Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Succulents in South Florida

Century Plant

Century Plant

Mike Malloy

The average rain fall in South Florida is about 60 inches a year, amazing especially when it mostly arrives in just a few months of the year during our rainy season which runs from June to September. This has not stopped South Florida gardeners from creating cactus, agave and succulent gardens.

The interest in these plants are on the rise in the past few years as water prices have increased and water restrictions have been implemented. Usually succulents and cacti are found in hot and sunny locations with poor soil conditions. Well, we have all of that here in South Florida and more — lots of rain.

It’s been slow to develop, but cacti and succulent gardens are now starting to appear in the South Florida landscape. One reason I know this is my wife began a few years ago with a section of the garden that sloped downward towards the lake planting mostly agaves and succulents, which are to this day thriving, growing and BLOOMING their little hearts out!

Remember, you will lose a few plants here and there — just like any garden you plant. I found the larger the plant you use in the beginning the better success rate you will have.

I feel the key to success was the slope of this section of the garden flowing downward towards the lake with letting

Blue Agave. photoS BY MIKE MALLOY

Blue Agave. photoS BY MIKE MALLOY

all the excess water we get in the rainy season run off quickly. Also planting this garden on a berm helps expel excess water. I feel this is number one in the success of you cactus, agave and succulent gardens here in South Florida, and as always in Florida, a little luck and having Mother Nature on your side always helps.

Our soil for the most part is ideal because it contains sand, rocks and little nutrition, typically desert planting material. I really can’t bring myself to call it soil. If all else fails most of these plants can be grown in containers with a sandy potting soil. In containers, little or no water is necessary, making this an easy way to garden for all our seasonally visitors. Their different textures and shapes make them great specimen plants.

In Florida’s winter, it is most important not to over water, and drainage is critical because of the cool humid mornings we can have which can cause root rot on plants as fast as it creates fungus in our lawns. One good thing is if you plant a big enough garden you will have less lawn to get a winter lawn fungus.

After planting, you might need a little water and fertilizer to help establish your new plants. Most established succulent gardens require no fertilizer, pruning or spraying of any

Agave americana (Marginata)

Agave americana (Marginata)

kind. Maintenance free? NO! There is no such thing. Weeds are everywhere.

Succulents can survive strong winds, occasionally cold weather, drought, heat and poor soil. Sound familiar? They also have few pests’ band diseases. Besides having the ability to grow under almost any condition, agaves, yuccas and succulents all give your gardens such a variety of architectural shapes. To me, this alone is worth the effort.

Beware, most of these plants are armed with some sort of barb, spines and some have down right deadly spikes, so a little bloodletting may occur.

Some great companion plants (plants that will do well under the same conditions) and that do well in these gardens are:

• Coreopsis (Tickseed)

• Gaura lindheimeri (Whirling Butterflies)

• Leonotis leonurus (Lions Tail)

• Callistemon (Bottle Brush)

• Buddleia davidii (Butterfly Bush)

• Erythrina (Coral Bean)

• Lagerstroemia (Crape Myrtle)

• Lantana momtevidensis (Gold Mound)

• Euryops ppectinatus (California Bush Daisy)

• Tagetes lemmmonii (Copper Canyon Daisy)

One of the newest succulent gardens here in Southwest Florida is at our own Naples Botanical Gardens. In my opinion with its desert like landscape set on a berm, it stands out amongst all the tropical foliage as a real winner.

Now when your finished or maybe just finished with phase one in your Southwest Florida arid garden, get out the margaritas, sit back and watch the butterflies and hummingbirds nectar on the flowers of the agave and yucca flowers which they love.



2 responses to “Succulents in South Florida”

  1. Dee Scwartz says:

    We miss your Sunday morning articles. There was something magical about reading about Butterfly Gardening on Sunday mornings.

    Which succulent plants do Butterflies and hummingbirds need to thrive in SW Florida?

    Thank you, again for your dedication to butterflies and nature.

  2. Anton says:

    A lot of succulents (most) and a few of the companion plants listed don’t thrive in our rainfall. Unfortunately many don’t make good annuals either so it’s not possible to just have them flourishing over winter even if you could get hold of them fully grown at the right time of year without going to get them in suitable states. Oenothera lindheimerei (syn Gaura lindheimerei) is one of those. It gets a plethora of water/humidity born diseases and wont look good beyond a few short weeks if you’re lucky. You will be using far more fungicide than you rightly should just to keep them alive and short of some extreme luck flowering will be abysmal.

    Talking of extremes. It always happens, just when you think weeks and weeks indeed months of heavy rain are a thing of the past down it comes to destroy everything. To plan and pant up a succulent garden isn’t quite out of our realm, though if we consider some kind of protection. A roof to keep out the wet. Then your chances are significantly increased of establishing something decent. These need not be particularly intrusive either and there are some fabulous designs. Or situate your planting under some kind of existing cover where it gets full sun.
    Climates might be changing but they have a habit of also reverting with a vengeance just to show us climate change is about extremes rather than a nice steady change. Don’t be fooled by our winters getting dryer and warmer because summers are getting stormier wetter and even slightly cooler. These extremes are quite infuriating and play havoc with our garden choices as opting to go with either of these extremes means the other is sure to come along and destroy all our hard work and dreams as soon as the othr is finished.
    It’s not so much succulents we need to try, but rather find those “super” plants that can take everything, they do exist if we look in the right places of the globe where they flourish. Something of a lifetimes quest for me personaly. Meantime a roof is probably your best bet for those succulents.

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