisy-like with raised centers. The seeds found in the dried flower head also attract songbirds to your garden," the Almanac stated.
Stetson University professor Robert Sitler said he followed suit at home when Stetson implemented its current native plant policy, about nine years ago.
The policy at Stetson doesn't mean all vegetation there is native, he said.
"The ground covers are not, but as things die they are being replaced with native plant materials," he explained. "I thought I'd better get on the stick. Since I was promoting it at the university I should do it myself."
Mr. Sitler and his wife, June, have a standard-size lot in DeLand's historic district. He said they have more than 100 species of plants on their property.
He listed Sable Palms -- the state tree -- four different species of pines, wax myrtles, Coontie Palms, several species of oak trees, Saw Palmetto and Fringe tree, native grapes and Prickly Cactus to name a few.
"One that's particularly nice is the Coral Bean," he said. "It's a beautiful little plant with hard, red seeds."
The Coral Bean grows along the U.S. southeast coastal plains and in East Texas in sandy open woods, but can adapt to clay and other soils. A good choice for hot, sunny sites, coral bean is moderately drought tolerant once established, and grows best in well-drained soil. Hummingbirds are attracted to the red, showy flowers, according to the Texas A&M University website.
"There are several non-native but they're non-invasive so I've just kept them," Mr. Sitler said.
With "hardly any grass at all," he uses mulch and lets the leaves fall over it to create a thicker bed.
Watering is a non-issue.
"Once you establish a plant, if it's properly selected, you never have to water it again," Mr. Sitler said. "Where I am in DeLand it's very dry so you have to select plants that are tolerant."
The 2013 Florida Vegetation Management Annual Conference & Trade Show is in full swing at the Hilton Daytona Beach at Ocean Walk Village.
The purpose of the FVMA is to connect individuals and organizations interested in vegetation management in the state of Florida, to foster more and better coordinated efforts statewide.
"This interest can be driven by employment, research, education, regulation, contracting of goods and services, manufacturing, or merchandising and is open to public participation," according to the association's bylaws.
Its training programs and resources are designed to educate the public and promote ecological soundness through the proper utilization of vegetation management practices.
FVMA past president and member of the board of directors, Jason House, is a senior transmission forester with Progress Energy-Duke Energy.
Mr. House said historically the association's efforts were centered around the annual conference where individuals licensed to spray herbicide could obtain their continuing education units. But, he said, through social media like Facebook and its website, www.myfvma.org, the organization is starting to evolve.
"We're starting to be more of an organization with a good member base and we partner with county extension agencies, like the one in Volusia," he said. "We're using our website as a tool to post our quarterly newsletter which contains information from the University of Florida and product representatives. We'll go to them and ask if they have any information on new products or better ways to use existing products."
Home gardeners and businesses can receive information and one-on-one consultation from the University of Florida/Volusia County Extension's horticulture agents and master gardeners through the Volusia County Agricultural Center at 3100 E. New York Ave.
For more information on eco-friendly gardening and water conservation, visit volusia.org/services/community-services/extension.