June 19, 2008

Five Native Plant Hedges that are Worth a Second Look

By Jean Field, Horticulturist II, Pinellas County Extension

Are you tired of leaf spot fungus on your Ligustrum and Oleander caterpillars on your Oleanders? Would you like a break from diagnosing what is wrong with your current hedges and shrubs? When planted in the right location, native plants will thrive on less and give you more.

Native plants are growing in popularity as homeowners, businesses and local governments prefer them for their low-maintenance qualities. When selecting native plants, match the conditions they grow in naturally to those in your landscape and they will thrive with very little care. Newly-installed native shrubs will need a period of establishment and careful hand watering to prepare them for longevity in your garden.

The five Florida shrubs discussed below will do nicely in a variety of areas and have been selected for a wide range of possible uses; points of each plant are listed in bullets for a quick reference.

Florida PrivetFlorida Privet, (Forestiera segregata) makes a dense hedge that is good for screening an unwanted view or providing privacy to a beach-side patio. Privet will provide erosion control or shoreline stabilization in harsh, alkaline conditions. Cold hardy to Zone 8B, the Florida privet will provide cover and fruit for a variety of birds. Since this plant tolerates pruning very well, it can be shaped into a formal hedge or foundation plant. Purple ½” fruit will attract birds in the summer.
  • Landscape use: Tall hedge, screen or small tree.
    Growth rate: Moderate
  • Native location: Upland, coastal habitats throughout Florida to zone 8b.
  • Lighting: Partial shade/full sun
  • Moisture: Moist preferred. Tolerates dry quite well.
  • Salt tolerance: High
  • Size and shape: 10 feet tall; 5 feet wide
  • Disadvantages: Leaves partially thin out in winter. Plant spacing for a hedge: 3-5 feet
Walters ViburnumWalters Viburnum, (Viburnum obovatum) is a thicket-forming shrub that tolerates formal pruning and provides small fruit for songbirds. It may sucker and spread to a larger area, so plan for a less formal hedge. Increasing in popularity, this fast-grower will provide a burst of white blooms in the spring. Black ½” fruit in summer will attract birds to your garden.

  • Landscape use: Tall hedge, screen or small tree.
  • Growth rate: Moderate
  • Native location: Coastal hammocks, woodlands, riverbanks to zone 7.
  • Lighting: Partial shade/full sun
  • Moisture: Highly drought tolerant. Can tolerate occasional wet feet.
  • Salt tolerance: Poor
  • Size and shape: 15 feet tall; 6 feet wide
  • Disadvantages: Tends to sucker in moist locations
  • Plant spacing for a hedge: 4-5 feet apart

Simpson's StopperSimpson’s Stopper (Myricanthes fragrans) is a versatile shrub that thrives in tough spots such as medians and parking lots. The white fragrant flowers and attractive 3/8” red fruit make this nearly ever-blooming plant a winner. The fruit are edible for humans and are relished by birds.

  • Landscape use: Medium hedge for foundation plantings or small tree.
  • Growth rate: Slow
  • Native range: Coastal hammocks to zone 8b.
  • Lighting: Part shade/full sun
  • Moisture: Highly drought tolerant. Well drained soil.
  • Salt tolerance: Good tolerance
  • Size and shape: Tree form: 25 feet. Shrub form: 5-10 feet.
  • Disadvantages: None
  • Plant spacing for a hedge: 3-5 feet

Yellow AniseYellow Anise (Illicium parviflorum) produces a dense hedge that grows moderately in rich, moist soil. In drier locations, Yellow Anise will require regular irrigation during drier months. With deep, infrequent watering, older plants can become more drought tolerant. Anise responds well to pruning and can be formally hedged. The blooms are ½ inch maroon drooping flowers borne in the spring. The leaves smell like licorice when pruned or crushed. Cold hardiness is a plus as this insect-free hedge will grow as far north as Louisiana (zone 7b).

  • Landscape use: Formally pruned shrub or informal screen.
  • Native range: Inland hammocks and swamps.
  • Lighting: Partial sun to full shade
  • Moisture: Prefers moist, rich soils. Older plants tolerate drier conditions.
  • Salt tolerance: Poor.
  • Size and shape: 6 to 15 feet tall; 6 feet wide
  • Disadvantages: Poor drought tolerance.
  • Plant spacing for a hedge: 4-5 feet

marlberryMarlberry (Ardisia escallonioides) will screen an unwanted view quickly in part shade or part sun. Easily reaching 15 feet in height, this wide shrub will grow near salt water in calcareous, high ph soils. The red ½” edible fruit can be eaten by people and will be relished by songbirds. The fragrant, ever-blooming white flowers make this large shrub a landscape favorite. It is cold-tender, so place it in a protected location in zone 10A or along the warmer coastal sites.

  • Landscape use: Tall, dense hedge or small tree
  • Native range: Tropical hammocks of S. Florida and the Caribbean
  • Lighting: Full to partial shade. Will tolerate morning sun
  • Moisture: Moderate. Older, mature plants will need less water.
  • Salt tolerance: Moderate
  • Size and shape: 8 to 15 feet tall as shrub. Can spread to 10 feet.
  • Disadvantages: Cold sensitive. Brittle wood.
  • Plant spacing for a hedge: 3-5 feet

Many native plants have exceptional wildlife value and will provide needed cover, food and nesting sites. Several fact sheets have been written on this subject (please see links listed below). Pruning native shrubs during the spring flowering season will reduce the small fruit that are relished by birds. Be sure and time your pruning to accommodate young nesting birds that are enjoying the cover your native shrubs provide. The less formally your native hedges are shaped and pruned, the more wildlife they will support.

Choosing a native hedge is a sustainable landscaping choice that will eventually pay for itself in savings of water, fertilizer and pesticides. There will be more time to enjoy the birds and butterflies now visiting your garden and less time spent trying to “fix” plants that may not be the right plant for the place it is planted. Native plants will give you slice of the Real Florida right in your own back yard!

Native Florida Plants for Home Landscapes:
Marlberry, Ardisia escallonioides:
Yellow Anise, Illicium parviflorum:
Florida Privet, Forestiera segregata:
Native Plants that Attract Wildlife: Central Florida,
The Florida Native Plant Society:

Florida Wildflowers in their Natural Communities, Walter Kingsley Taylor
Florida’s Best Native Landscape Plants, Gil Nelson

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the information. Can you please provide more information on the Simpson's Stopper and its berries / fruit? If I were planting a long row of them between me and a neighbor as a privacy screen, I need to know if the fruit readily drops to the ground and makes a mess underneath the trees. This is important as neighbors do not appreciate messes in their yards. I know birds would not eat all the fruit, and no one in my household is going to be eating it. Please advise on whether there will be extra fruit in the yard, what time of year, and how much fruit you think it will be. I also am unclear about the size of the fruit. Thank you.