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Alternatives to a Ficus Hedge
Dying Ficus. Notice the coco plum hedge is unaffected.

Alternatives to a Ficus Hedge

PLANT TALK
Mike Malloy
mikemalloy@naplesbutterfly.com

Sooty Mold on Palm fronds.

Sooty Mold on Palm fronds.

Right plant, right place” is one of the nine principles of Florida-friendly gardening. It is the key to maintaining a beautiful landscape or garden, will reduce your maintenance costs, and quite possibly, prevent future headaches.

There are many beautiful shrubs in south Florida that can be used to create a spectacular hedge. Ficus (Ficus benjamina) is just not one of them. Sure, it’s fast growing, inexpensive, has shiny green leaves that can be trimmed into balls, mushrooms and assorted Disney characters. Unfortunately, ficus also is capable of growing 90 feet tall in the wild. Therefore, this seemingly inexpensive shrub may end up costing you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in yearly upkeep.

Let’s consider the cost of maintaining a tightly-sheared ficus hedge. Did you know that ficus roots are very thirsty, and can crack sidewalks, foundations and driveways? Or, that ficus may eventually lift pavers and destroy pool plumbing and irrigation systems?

With the arrival of a new species of thrips a few years ago, ficus leaves began to resemble pea pods. Homeowners, unknowingly, just kept spraying more and more insecticide with no success. The insecticide wasn’t getting to the thrips, however, because they were hidden deep inside the folded up leaves.

Then, came the arrival of the whitefly. It started along the beach, and quickly moved inland, depositing sooty mold all along the way. In some cases, it was so severe that gardens looked like they had suffered fire damage. Many homeowners paid ridiculous amounts of money attempting to contain whitefly. Just in case you didn’t know, whitefly WILL kill your ficus if left untreated. Ficus plants have always been notorious for attracting insects. Plan on spraying lots of insecticide to maintain those shiny green leaves.

Hopefully, by now, you’re seriously considering replacing your ficus plants with more Florida–friendly shrubs, and throwing in the towel on that never-ending trimming battle you’ve been waging with your ficus.

Take your time when choosing a new shrub for your hedge. Consider the height and width of your chosen shrub at maturity. Also, will it attract wildlife, and does it have a pleasing fragrance?

Clusia. PHOTOS BY MIKE MALLOY

Clusia.
PHOTOS BY MIKE MALLOY

Here are some of my favorite ficus alternatives:

• Non-native firebush (Hamelia patens var glabra): This is a “must have” for attracting Zebra Longwing butterflies and hummingbirds. Blooms almost year-round. Features orange flowers with dark green leaves.

• Native firebush (Hamelia patens): Features a light green, hairy leaf with a red flower. This shrub will go semi-deciduous (partial to complete defoliation in the winter). Remember, plants are often unlabeled or mislabeled.

• Copperleaf (Acalypha spp): Not known for its blooms, but for its bright multi-colored foliage. Provides year-round color.

• Fiddlewood (Citharexylum fruticosum): Grows 6-15 feet tall. Will bloom spring through summer. Very fragrant.

• Jamaican caper (Capparis cynophallophora): Grows 6-15 feet tall. Features spectacular white and pink flowers.

• Texas sage (Leucopphylum frutescens): Silver and green varieties feature lavender flowers.

• Thryallis (Galphimia gracilis): Grows 4-6 feet tall. Features yellow flowers that bloom summer into fall. Can withstand summer’s intense heat.

• Clusia (lanceolata): Creates a dense hedge. Features beautiful pink and white flowers.

This is what white flies can do to Ficus.

This is what white flies can do to Ficus.

Some other hedge-friendly plants to consider:

• Necklace Pod (Sophora tomentosa)

• Myrsine (Myrsine floridana)

• Mirror-leaf viburnum (Viburnum odoratissimum “Awabuki”)

Do your homework, though, as some plants are not cold-hardy east of Interstate 75.

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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