Succulents in South Florida
Century Plant

Succulents in South Florida

Mike Malloy

Blue Agave. photoS BY MIKE MALLOY

Blue Agave. photoS BY 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 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 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:

Agave americana (Marginata)

Agave americana (Marginata)

• 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.



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,

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