13 Best Native Plants for Your Jacksonville Garden

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Field of black-eyed susans, yellow flowers with brown/black center.

Would you rather spend your free time lounging by the pool than laboring in the sweltering Florida heat to take care of your garden? Opt for low-maintenance landscaping with plants that are native to Jacksonville. Native plants have naturally adapted to tolerate salinity from the coast and droughts from high summer temperatures. 

Advantages of planting native species:

  • Low maintenance: Many native plants in Jacksonville are drought- and salt-tolerant. Low-maintenance landscaping also will increase the value of your property.
  • Eco-friendly: Many native plants support Florida’s natural ecosystem by providing food and shelter to native wildlife. They also attract birds and butterflies to your backyard.
  • Long-lasting: Many native plants in Florida are durable and can withstand hot weather and storms – including hurricanes. 

How do you choose the right native plants for your Jacksonville home?

Jacksonville falls between USDA Hardiness Zones 8B and 9A, so look for plants that can thrive in that area under those climatic conditions. Also, keep in mind that the soil composition in and around Jacksonville is mostly sand and clay, which most native plants are accustomed to. 

There are more than 2,400 native species in Florida. Whether you’re looking to plant shrubs, wildflowers, or trees, here are 13 of the best native plants for your Jacksonville home.

1. Black-eyed susan (rudbeckia hirta) 

Black-eyed Susans are drought-resistant wildflowers that range in color from yellow to orange to red. They thrive in Florida’s coastal landscape and can do well in most soil types. Black-eyed Susans are durable, easy to grow, and perfect for anyone wanting to attract butterflies to their garden. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 3A – 9B
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Moderate
  • Soil: Can grow in most soil types
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1 – 3 feet

2. Sabal palm (sabal palmetto)

large grouping of sable palms
James St. John | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

In addition to being a classic component of tropical landscapes, the sabal palm (also known as cabbage palm) is the state tree of Florida. It gets its name from its edible leaves, which have a flavor similar to cabbage. 

Bees love a sabal palm’s tiny white flowers, and other wildlife will consume the small black fruit. Keep an eye out for signs of lethal bronzing, such as dead lower fronds and flower spikes.

  • Plant type: Palm
  • Hardiness zones: 8A – 11B
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Moderate
  • Soil: Sandy soil or well-drained loam
  • Duration: Evergreen
  • Mature height: 40 – 50 feet

3. Blanket flower (gaillardia)

Add some brilliant color to your landscape with blanket flowers. This is a very popular garden plant for the area because it is drought-tolerant, disease- and pest-resistant, and adaptable to Florida’s environmental conditions. These beautiful wildflowers range in color from yellow, orange, and red to reddish-purple.

Blanket flowers bloom from spring to fall in Jacksonville and North Florida. Blanket flowers are a real magnet for butterflies and small birds. Blanket flowers spread quickly and can make a beautiful ground cover.

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 3A – 10B
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Moderate
  • Soil: Sandy soils that are well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial 
  • Mature height: 12 – 18 inches

4. Azaleas (rhododendron)

bright red azalea flowers in bloom
matthew mclalin | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Azaleas are a show-stopping species of shrub that will make your yard pop with bursting pink, white, and red flowers. Azaleas are low-maintenance and drought-resistant plants, only needing occasional pruning to stay healthy. 

Most evergreen azaleas are hybrids originating from China. You can tell if an azalea is native because it will be fragrant, whereas non-native azaleas lack a fragrance. Common native varieties include the Florida flame azalea and bush honeysuckle

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 5A – 9B
  • Sun: Partial shade
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Well-drained soil
  • Duration: Evergreen and deciduous species
  • Mature height: 3 – 5 feet, some can reach up to 10 feet

5. Beach sunflower (helianthus debilis) 

Beach sunflower is a drought-resistant plant that thrives in sandy soils — perfect for coastal area homes in Jacksonville. This is a very low-maintenance plant that many gardeners use for ground cover. Be careful not to overwater because it can slow the plant’s growth and cause damage and disease, such as sunflower rust. 

Beach sunflowers will bring life to your garden by attracting birds and butterflies. Their yellow flowers remain bright year-round, as long as temperatures remain above freezing.

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 8B – 10B
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Sandy
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 2 – 4 feet

6. Oakleaf hydrangea (hydrangea quercifolia)

clustering of white flowers on an oakleaf hydrangea
normanack | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Does your backyard get a lot of shade? Oakleaf hydrangea is a native plant that thrives in the shade. It has large green leaves and clusters of small flowers which appear during the summer and range from white to light pink and purple. 

Having a sunny yard won’t bar you from growing this beautiful shrub. Plant it near a tree to ensure it gets the shade it needs to thrive. Oakleaf hydrangea is a low-maintenance plant, requiring little water or upkeep, making it a great choice for new gardeners. 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 5A – 9A 
  • Sun: Prefers full shade
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Fertile, well-drained soil
  • Duration: Deciduous 
  • Mature height: 6 – 10 feet

7. Coral bean (erythrina herbacea)

Do you want your garden to stand out from the rest? Coral bean is a unique-looking and low-maintenance native plant. Birds (especially hummingbirds) and butterflies are drawn to its red, tubular flowers. In Jacksonville and North Florida, the coral bean grows as a large flower, but it is considered a deciduous shrub in other regions where it can grow to be 20 feet tall. 

Be sure to keep pets and children away from coral bean plants in the fall, which is when they produce poisonous red seeds. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 8A – 11B
  • Sun: Prefers full sun
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Sandy or well-drained soil
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 5 – 8 feet

8. Chickasaw plum (prunus angustifolia) 

single red plum in the foreground of a chickasaw plum plant
Robert Nunnally | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Chickasaw plum is a small, quick-growing tree that will attract plenty of pollinators to your yard. Clusters of white flowers bloom in the spring, then grow into tart plums that you and surrounding wildlife can enjoy. Chickasaw plum produces suckers along the bottom of its trunk, which – if left alone – can grow into a thicket, making it a potential home for many types of wildlife. 

In addition to being low-maintenance, Chickasaw plum is also pest- and disease-resistant. This makes it a great option for busy households and new gardeners. 

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Hardiness zones: 5A – 9B
  • Sun: Prefers full sun
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Does best in sandy soil, but can also grow in clay soils
  • Duration: Deciduous
  • Mature height: Typically between 6 – 12 feet

9. Southern live oak (quercus virginiana)

Make a long-term investment for the future by planting a southern live oak tree. You’ll need to allocate a lot of room for this tree to grow because southern live oaks are huge: They grow up to 60 feet and their branches can spread out up to 100 feet. Southern live oaks can live for hundreds of years, so you’d be leaving a beautiful legacy from just planting one.

For such a majestic tree, the southern live oak is low-maintenance. For branches to develop wind resistance — which is important for hurricane-resistant landscaping here in Jacksonville — southern live oaks need to be pruned when they’re young. Southern live oaks need to be watered only once a month and have pretty good salinity tolerance.

If you plant a southern live oak in the right place, it can shade your home from the sun and keep your electricity bills low.

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Hardiness zones: 8A – 10B
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Moderate
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained soil
  • Duration: Evergreen
  • Mature height: Up to 60 feet

10. Beautyberry (callicarpa americana)

vibrant purple berries in clusters on a beautyberry plant
Rod Raglin | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Beautyberry (or American beautyberry) is a striking plant that birds love. Its most prominent feature is its clusters of dazzling purple fruits. In the spring and summer, the plant is covered with light lavender-pink flowers which turn into fruits in the fall. 

Beautyberry can be planted at any time of the year. Like most other native plants, it is drought-tolerant. Make sure to prune the beautyberry before it flowers to keep the plant compact and healthy.  

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 6A – 10B
  • Sun: Full sun or partial shade
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Prefers rich soils, can also grow in sandy soils
  • Duration: Deciduous
  • Mature height: 3 – 8 feet

11. Powderpuff mimosa (mimosa strigillosa)

Want a fun-looking plant to spice up your garden? Powderpuff mimosa is a pink, puff-shaped flower that is increasing in popularity. It is a low-growing and quick-spreading ground cover that can handle mild foot traffic. 

You can safely mix powderpuff mimosa with turfgrass and other plants without worrying about it taking over. Powderpuff mimosa can be pruned or mowed, and it is drought-tolerant and insect- and disease-resistant. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 8A – 10B
  • Sun: Full sun or partial shade
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Moist loam and sandy soils
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 3 – 4 inches

12. Coontie (zamia integrifolia)

large coontie plant is bush-like with small leaves lining each stem
Leonora (Ellie) Enking | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Add a tropical look to your Florida yard by planting coontie. Its leaves appear like miniature palm fronds, and it is a cycad — a type of tropical plant that has existed since dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Cycads are endangered, so by planting coontie you would be helping to restore this ancient species. Coontie is the only remaining cycad that is native to North America. 

Coontie is salt-tolerant and can handle cooler temperatures, perfectly suiting Jacksonville’s North Florida landscape.

  • Plant type: Cycad (shrub-sized)
  • Hardiness zones: 8A – 11B
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade, and full shade
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Well-draining soil
  • Duration: Evergreen
  • Mature height: Around 3 feet

13. Firebush (hamelia patens)

Firebush is one of the most durable native plants around. It is resistant to pests and disease, heat-tolerant, and drought-tolerant. Firebush is also loved for the flowers it produces between late spring and the first fall frost. Its bright orange-red flowers attract hummingbirds, songbirds, and butterflies.

In Jacksonville, the first freeze will cause firebush to die. However, it will make a triumphant return in the spring, earning the title of “root-hardy perennial.” Do not prune shorter than 5 feet, which would reduce blooming.

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 8a – 11b
  • Sun: Full sun and partial shade
  • Water needs: Moderate
  • Soil: Well-drained soil
  • Duration: Annual in North and Central Florida (perennial in South Florida)
  • Mature height: 5 – 8 feet

Why native plants? 

Whether you’re interested in sustainability, or you’re avoiding spending a lot of time on landscaping maintenance, native plants are a fantastic way to make your yard stand out. With drought-tolerant native plants, you won’t have to worry as much about upkeep or preventing pests and disease. Meanwhile, your native plant garden will be attracting beautiful creatures, such as hummingbirds and butterflies, to your backyard.

If you’re looking for some more native plants to enhance your Jacksonville yard, check with one of our Jacksonville gardening specialists.

You also can check the Florida Native Plant Society’s website. Keep in mind that some native plants are better suited for the climate in South Florida than North Florida, and vice versa. Look for plants that thrive in USDA hardiness zones 8B and 9A.

Main Photo Credit: brian60174 | Pixabay

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