If the frigid winter has you crying for some Florida sunshine, you are not alone. In the past few months, I have moved to Hamilton, Ga., and have been furiously planting hollies, camellias, conifers, and a few other select evergreens to start giving the bones to my new landscape. After days on end of high teens and low 20s, I couldn't be happier with Florida Sunshine a selection of the native Illicium parviflorum that was introduced by Plant Delights Nursery.
The shrub will reach 7 feet tall and 8 feet wide. The species has been known to reach close to 12 feet. Florida Sunshine was like brightly lit lanterns in the Shade Garden at the Costal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah, and now in the hills (mountains to me) of Hamilton, Ga., they are just as dazzling.
Just imagine standing high on a deck and looking to the forest below and seeing accents of bright yellow gold to chartreuse colored foliage standing out amongst darker evergreens. Whether paired with hollies, azaleas, or camellias, Florida Sunshine will make them look better.
As I strolled down the hill to see how they were faring in the cold winter, I did notice the upper stems had taken on a red hue that adds another winning trait to this must-have plant. This species of anise comes from moist areas of Florida and Georgia but will look quite at home in woodland areas throughout zones 6-9. Florida Sunshine will also look striking as a hedge and will make a show as a thriller plant in a mixed container.
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Place your Florida Sunshine in partial shade to shade; they abhor full sun. Prepare the soil by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter, and two pounds of a 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area, tilling deeply.
Dig the planting hole two to three times as wide as the rootball but no deeper. When you dig these large holes, you are opening the door to the fastest root expansion and establishment in your bed. Place the plant in the hole and backfill with soil to two-thirds the depth. Tamp the soil and water to settle, add the remaining backfill, repeat the process and apply mulch.
Keep in mind they have the potential of reaching 6 to 10 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide. Prune lightly anytime to shape and keep bushy. During the first year use a regular water regimen and water deeply training the roots to go deep. Light watering trains the roots to establish at a shallow depth. Feed you Florida Sunshine with an azalea-camellia type fertilizer with the beginning of spring growth.
While some Illicium may be used for spice, this is NOT to be eaten. Thankfully you will not find this on the menu of the deer cafe either. While the blooms are inconsequential, the tiny seeds that may follow are reportedly eaten by birds. While it seems the winter will never end, I assure you spring is coming and when it arrives Florida Sunshine will make a terrific choice for your woodland garden.
(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)