Oleanders (Nerium oleander) an evergreen shrub that makes a great specimen plant when planted in the garden but also makes a great hedge or container plant. However you decide to use this plant shrub, hedge or standard (tree), it will always be a very colorful and showy plant. Oleanders bloom from spring to fall, coming in colors of orange, pink, red, white and yellow. Some have single flowers and there are others with a double bloom. Flowers are usually in clusters at the end of branches. Oleanders can grow up to 12 feet and are almost the same size in width. Oleanders were used years ago in almost all landscapes and then went out of favor. Like many south Florida plants they are making a strong comeback.
Oleanders will grow in almost any soil, are salt tolerant and requires very little water once established (DROUGHT TOLERANT). Oleanders do not require fertilizer, but if fertilized in spring and fall it will help your oleanders produce maximum flowering potential and will keep the plant healthy.Oleanders love full Florida sun; wait (FULL FLORIDA SUN). This trait alone makes this plant a big winner because most plants have a difficult time existing in a southern location. It’s also popular with highway departments for highway beautification projects; you will see them planted in masses on sides of over passes because of their tolerance to heat, reflected heat (off the road) and tolerance for low water and long lasting clusters of bright flowers. Just imagine how well they will grow in maintained gardens with just a little care. Oleanders will grow in some shade but will produce fewer flowers and will get leggy.
Prune oleanders in the fall. This will help with shape and new growth in the spring. Trim just above a node. A node is where the new leaves come out. Left to grow naturally they become a huge mound but they can take hard pruning so they can be controlled. Oleander should never be trimmed into a box or ball. As a matter of fact I don’t think any plant shouldbe trimmed into a box or ball. I have a feeling I’ve said this before! To promote continuous blooming dead head often. Suckers which grow out from the ground and base of the trunk of the plant should be removed as soon as they sprout. The suckers are a form of new growth that robs nutrients and moisture from the main plant and cause it to look rangy and unsightly. If freeze damage occurs the leaves will drop but the plant will recover quickly in the spring.
The one so called problem, depending on who you talk to, is that oleander gets a caterpillar which is a rust or orange color with black hairs, looking very much like larva of the gulf fritillary. These guys can strip an oleander plant in no time at all. They can be controlled by simple pruning or by using a Bacillus thuringiensis (Thuracide). Now for the other people, this caterpillar turns into a beautiful moth with blue wings with white polka dots and red body sometimes being referred to asthe American moth because of its color. It’s easy to recognize because of its color and it is a day flying moth.
All parts of the oleander plant are poisonous. Please do not eat. Some people get an allergic reaction from just touching oleander so be careful and KEEP BUTTERFLYING!!!
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. He also can be heard every Saturday at 4 PM on his call-in garden radio show, “Plant Talk with Mike Malloy,” on 98.9-WGUF.