10 Best Trees in Central Florida for Landscapes & Gardens

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Written By Kenique Ivery

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Central Florida has a special place in my heart. I called that area home for 12 years. This region includes Daytona Beach, Orlando, Melbourne, Tampa, and St. Petersburg. 

Central Florida has a subtropical climate with hot and humid summers and mild winters with occasional frosts and freezes. There is a drought risk during the “dry season” from October through April, so getting drought-tolerant trees is essential. 

Florida’s USDA hardiness zones are mainly 9A and 9B. But there are some 10A spots along the Central Florida coast. 

Let’s look at some of the best Florida landscape and gardening trees. These trees will bring lots of color, fragrance, or texture to your flower beds and landscapes.

10 Trees to Plant in Central Florida Today

1. Yellow Trumpet Tree (Tabebuia spp.)

The yellow trumpet tree is one of my favorite tropical trees. Few scenes are as gorgeous as dozens of them in bloom along a street or on a large property. 

When I lived in the Caribbean, I remember people looking forward to seeing this tree break open with clumps of large yellow flowers. At the University of the West Indies, students use them as a call to begin studying for final exams. 

Luckily, you can grow this jaw-droppingly gorgeous flowering tree in central Florida. It is relatively small and works well as a patio, specimen, or law tree. 

For best results, this tree provides this tree with full sun and fertile soil. In addition, it does best with moderate moisture throughout the year. 

But it has excellent drought tolerance. You will notice that it sheds its leaves during the heart of the dry season. But they are just storing energy for the dramatic show which follows. 

Other Names: Caribbean trumpet tree

USDA Growing Zones: 8B – 11 (10-11) outdoors in non-sheltered positions

Average Size at Maturity: 25 – 35 feet tall with a similar spread

Flowering Season: March through May

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees

2. Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia soulangeana)

Saucer Magnolia
Image by John Rusk via Flickr

When I lived in central Florida, sometimes I would be envious of landscapers in the more temperate parts of the country. They get impressive displays of flowers in spring and beautiful fall foliage. But a few of those special northern trees do really well in central Florida. 

Central Florida is the southern limit for the classic and gorgeous saucer magnolia. The small tree features fragrant early spring flowers. These large flowers can be any shade from almost white to pink to purplish pink. 

Further north, the flowers can open as early as February. They are more likely to open in central Florida as early as January. 

I recommend planting multiple of these trees if you have the space. You will thank me when your eyes are glued to them as they bloom together. Or you can plant it as an accent for evergreen trees

Full sun is ideal for these trees. Saucer magnolia tolerates a wide range of soil types and can withstand some drought, preferring consistent water supply.

USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 30 feet tall with a spread of 25 feet

Flowering Season: Winter to early spring

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

3. Hopi Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroma indica)

Crepe myrtles are one of the most common flowering trees in Central Florida. But they are famous for excellent reasons. 

The trees flower for months, and the clusters of flowers are gorgeous. Hopi crepe myrtle features large clusters of vibrant pink flowers which last from June through September. 

In addition, Hopi crepe myrtle’s leave turns red in the fall, even in Central Florida. This happens in December them by February the tree has new leaves. 

Hopi crepe myrtle is a good choice because of its compact size. They are great in tight spots. Also, they look amazing in flower beds. I recommend planting multiple for a more dramatic effect if you have the space. 

For best results, you should provide the trees with well-drained soil and at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. The latter is vital to prevent mildew, which I found common among crepe myrtles that grow in shadier locations. 

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 5 – 10 feet tall with a spread of 4 – 10 feet

Flowering Season: June through September

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees

4. Rose of Sharon Tree (Hibiscus syriacus)

Rose of Sharon tree
Image by Sue Thompson via Flickr

Like Hopi crepe myrtle, the Rose of Sharon is another excellent tree to plant in the flower bed. The small trees have 5-petaled hibiscus-like flowers in white, pink, red, purple, or violet. These little gems bloom for many months – late spring through fall. 

In Central Florida, I recommend planting this tree in partial sun (4 hours of sunlight each day). The scorching mid-day Florida sun will prevent the foliage and flowers from flourishing. If you follow this tip, the tree will produce lots of lush green foliage and pretty flowers for months.  

A drawback of planting rose of Sharon is that they lose their leaves without fall color. But in Central Florida, the deciduous period may last just over a month or so. 

Besides these couple of tips, Rose-of -Sharon is easy to grow. They tolerate poor soil, heat, humidity, air pollution, and drought. 

Other Names: Syrian ketmia, Rose mallow

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 8 – 12 feet with a spread of 6 – 10 feet

Flowering Season: Spring through Fall

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

5. Frontier Elm (Ulmus x ‘Frontier’)

frontier elm tree
Image via Nature Hills

Frontier elm is the result of many years of hard work by plant scientists. It has all the charms of the traditional elms without the risk of disease and pests – Dutch elm disease, elm yellows, and elm beetle.

This resilient tree is compact and narrow. The foliage is small and glossy, turning red and purple in the fall. In addition, unlike most elms, they don’t produce as many seeds, which means less yard for you.

Frontier elm has a narrow and compact shape, making it a great accent or specimen tree. They look great as an anchor for garden beds or among other trees, shrubs, and perennials.

You can grow frontier elm in full sun or partial shade. It will tolerate the hot central Florida summers and the occasional dry season drought.

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 10

Average Size at Maturity:  30 – 40 feet tall with a spread of 20 – 30 feet

Available at: Nature Hills

6. Arizona Ash (Fraxinus velutina)

Arizona Ash
Image by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr

Arizona ash is a great shade tree that Central Florida gardeners should consider more. It grows at a rapid rate. Also, they have remarkable heat and drought tolerance. These characteristics make these trees a reliable and safe addition to your landscape. 

The trees have velvety, grey-green deciduous leaves. Such is the source of its other common name, velvet ash.  

The leaves turn to an attractive flaming yellow-orange in areas with cooler fall temperatures before shedding. Unfortunately, no one can guarantee that you will get these fall colors every year in central Florida. 

The tree grows into a large and rounded shape. It is a wide-spreading tree which means that it offers plenty of shade. 

Arizona ash does well in well-drained medium-moisture soil. Also, it loves lots of sunlight; the more, the better. 

Other Names: Velvet ash, Modesto ash

USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 11

Average Size at Maturity:  40 feet tall with a spread of 30 – 40 feet

Available at: Nature Hills

7. Loquat Tree (Eriobotrya japonica)

Loquat tree
Image by Larry Hoffman via Flickr

Loquat is a small tree that will give your garden a lush tropical feel. It boasts shiny, thick leave with sharp sawtooth edges. In addition, it has lovely white flowers with a light, fresh fragrance. 

But what I like most about this tree is its juicy orange fruit. Loquats have orange flesh, and the flavor is sweet and tart at the same time but more on the sweet side. In addition, these trees are self-fertile, so you only need one. 

You can plant loquat trees either in full sun or partial shade. Be sure to give your trees plenty of water and well-draining soil. 

Other Names: Japanese plum, Japanese medlar, Chinese plum, Pipa, Lucat

USDA Growing Zones: 8 – 10

Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 20 feet tall with a spread of 10 – 15 feet

Flowering season: Fall

Harvest Season: Winter through early spring

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

8. Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)

Southern Live Oak Central Florida
Image by David B. Gleason via Flickr

Southern live oak is native to Florida and is one of central Florida’s most common shade trees. This is one of the faster-growing oak trees

These colossal trees are stunning to look at with their sprawling branches. Sometimes they get colonies of Spanish moss, which drape from the branches. 

One of the main motives for planting southern live oak is its superior wind resistance. As you know, Florida is prone to devastating hurricanes. 

Southern live oak trees are mostly evergreen, however, it sheds its shiny and small leaves early in the spring each year. Around the same time, the tree produces lots of messy pollen. 

You can plant southern live oak in full sun or partial shade. Be aware that, eventually, this vigorous and mighty tree will dominate your landscape. So, it is helpful to pick a spot with plenty of space. 

Other Names: Live oak, Spanish oak

USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 10

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 80 feet with a spread of 60 – 100 feet

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

9. Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

Red Buckeye
Image by Florida Fish and Wildlife via Flickr

Similar to saucer magnolia, this is a flowering tree that is common in the northern states that do well in central Florida. 

Each spring, red buckeye trees send out long clusters of deep red flowers. Such is remarkable because very few temperate trees produce such amazing red flowers. Also, the flowers are great for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. 

Red buckeye grows in an oval shape, and due to its compact size, you can fit it in small landscapes. In addition, it looks great next to evergreen trees, especially bushy conifers like cedars. 

Because of the hot summers in central Florida, I recommend planting it in a spot with partial shade. That is at least four hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day. 

This tree doesn’t require much care. You can plant it in most soil types. Though many seasoned landscapers claim that it does best in rich and moist ones. 

Other Names: Firecracker plant

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 20 feet tall with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

10. Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red Maple
Image by mirabelka szuszu via Flickr

I hesitated to put red maple on this list because it is such a common tree. Interestingly, this beautiful tree is a thriving Florida native. But I could not resist the powerful visual appeal this tree offers the landscape. 

First, red maple offers brilliant fall color even following the balmy central Florida fall. The colors can range from yellow to red. 

In central Florida, red maple sends out clusters of red (sometimes yellow) flowers in mid-to-late winter, signaling the arrival of the Florida “spring.” Small reddish-green leaflets follow the flowers. 

Another plus of this maple tree is its fast growth. You can have a tall and beautiful oval-shaped specimen, lawn, or street tree within a few years.  

Red maple is the perfect tree if you like attracting wildlife to your garden. The small fruits provide food for small rodents such as squirrels. 

Other Names: Swamp maple, Water maple, Soft maple

USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 60 feet tall with a spread of 25 – 45 feet

Flowering Season: Late Winter

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

So Many Gorgeous Trees to Plant in Central Florida

For landscapers, Central Florida is a unique spot because it is the southern limit for many temperate trees. Some fantastic trees that fit this category are saucer magnolia and red buckeye

But at the same time, it is the northern limit for growing some more exotic tropical trees. These central Florida residents are lucky enough to enjoy the ostentatious beauty of yellow trumpet tree or the exotic loquat

Help beautify the already beautiful central Florida by planting as many trees as you can! 

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Kenique Ivery

Global Green Thumb

Kenique grew up in Florida and currently lives in southern China. Before China, he spent many years in Portugal and the Caribbean. He studied economics and is a teacher, entrepreneur, and writer. Since he was knee-high, he has been gardening and was an active member of FFA (Future Farmers of America). He is his best self in a densely wooded forest or park. Depending on the day, you can find him reading, hiking, traveling, exercising, sipping lots of tea, or eating everything in sight.

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