The right trees in the right places, at Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center and your yard

Firebush flowers, a beautiful addition to almost any Florida yard.

Firebush flowers, a beautiful addition to almost any Florida yard.

Think of the best time to plant trees and shrubs and December may not be the first month that comes to mind. But greenery at Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center includes a lot of options that could be ideal for your yard this spring or – with a lot of unseasonably warm weather lately as well as Florida’s Arbor Day right around the corner on Jan. 15, 2016 – even sooner.

TECO team members added dozens of new plants to the Manatee Viewing Center to prepare it for its new season, which began on Nov. 1. The environmental education facility in Apollo Beach is a showcase for natural Florida, including Florida-friendly yards.

“At the Manatee Viewing Center and with the planting events TECO conducts throughout the year when our volunteers and others add plants in the community, the focus is always finding the right tree for the right spot,” said John Webster, supervisor of Right-of-Way Maintenance. “As a Tree Line USA utility, Tampa Electric has prioritized this. It’s just the right thing to do for the plants and especially from the standpoint of public safety.”

To add vibrancy to your yard, consider the Florida-native varieties of the following plants – after making sure you’re planting safe distances from electrical equipment:

Firebush: A great landscape shrub with small but striking red flowers, the firebush is a favorite of birds as well as zebra longwing and gulf fritillary butterflies. It can reach up 15 feet tall in some growing zones and can thrive in full sun or partial shade.

Monarch butterflies make yards - and the world - a better place.

Monarch butterflies make yards – and the world – a better place.

Milkweed: The only plant that monarch caterpillars can eat, milkweed is important for that reason alone – but it also makes an attractive addition to almost any Florida garden. At the Manatee Viewing Center, milkweed attracts human and butterfly admirers alike who enjoy its warm-hued flowers.

Sea grape: Unique round leaves, good drought tolerance and the namesake fruit that can be made into jelly – what’s not to like about the sea grape? Put several together to create an ideal hedge or plant one or two to bring some subtropical charm to your yard.

Those are just three examples you might choose. For more options with trees, the city of Tampa’s Tree-mendous Tampa Program lets you request free trees for planting on city land, greenways, and street rights-of-way.

And the Manatee Viewing Center, of course, offers much more than beautiful plants, habitat trails and butterfly gardens: When the water temperature of Tampa Bay falls below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, manatees gather in the clean, warm-water discharge canal of Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Station. Learn more at the Manatee Viewing Center section of – and consider finding a place for some of its beauty in your yard.

Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center is open to the public through April 15 annually.

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