“My idea of a garden is to spend more time looking at it and enjoying it than working in it. That’s the key. Gardening is fun. If you’re spending tons of money on water and maintenance, it takes the joy out of gardening, and that’s when people stop.”
These words of wisdom come from Mike Malloy, also know as the Butterfly Guy, and sometimes, the Butterfly Lunatic. Malloy recently spoke at a Community Day event hosted by The City of Marco Island, The Beautification Committee and the Calusa Garden Club. During the event, Malloy discussed the benefits and the importance of using native plants in landscaping.
“I have given lectures to 200 plus people,” explains Malloy. “There were about 30 people at the Marco talk, but the word spread. The people from Marco are so interested in wildlife and conserving water, especially because their rates are so high. I’m blown away by how many emails, phone calls and questions I’ve received from that talk. In less than two weeks I’ve been tosix different homes on Marco for site evaluations to better their landscape and make it more Florida friendly.”
For those who don’t know Mike Malloy, he is the Naples guru on butterfly gardens and Florida-friendly landscaping. “I started gardening at about eight years old. I remember planting a Japanese Maple and it just went on from there. From landscaping businesses and homes to building courtyard gardens in Greenwich Village in New York. Eventually, we moved here and I ended up back in the landscaping business for 25 years. So I have done this all my life. I always tell people at my lectures that I have never gone to school for any of this, but 50 years of ‘doing’ is probably the best education I could ever get. When I tell people things about plants, I’m telling from experience.”
The self-described plant addict has had just about every plant you can buy in Florida. “They call me a plant hoarder! I have 500 different species at my house.” These 500 plants are only whathe currently has. Twenty-five years of gardening successes and failures has led him to become an expert on what species will grow the best, produce colorful flowers and attract butterflies and hummingbirds in the somewhat unusual Southwest Florida climate.
“Marco is tough! It’s like landscaping on the moon! It is so hot out there. I always prepare myself when I go to Marco by bringing an extra bottle of water and a second hat in case I lose the first because it’s so windy. In between the wind and the sun it is just brutal! It’s like gardening on Mars! But there are so many things that WILL grow out there.”
Coastal Breeze met with Malloy on a Thursday morning at the Naples Botanical Garden to get a better understanding of what grows best in such unique environments as Marco, Goodland, Everglades City and Chokoloskee, all of which are basically native shell mounds.
Malloy starts with the basics… grass. “I spent so many years up north trying to kill this “thing” called crab grass, andwhen I moved down here, that’s what they were using as grass! I’m not totally against grass, but we don’t need to have acres of green grass because it is just too expensive to water, too many pesticides and fertilizers to be put down. For me, I don’t have any grass in my yard.”
Alternatives to grass can be using shells from local beaches or by planting more plants, especially those that are drought-tolerant. Plants can then be surrounded with pine straw rather than traditional mulch. “Pine straw is the number one mulch for the area. It’s all natural and is sold in bales like hay. It has a beautiful mahogany color and is the best weed retardant that you can buy. I use it and I don’t think I have even 20 weeds in my whole yard. You also can’t get a material better than pine straw to hold water.” Pine straw can be found in any nursery that sells landscape products.
As far as using native and colorful plants, the opportunities areendless. Malloy’s recent book, “Tropical Color: A Guide to Colorful Plants for the Southwest Florida Garden,” discusses a large variety of native shrubs, perennials, vines and ground cover that flourish in our area. Here are a few of Malloy’s favorites.
BOUGAINVILLEA: “It’s a great plant for Marco. Once established, they don’t want water. If you let them grow into what they are supposed to be, a sprawling bush, they will give you multiple colors, they bloom for eight months out of the year or longer and they are low maintenance.”
BROMELIAD: “Bromeliads used to be a great house plant, but they have become such a landscape plant in Florida because of the color. Every year you get two or three new plants off of them; it’s like the gift that keeps on giving. You can’t get any better color in the shade than you can with the shade bromeliads. Many of them don’t even need the soil because the cup in the center gathers water and nutrients in the form of bird droppings anddead bugs. There’s your fertilizer right there.”
FIREBUSH: “This is one of the most wildlife-friendly and low maintenance plant there is in Florida.” The Firebush can grow in full sunlight or partial shade and blooms in orange and red, year-round. It also attracts the ruby-throated hummingbird, the only hummingbird to visit Southwest Florida.
FIRESPIKE: The firespike is perfect for attracting butterflies as well as the ruby-throated hummingbird. It blooms in purple, raspberry and red. Butterflies are most attracted to the color red, which makes this plant a great host for these winged creatures. This also blooms in the spring, fall and winter.
PENTAS: Also referred to as star flowers, these plants bloom in many colors and flower year-round. They can grow in full sunlight or partial shade and are one of the top nectar-bearing flowers that attract butterflies.
PINK POWDER-PUFF: This shrub grows flowers that look as if they belong in a Dr. Seuss book. The shrub can grow up to eight feet tall and its unique flowers bloom year-round.
GALLARDIA: “These guys are summer survivors.” Thebright orange and red flowers are neat and sun tolerant and produce beautiful colors throughout the hottest of summers.
SCORPION TAIL: “This stuff will grow in the desert!” This drought resistant shrub produces small white flowers against a backdrop of bright green leaves.
These plants are only a small example of what native Florida plants are available to produce gardens that will not only be colorful year-round, but will also attract many butterflies, such as the Zebra Longwing, Florida’s state butterfly.
Mike Malloy’s two books, “Butterfly Gardening Made Easy in Southwest Florida,” and “Tropical Color: A Guide to Colorful Plants for the Southwest Florida Garden” offer more great tips on how to landscape the perfect Florida garden. Malloy is also available every Thursday at the Naples Botanical Garden, offering free advice and education on gardening and butterflies. Visit his website, www.naplesbutterfly.com to learn more and to view his butterfly artwork, a more recent endeavor.
Keep an eye out for the next edition of the Coastal Breeze, where Malloy will share some of his gardening tips and secrets he has accumulated over his many years of landscaping and butterfly gardening.