Trim For Wildlife.

Some of our native shrubs are adapted to fire in the natural habitats that they occur in.  They are burnt to the ground every three years and become rangy when not.  Beautyberry and necklacepod are prime examples.  Our county’s natural areas are often managed with fire, yet I wouldn’t suggest this at home.  Instead, you will need a good pair of loppers, a bow saw, and clippers so you can trim for wildlife. 

Shrubs that benefit from severe pruning include: beautyberry, firebush, wild coffee, necklacepod, fiddlewood and native wild plumbago.   If you don’t want to prune to the ground then leave a foot or two.  This can be done every three to five years.  Prune Jamaica caper, crabwood, marlberry, myrsine and the stoppers only to shape them if necessary the first few years and then leave them to grow tall and full thereafter.

If you decide to make a hedge out of your shrubs, please don’t square them.  This removes most of the flowers and fruit and looks unsightly. I personally like a mixed hedge with different heights, leaf shapes, and color of foliage and best of all, a progression of fruit to keep the full time birds and migratory birds well fed.  Just go to one of our natural areas and notice which plants grow together.  Along the coast you will find Spanish stopper, wild coffee, Jamaica caper, marlberry, saw palmetto, myrsine, wildlime, and beach cocoplum all growing in a beautiful mix.  Throw in some firebush and you will have year-round fruit and flowers.

By the middle of August you may see the first migrating warblers, followed in September by hummingbirds, and painted buntings in October. Plants that fruit  in late summer and early fall  include Jamaica caper, beach cocoplum, elderberry, saw palmetto, spicewood, Bahama strongbark, Simpson’s stopper, and Walter’s viburnum. Their berries will greet the new arrivals.

A healthy, naturally shaped shrub will produce more fruit and cover for wildlife and look much better than when squared.  Kill grass underneath and mulch over it, (no need to pull it up), and you won’t have to worry about the bark of your shrubs and trees being torn off by the gardener’s weed- eater.  Plant in front of your mixed hedge with low wildflowers including: sunshine mimosa, dune sunflower, pineland petunia, coontie, beach creeper or love grass.  Even corky passionvine makes a nice ground cover and is a larval food for three butterflies.

If your native plants look their best, your neighbors will want them also.  Imagine a neighborhood full of birds and butterflies and so little lawn that water use is no longer an issue.  Don’t forget the quiet that idle lawnmowers and blowers will bring.