Florida has hundreds of native plants that are adapted to climate and soil conditions in specific areas of the state. Florida has three growing climate zones: north, central and south. Northern climates have colder temperatures with some days near or below freezing in winter. Hardier plants such as native azaleas, Virginia creeper or wild honeysuckle grow well in north Florida. Central Florida has moderate winters, ideal for native plants such as the cabbage palm. Southern climates are warmer and humid. Saw palmettos and sea lavender are native plants of this region. Regardless of the region, soil throughout Florida is sandy, requiring the addition of compost to help retain moisture.
Make a list of native Florida plants to use in your garden. County extension offices have a list of native plants for your region, and most can tell you where to buy the plants in your area. Depending on which region you call home, native Florida plants may include yellow jasmine, penny grass, blue beech trees, black birch, gopher apple, needle palms and sabal palmetto (a palm you'll find throughout most of Florida).
Plan your garden. Designing your garden on paper first allows you to see where you want to place plants and shrubs and whether you want grass or are planning a near xeriscape yard. Xeriscape literally means "dry yard." Florida is susceptible to long dry periods. Many of the state's counties and cities have ordinances requiring water conservation.
Take a survey of plants in your yard. Look around the garden and identify plants as native or non-native. Use the native Florida plant list. Take leaves from your plants to your local county extension office and ask a volunteer master gardener for help in identifying plants, or enlist the help of a member of the Florida Native Plant Society.
Keep native plants. Once you have identified native and non-native plants, examine your native plants to ensure they are in good health, with no obvious signs of disease such as fungus, cracking or pests. Plan your new planting around these plants.
Remove invasive exotic plants. Invasive plants are those that spread quickly and take over flower beds or the yard. The Florida Exotic Plant Pest Council lists 67 invasive exotics that hurt Florida's native plants, including coral vine, kudzu, skunk vine, lantana and water hyacinth. Some native Florida plants, such as honeysuckle, seagrape and sea lavender, also spread. Control growth by pruning or dividing and pulling new seedlings.
Take out lawn grass wherever possible. Flower beds with native plants and mulch are more environmentally friendly because they require less watering and do not need much fertilizer or pesticide.
Plant Florida native flowers, trees and shrubs. Once you have removed the exotic plants, use native plants in flower beds. Use a 2-inch layer mulch on paths and around plants.
Maintain your yard. Because native plants adjust to the natural climate and rainfall in Florida, a native garden takes very little watering, except during long periods of drought. It's best to directly hand water instead of using a water sprinkler, which can waste water. Check with local regulations. Some areas of Florida require gardeners to use reclaimed water for irrigation.