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Succulents in South Florida

Succulents in South Florida

False agave

False agave

Succulents and agaves are water-retaining plants that are well adapted to arid (dry), hot, sunny locations with poor soil conditions. This is because they store water in their leaves, stems or roots and require little or no water. The interest in these plants has been on the rise in the past few years as the cost of water for irrigation has risen and more water restrictions have been implemented.

Don’t let our average yearly rainfall of 60 inches, which occurs mostly during the rainy season from June through September, deter you from creating your own succulent garden right here in Southwest Florida.

Pachypodium lamerei

Pachypodium lamerei

My wife started planting succulents, agaves and yuccas a few years ago in a part of our garden that slopes downward toward the lake. The downward slope allows excess water to run off quickly during the rainy season, helping to keep the roots from sitting in water and developing rot. As with every garden in Florida, a little luck and having Mother Nature on your side always helps. I think the downward slope or building a berm (an area raised above normal ground height) is the main key here in Florida to allow water to run off quickly. Our soil, and I use that term loosely, is also ideal because it contains sand, rocks and minimal nutrition – typical desert planting material. Today, our succulent garden is not only thriving and growing but flowering its little heart out.

Succulents are very hardy; they are able to survive drought, extreme heat, strong winds, poor soil and occasional cold weather. Sound familiar? They also have few pests and disease problems. In addition to their hardiness, succulents and agaves provide architectural appeal to gardens with their myriad shapes, sizes and textures. For this reason alone, I feel they’re worth a try.

One of the most impressive succulent gardens in Southwest Florida is located at our very own Naples Botanical Garden. The desert-like landscape built on a berm and creatively placed amongst lush tropical foliage, is the newest addition to the Garden and makes a very bold statement.

Agave attenuta

Agave attenuta

Hopefully, I’ve piqued your interest and you’re ready to get your feet wet with succulent gardening. Using larger, more mature plants will help with the success of your garden because larger plants of any species tend to establish themselves faster, leaving less time for a problem to arise. Most of these plants are armed with barbs, spines or downright deadly spikes, so gardening gloves are essential!  Immediately after planting your new succulent garden, add a little water and fertilizer to help it become established. After that, most succulent gardens require no fertilizer, pruning or spraying of any kind. Maintenance free, NO! There is no such thing. Weeds are everywhere

During the winter in Florida, it is very important not to overwater and to provide good drainage. Because of our cool, humid mornings, root rot and fungus are always big concerns with succulents as well as our lawns. Of course, once your garden takes over your lawn, like mine, you won’t have to worry about winter lawn fungus anymore.

Blue Agave

Blue Agave

Don’t be discouraged if Mother Nature fails to cooperative with your best efforts at arid gardening because most succulents can be grown as specimen plants in containers. This makes succulents a great option for seasonal residents. I’ve found that larger plants often lead to better success rates. Just provide sandy potting soil and minimal water.

As water prices and restrictions continue to rise in South Florida, interest in arid gardening is growing. In addition to conserving precious water, your new succulent garden will also attract butterflies and hummingbirds. The flowers on the agave and yucca plants are particularly appetizing.

KEEP BUTTERFLYING!!!

Sea Lavender (Limonium perezii)

Sea Lavender (Limonium perezii)

Non-thirsty companion plants you can add to your succulent garden:
Coreopsis (tickseed)
Gaura lindheimeri (Whirling Butterflies)
Leonotis leonurus (Lion’s Tail)
Callistemon (Bottlebrush)
Buddleia davidii (Butterfly Bush)
Erythrina (Coral Bean)
Lagerstroemia (Crape Myrtle)
Lantana montevidensis (Gold Mound)
Euryops pectinatus (California Bush Daisy)
Tagetes lemmonii (Copper Canyon Daisy)

About The Author

Mike Malloy, local author and artist known as “The Butterfly Man” has been a Naples resident since 1991. A Collier County Master Gardener, he has written two books entitled “Butterfly Gardening Made Easy for Southwest Florida,” and “Tropical Color – A Guide to Colorful Plants for the Southwest Florida Garden”, and currently writes articles on various gardening topics for several local publications. Mike has planted and designed numerous butterfly gardens around Naples including many schools, the City of Naples, Rookery Bay, the Conservancy and Big Cypress. Bring your gardening questions to the Third Street Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings or on Thursdays at the Naples Botanical Garden where he does a Plant Clinic or visit his website, www.naplesbutterfly.com

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