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Gardeners sow knowledge of hardy and native plants

Experts at a garden show share their tips on grass, watering, flower arrangements and butterfly gardens.

Helpful hints for Florida gardeners and homeowners were falling like raindrops on Saturday, even as drought conditions continue to plague the state.

At the Pioneer Florida Museum's inaugural Magnolia Garden Show, experts on native plants and landscaping for dry conditions provided a wealth of knowledge to visitors for the $5 entry fee.

Doris Bareiss, of the Nature Coast Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society of Pasco County, said people should plant native plants in the right places.

"Use wise watering methods, too," she said. "Collect rain water in barrels and even use the condensation from air conditioning units."

Instead of grass, Bareiss prefers ground cover and pine needle or leaf mulch.

Sensitive mimosa is one of the ground covers she recommends.

"You can mow it, edge it and even walk on it," said Bareiss. "Plant one and it will spread."

Books on native plants can be purchased from the group or found at libraries.

Jeannie Hayes of the Pasco County Extension Service says the best grass to plant is Bahia grass.

"Even it is turning brown, but Bahia's roots go deep," she said. "People can encourage their less-hardy grass to have roots go deeper by watering thoroughly one time and don't water again for awhile. Some grass can go two weeks without water."

She said St. Augustine grass is really suffering right now, but even it can be improved by watering deep and less often.

The drip irrigation system, developed in Israel, is excellent for watering deep, she said.

"When something wets gradually, it will go deeper," she said. "There is less loss to evaporation and all the water goes right to the roots."

Sprinkling should be done in the morning, not at night.

"The sun will dry the water on the leaves," she said. "Night watering provides the right conditions for fungus to start."

Hayes also suggested putting plants and flowers that need water together in an oasis area.

"Always know what you are planting and what it requires," she said.

Hayes said the most important thing is for people to hang in there because the plants are under stress.

"When this is all over, it will separate the boys from the men concerning the hardiness of the plants," she said. "It will teach us a hard lesson on what can survive."

Pamphlets and brochures on native plants, coping with drought and enviroscaping can be found at the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service.

JoAnne East, a master gardener who was available to answer questions, agreed with Hayes that Bahia grass is the best, even for walking barefoot.

"It will come back," she said. "It will green up real quick."

David Mobley, a teacher at Moore Mickens Education Center in Dade City, also gave floral arranging demonstrations throughout the day.

He used a variety of hardy flowers, including stock, asters, carnations, pom poms, hydrangea blossoms, asparagus fern, needlepoint ivy, ruskus, blazing stars, leather leaf, snapdragons, and a new type of baby's breath called million star baby's breath.

"Everything is hardy except the stock. It is temperamental," he said. "Sometimes it will last a week, sometimes not."

Mobley suggested changing the water daily and cutting the stems as helpful for keeping arrangements over a period of time.

"Misting helps, too," he said.

Carolyn Falls of the Dogwood Circle of the Dade City Garden Club was at the show with a butterfly garden display table.

"Butterflies love small flowers with color," she said. "The tiny petals and bright colors attract them."

They also need water, but a small dish will do. Putting a brick or a piece of lava in the dish will encourage the fluttery insects, as they like to relax on sun-warmed stones, she said.

Butterfly gardens should be planted against a hedge, fence or building to protect them from strong winds. However, they do need six hours of sunshine daily.

Nasturtiums and milkweed produce good meals for caterpillars, as do asters, cosmos, marigold, phlox, zinnias, pentas, phlox and sunflower for butterflies.

Tiny Bozeman of Dade City was one of Saturday's visitors to the show.

"I hope this grows. It is good for Dade City," she said of the event. "There are interesting and healthy plants here and great information."

She said her several wooded acres provide a wonderful place for native plants to flourish.

The native plant society meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at Moon Lake Elementary School, 12019 Tree Breeze Drive, a half-mile from State Road 52. For information, call Bareiss at (727) 842-3133.

_ Michelle Jones covers central Pasco community news. She can be reached at (813) 225-3459. Her e-mail address is