Native Plants Bring Birds & Butterflies

Native Plants Bring Birds & Butterflies
native plants - Jeff Nurge of Delray Beach went native in his yard
native plants – Jeff Nurge of Delray Beach went native in his yard

Jeff Nurge went native eight years ago. He planted native flowers, bushes and trees in an effort to attract wildlife. You can’t really tell from the front – native trees and bushes are spaced apart. It is the sides and back of the house that get your attention.

Native plants attract birds and butterflies

These areas pulse with dense green foliage not unlike well, wild Florida.

Narrow paths make passing through possible. Seemingly random growth turns out to have specific lures for wildlife – a red bay, for example, has tiny flowers that bees love and the tree is a good shelter for birds.

native plants
native plants

“I wanted to see birds, snakes, owls, butterflies,” says the Delray Beach resident. And he does. In addition he wanted to conserve water. That too is happening.

A back fence has completely disappeared, hidden under flourishing firebush.

“This is a huge butterfly attractor,” Jeff comments. “Firebush is the number one native plant. This is the first plant to start with.”

I’m startled and surprised by what it means to go native. It means forget neat and manicured. This was once a conventional yard with grass underfoot and fence to mark the property line. Now it vibrates with exuberance and yes, a touch of chaos, all for a good cause – there is only so much space and so many natives to plant and so little time.

You see our wildlife is in trouble.

“So many landscapes are loaded with exotics,” notes Jeff. “They are beautiful but they are dead zones for wildlife. They have color and texture but where are the bees, the birds, the lizards?”

Native plants are good for water conservation

Dead zones? Beauty that kills here in Florida? Sounds like a science fiction novel but no, this is the real deal.

“The bird population and butterflies are not finding the food they need – the migrating birds need to feed in Florida to migrate to South America. If they can’t find the right food, they don’t make it.”

In my back yard, a haven with water fountains and bird feeders, or so I thought, the bird numbers have been dwindling in recent years. I was hoping they got a better offer and are happy somewhere else. Now I wonder if they made it from one year to the next.

Going native turns out to be a call to action – do you want to save native wildlife? Then turn your dead zone into a native buffet and you can do it one plant at a time. Before visiting Jeff I thought my side yard would become a fruit orchard. Now it is going native.

I planted firebush along the fence line. You go, you native you. Do your thing. The butterflies will love you.


• Jeff recommends several native plant nurseries in his area including Pan’s Garden in Palm Beach, Meadow Beauty Nursery and Indian Trails Native Nursery, both in Lake Worth.

• “A Gardener’s Guide to Florida’s Native Plants” (paperback) by Rufino Osorio, here is the Amazon link and it is in our bookstore on my Website.

• Jeff, who is also a Master Gardener, has turned his native passion into a consulting business. Visit his Website to know more.

Master Gardeners, an outreach program by IFAS University of Florida, may have an office near you. They can be immensely helpful, especially with micro irrigation and drought resistant plant suggestions.

Florida Native Plant Society has chapters throughout the state.

• Here is the link for University of Florida IFAS Extension section on native plants. IFAS means the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

• Native plant nurseries will only flourish if people vote with their wallets and buy native. Here is a listing of native plant sources from Florida Gardener.

While milkweed is not a native it is the necessary larval plant for monarch butterflies. Learn more at the Live Monarch Foundation.

©2009 Lucy Beebe Tobias, all rights reserved.


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Rain Barrels in Florida capture water

Rain Barrels in Florida capture water

rain barrels in Florida
rain barrels in Florida
rain barrels in Florida









Rain barrels in Florida are an investment in a valuable resource – water

Having rain barrels in Florida seem like such  good things to do, and why not?

I watched rain sleeting off my roof, thank you Lord for every drop, the earth was dry for a long time. I got to wondering about when it stops. What then? It is not a new thought. Generations of people have been collecting water, saving it against that dry day.

A few years back I took a course about  rain barrels. That barrel, from that class, sits out back, catching rain rolling off the roof. It is so full the overflow valve has water coming out of it.

Hummm. There’s a message here. Grab rain while it is raining. I went on line and looked at rain barrels. For such an ancient, earthy, simple thing the rain barrels I saw were hideously expensive. Hundreds of dollars. Not happening.

There is a better way closer to home. The Master Gardeners at the Agricultural Center on Old Jacksonville Road have rain barrels for $50. You don’t even have to take a class. You get a used food-grade 60 gallon barrel, already bored with a hole for a spigot and an overflow hole, and a small brown bag with parts.

In Florida, Check IFAS, (the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at UF), their Florida Yards & Neighborhoods program, for a free fact sheet on building rain barrels and call your local Agricultural Extension Office to see if they have rain barrels. Might want to look at the Yellow Pages to see if there is a barrel supplier nearby.

See the picture of the parts? I haven’t a clue what they are all for. No instructions came with the paper bag. The brochure from the Southwest Florida Water Management District shows how to put in the spigot (screw in halfway, apply PVC cement, finish screwing). Easy. Then even have a page showing how to paint your barrel (could be a fun project for kids). I opted for plain and functional.

Rain barrels in Florida – painting them is a good excuse for food, fun and fellowship

But that surface invited painting. So I gave the rain barrel a coat of outdoor house paint, then invited family and friends to paint designs – butterflies, a rainbow, flowers appeared. What fun! Rain barrels provide an excellent excuse for food, fellowship and fun with family, friends and neighbors.

I placed mine in the front yard under the roof at the edge near the carport. There is no gutter. The barrel itself is interesting. Once it was filled with olives from Europe. Shipped to the United States for canning, the barrels don’t make the return trip. They are sold to a barrel company. These are hauled to Marion County, Florida from Texas. Increased shipping charges are eating up the slim profit.

You need to elevate the barrel up on concrete or bricks. That spigot is down low. Hard to get a watering can down that low. The top of the rain barrel is solid plastic with a screw lid. I used a jig saw to cut a hole out of the top, then placed a piece of screening across the entire top and tightened down the lid. The screen lets rain in, keeps debris out.

Will mosquitoes breed in a rain barrel? Yes. Joannie has a friend with a horse farm and said they put fish in their water troughs to keep mosquitoes at bay (fish eat the mosquito larvae). Great idea. My rain barrel in the back now has ten small fish (10 for 99 cents) .

It rained this afternoon. My new barrel has water! Ah, conservation. It is contagious. Now in the back yard there is a gutter across the porch. The booklet shows cutting off the gutter pipe, putting in a flexible piece and having water run right down the gutter into a barrel.

Humm. Sounds like I need another rain barrel to catch that gutter runoff. But what do I do with the leftover parts?*

*UPDATE: Turns out the extra parts are for the overflow hole of the top of the barrel. Lori Ball, Staff Assistant II at Marion County Extension Service, read the blog and sent me an e mail. Knowledge is power! Thank you Lori. She also notes that Kathy Patterson, coordinator for the “Florida Yards and Neighbors” suggests buying a cheap hose and attaching it to the overflow. The spigot also has threads to attach a hose to help watering the plants (I hadn’t noticed this). Lots of ways to use your rain barrel.


And now the year is 2016. I live in Sarasota and have four rain barrels in the back yard (one I brought with me from Ocala). Excellent rain barrel classes given by  Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension & Sustainability once a month. The class is free, rain barrels cost $37 and have to be ordered ahead of time

Lucy Beebe Tobias is the Authentic Florida Expert for VISIT FLORIDA and the author of “50 Great Walks in Florida”, University Press of Florida, February, 2008.


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