Expert Advice: Plant Wise

Spring is approaching, which means more time for outdoor fun and gardening. In preparation, Florida Tech Today asked our resident horticulturist Holly Chichester, who manages the Florida Tech botanical garden among other campus grounds projects, about things to consider when choosing landscaping for your home.

“Properly placed and maintained landscape plants can increase the value of your home or business,” Chichester says. “Poor plant choices, however, can become a maintenance issue and create an unsightly landscape and are what my dad calls a ‘make work project.’ A little homework before planting will pay off down the line.”

What are the space considerations? How big does the plant get and how fast does it grow?
That perky three-gallon variegated ginger is super cute right next to your front door today, but next year, you could be struggling to enter and exit your own home. And remember, “dwarf” doesn’t always mean “small.” It generally just means “slower growing.” Be sure to always check the maximum height and width of the mature plant.

Does the plant have showy flowers and fruit?
We all love flowers and fruit (even if those berries are meant for wildlife), but consider things like how both attract bees and insects as well as the litter of spent blooms and dropped fruit when placing the plant in your landscape.

What type of landscape maintenance am I willing to provide?

Quite simply, there are some seriously “high maintenance” plants out there. Unless you are or employ a horticulturist, choose wisely when it comes to what kind of effort and expense you’re willing to put into the plant beyond installation.

Are there any regulations or local ordinances preventing me from planting?

This is a big one, especially with homeowner’s associations or municipalities. Both of these entities have landscape ordinances and lists of acceptable trees and shrubs, as well as plants they do not allow. And they rarely subscribe to the theory of asking forgiveness instead of permission.

Does the plant have interesting bark or branches?
Plants have so many wonderful characteristics beyond pretty flowers and fall foliage. Once the leaves fall, having interesting architectural branch structure or exfoliating bark still gives your landscape some winter appeal … even in Florida!


Olin Pond Emergent Plants Project, after
Olin Pond Emergent Plants Project, before

[quote]“Marginal and emergent plant species offer food and habitat to a variety of wildlife species. They play an integral role in bank stabilization and nutrient filtration. Olin Pond had seen some erosion along the edges over the years and, quite frankly, it was a pretty uninspiring space, serving only water retention and minor aesthetic functions. Now, we’ve added ‘wildlife habitat’ to the pond’s sense of purpose. Plus, it looks much softer and inviting. At least, the dragonflies think so.”[/quote]


Holly Chichester
Holly Chichester

Holly Chichester is the university horticulturist and manager of grounds operations for Florida Tech. She was the project manager of the Olin Pond emergent plants project, which was sponsored by the Quality of Life committee and installed by Beeman Nursery. A native of Virginia, she moved to Florida in 2005 to enjoy warmer weather and tropical plants. She is a graduate of George Mason University and Virginia Tech. Prior to joining Florida Tech, she was the city horticulturist for Staunton, Va., and a landscape account and project manager for several firms in south Florida.


[box]In 2014, the Arbor Day Foundation recognized Florida Tech as a Tree Campus USA for the university’s dedication to campus forestry management and environmental stewardship. “It’s more than just planting trees and palms. Being a Tree Campus USA keeps us accountable for the university’s urban forest and allows us to illustrate how we will be using and caring for the trees on campus in the future,” said Chichester.[/box]


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