Find time during holidays for a landscape makeover
It may sound crazy - December is a busy month for many of us - but this holiday season may be the perfect time for a landscape makeover. Why? So few new homes are being built now, landscapers and garden centers have time on their hands. They may be willing to give deep discounts for their services, plants and other supplies. And weather forecasters are predicting a cool, wet winter, which will help plants get nicely established (the better to withstand inevitable months of drought in the future.)For those of us who like to do our own planting and maintenance, the weather has finally cooperated by making it comfortable to work outside. What better way to work off those holiday pies than digging into a gardening project? First, consider replacing shabby old shrubs with new ones from the University of Florida's Florida-friendly plants database at floridayards.org/fyplants/index.php. These plants have proven to be great performers here, which means they're not only more likely to thrive but they'll also do so with less water and fertilizer than others. Here are some I particularly like. Star or Shining Jasmine is a fast-growing shrub with glossy leaves and fragrant white flowers that works well as a backdrop in border plantings. It can handle full sun to partial shade. Space plants three feet apart, on center, and prune periodically to keep them a reasonable size. Simpson's Stopper is a native, slow-growing shrub that is drought- and salt-tolerant and suitable for a sunny or shady yard. It produces fragrant white flowers that develop into red berries attractive to numerous birds. This shrub needs little attention once established. Thryallis makes a colorful hedge. It produces small, bright yellow flowers nearly year-round if grown in full sun. Space three feet apart on center and cut back by about a third in March or April to ensure another year of blooms. Pittosporum is a sturdy shrub that can thrive in full sun or partial shade and has high drought- and salt-tolerance. It produces white, fragrant flowers in the spring. Set plants five feet apart for an informal shrubbery border, or closer together if you want a hedge. There are several forms of Pittosporum for sale, including one that has attractive variegated leaves. Walter's Viburnum is a native shrub that can grow in sun or shade and is drought-tolerant. Wildlife love its fruit and good nesting cover. If you still have space, consider planting some perennials in your shrubbery beds. They add height, texture and color to the landscape. Here are three: one for sun, one for shade and one for either sun or shade. Muhly grass is a native ornamental grass that produces pink plumes in the fall and is highly drought- and salt-tolerant. It grows best in full sun and can reach a height of 5 feet. Liriope has dark green, grass-like leaves, but unlike true grasses, it can grow in shady spots, too. It gets 1 to 2 feet tall, is drought-tolerant and can produce purple flowers in the summer. African Iris can grow in sun or shade, is tolerant of drought and produces white, yellow or cream-colored flowers that resemble orchid blooms periodically during the spring and summer. It grows 2 to 4 feet tall. Sure, you're busy during the holidays, but when they're done, you'll still be enjoying your beautiful new landscape.
Craig Chandler is a professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida's Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in southern Hillsborough County.