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Many cold-tolerant native plants look bad, but will survive

If only Janice Williams could use a stethoscope and find a heartbeat.

Last Wednesday, the Largo resident arrived at Wilcox Nursery and Florist on Indian Rocks Road in a hooded sweatshirt and gloves. She carried a box of dried-up crotons and heliconias through the 57- degree weather.

"I am trying to figure out what's dead and what I should replace,'' said Williams, 67.

In recent weeks, Bruce Turley, owner of the business, has seen his share of customers mourning the loss of plants because of the recent cold snap.

He has found himself in the role of guidance counselor. "Although I'm happy to have customers purchase plants, I want to say, 'Be patient, people. Let's see how plants recover in the coming weeks before we start cutting them back,' " said Turley, 53.

While brown palm trees, discolored hibiscus and frostbitten bougainvillea dot Largo's landscape, Wilcox Nursery, a business specializing in Florida native plants, operates as it has for more than three decades. "We are in a holding pattern this time of year,'' Turley said.

"In the winter, we focus on selling our inventory, our interior items, pottery and ceramics. As the weather warms, we incrementally order for the spring planting season.''

Turley also spends much of the winter in the propagation house, a greenhouse dedicated to growing plants from seeds. Inside the 12- by 16-foot structure, he monitors the growth of hundreds of tiny native plants. "As natives, they are, for the most part, comfortable growing here. We are in a warm, temperate region,'' said Turley.

Growing in the facility are myrsine, Marlberry, Jamaica capers and Florida Mayten, to name a few. Turley believes when they are mature enough to sell, they'll be a big hit with his native plant customers.

"The thing about working with natives is that even during severe weather conditions, like freezes, droughts and storms, native plant people don't sweat the small stuff. We know that ultimately, we have the right plants in the right place,'' he said.

After sizing up the business's offerings outside, Williams headed to the nursery's interior where she admired a hanging spider plant on sale for $12.95.

"That spider plant has 30 baby spiders hanging here. It's beautiful,'' she said. "I suppose I could concentrate on my patio for now,'' she said.

Piper Castillo can be reached at pcastillo@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4163.

. Fast facts

Visit the nursery

Wilcox Nursery, 12501 Indian Rocks Road, Largo, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Many cold-tolerant native plants look bad, but will survive 02/20/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 19, 2010 5:41pm]
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