Plant of the Month
Every month we feature a plant that we think deserves a spotlight in Florida-friendly gardening.
Christmas Palm – This relatively small palm can add fall and winter color to the South Florida landscape with glossy red fruits. Attractive and easy to care for, this palm can be started in large containers and brought inside if grown in Central Florida, where frost would damage it.
(Photo by Scott Zona.)
Carrots – Cultivated for centuries, the tasty and nutritious carrot is fun to grow and comes in more colors than you'd think. This cool-season root vegetable requires some careful planting and plenty of water, but can be grown throughout the state in the fall.
Jatropha – An evergreen shrub with stunning flowers nearly year-round, jatropha will bring butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden. There are two species that grow quite well in South Florida, Jatropha integerrima and Jatropha multifidi.
Avocados – Already well known as a delicious and healthy fruit, avocados are seeing a surge in popularity lately. The varieties best for growing in South Florida are commonly called Florida avocados or green-skin avocados. Florida avocados are bright green and have lower fat and calories than their California counterparts.
Ixora – This flowering shrub is an old-time favorite in South Florida. With little maintenance and year-round blossoms, it's a gardener's dream. The flowers are often a reddish orange, but new varieties come in yellow, pink, and even white. Plant in Central and South Florida in full sun with acidic conditions, and then sit back and watch the flowers bloom.
Landscape Begonias – Begonias are a commonly used bedding plant that can provide striking color in the landscape throughout the year. Begonias that do best in the landscape generally fall into three groups: wax begonias, cane or angel-wing begonias, and rhizomatous begonias. Breeders are producing wonderful new cultivars, which tend to be very vigorous with larger leaves and bigger blooms.
Century Plant – With bold, succulent leaves that can be up to 6 feet long and a towering flower spike that can reach 20 feet, the century plant is certainly a show-stopping landscape addition. "Century plant" is a misleading name, though. This drought-tolerant plant doesn’t actually take 100 years to mature or flower; it’s more between 8 to 30 years.
Stokes' Aster – Stokes' aster is a lovely flowering native that requires almost no maintenance. For your lack of work tending this plant you'll find yourself rewarded with showy flowers and evergreen foliage. Who doesn't love a plant that looks fabulous with little effort?
Cherry Tomatoes – Growing tomatoes in Florida's brief spring planting season can be tough, but there's a small solution: cherry tomatoes. These miniature tomatoes thrive in Florida heat, producing into summer, and there's a wealth of varieties differing in growth habit, fruit shape, and even color.
Queen's Wreath – This stunning tropical vine resembles wisteria with its drooping lavender flowers. Florida gardeners in zones 9B and south live in the perfect climate for growing this plant. Queen's wreath looks lovely when allowed to grow over a gated entrance, along fences, in a large container, or even clambering up a selected tree.
Stawberries – February and March are the peak seasons for eating strawberries in Florida and many areas have strawberry festivals during these months. In many parts of the country, strawberries are a summer crop, but here in Florida they grow best during the cooler months of the year.
Mahonia – Actually the name for an entire genus of woody, everygreen shrubs, mahonia includes a few that work well in Florida. With yellow flowers that bloom in winter and berries that are wildly popular with birds, mahonias are ideal for a shady landscape in north and central Florida.
Red Cedar – A lovely Florida native that adds year-round greenery and texture to your landscape, red cedar has attractive, dense foliage, making it excellent as a wind break or a screen. Its pleasing form makes red cedar also popular as a cut or living Christmas tree; it's one of several evergreen species grown on Florida Christmas tree farms.
Simpson's Stopper – A stunning Florida native that provides your landscape with springtime flowering, colorful berries, and evergreen leaves. Not only does it look great, this plant is versatile; it can function as a shrub or a small tree depending on the cultivar and how you prune it.
Flame Vine – At a time of year when there isn't much in the way of eye-catching color, flame vine dazzles with dense clusters of bright orange flowers. This evergreen vine can bring a touch of classic fall colors to your Florida garden.
Turk's Cap Mallow – Used for two different hibiscus relatives, "Turk's cap mallow" is the common name for both Malvaviscus penduliflorus and Malvaviscus arboreus sport lovely flowers, usually red, that perpetually appear as if they're just about open fully, but never do.
Staghorn Fern – With its fascinating foliage and few maintenance needs, staghorn fern can be an excellent choice for a shady spot in your landscape. This Florida-friendly epiphyte can be mounted to a tree, a wall, or even a rock.
Mulberry – Enjoyed by people in North America for centuries, mulberry trees produce small, sweet fruits that resemble slender blackberries. These trees can be planted in many Florida landscapes as they thrive in sandy soils and are drought tolerant after establishment.
Pickerel Weed – Despite its name, pickerel weed is a native aquatic plant that is recommended for Florida-Friendly water gardens. Its spikes of purple-blue flowers and shiny green leaves will complement other aquatic plants like waterlilies.
Starburst Clerodendrum – Named for its flowers that resemble small shooting stars, starburst clerodendrum makes a lovely specimen, either as a small tree or sizable shrub. In late winter through early spring, showy tubular flowers bloom large clusters, attracting hummingbirds and long-tongued butterflies.
Loropetalum – Also known as Chinese witch hazel or Chinese fringe flower, loropetalum puts on a beautiful show in spring with small, spidery flowers in white or pink. This versatile, Florida-Friendly shrub works equally well in foundation plantings and in landscape beds.
Trumpet Trees – With colorful, elongated flowers that resemble trumpets, these trees were traditionally all known as Tabebuia, but some "varieties" are actually a different species. Whether Tabebuia or Handroanthus, trumpet trees are loved for their dazzling display of blossoms that burst forth ahead of their leaves in spring.
Roses for Florida –Selecting the best rose means looking at how well it deals with our particular climate and soils, as well as our insect and disease problems. For growing roses in Florida, a recent UF/IFAS study found that the best performers were 'Mrs. B. R. Cant', 'Spice', 'Louis Philippe', and Knock Out®.
Camellias – Camellias flower in the fall and winter when their display of colorful blooms is most appreciated. During the remainder of the year their evergreen foliage, interesting shapes and textures, and relatively slow growth make camellias excellent landscape plants.
Firethorn – This evergreen shrub is best known for the colorful berries it produces in cooler weather. Not only are these berries attractive, they also serve as an important food source for wildlife. Firethorn branches hold up well in cut arrangements and make a festive accent in holiday centerpieces.
Saltbush – This native woody shrub isn't used very often in home landscapes, but it is perfectly suited to Florida gardens. In natural areas you see it in moist areas or along ponds, but it can tolerate drier sites as well, making it an excellent choice for rain gardens.
Chrysanthemums – Often shortened to mums, Chrysanthemum x morifolium is a popular and colorful perennial that come in many autumn-worthy hues and a variety of sizes.
Calico Flower – This perennial vine has striking blossoms that feature a mottled pattern of purple and white, as well as attractive foliage that grows into a dense mass, making this vine ideal for turning a utilitarian structure like a fence into a green, flowering wall.
Watermelon – While it's generally considered a summer fruit, gardeners in Florida are lucky enough to be able to plant watermelon for harvest in the winter as well. If you have the space, watermelon can be a delicious addition to the garden.
Royal Poinciana – This tropical flowering tree is considered one of the most beautiful trees in the world. Its brilliantly colored blossoms erupt in the summer months and its delicate, fern-like foliage provides dappled shade, making it a perfect retreat from the South Florida heat.
Oleander – This flowering shrub has a bit of a bad-girl reputation. And it's well-deserved, as all parts of the oleander plant are toxic. But in the right landscape, this tough and beautiful plant makes an attractive and low-maintenance addition.
Gardenias – They may not be low-maintenance plants, but many Southern gardeners think gardenias are worth the effort. Probably the most distinguishing characteristic of the gardenia is its sweet scent, but it pleases the eye as well, with glossy dark green leaves and beautiful blooms.
Basil – Thought to have originated in India, basil is considered "the kings of the herbs," and has been used in many cuisines around the globe for centuries. This easy-to-grow annual does well in Florida's warm climate.
Bottle Gourds – When very young and small, fruit of the Lagenaria species can be eaten, but it's the fully mature and dried gourds that are valued for the useful and durable containers that can be made from them.
Fringetree – A small deciduous tree that bursts into snowy bloom in the spring, fringetree's botanical name translates to "snow flower." With a sturdy branch structure and few pest or disease problems, fringetree is easy to care for once established.
Air Plant – When people use the term "air plant," they're usually referring to Tillandsia. These odd-looking plants are becoming very popular—not only for their intriguing looks but for their ease of maintenance.
Mint – Mint (Mentha spp.) is an excellent herb for beginning gardeners. It attracts pollinators, does well in Florida's hot and humid weather, and is very easy to grow (maybe too easy).
Holly Fern – Named for the pointy tips on its leathery leaves, this fern is great for growing in areas of your yard with lots of shade. The Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) chose it as one of their Plants of the Year in 2007.
Ghost Plant – A powdery coating on this succulent's leaves gives Graptopetalum paraguayense its spooky common name. This cold-hardy plant can spead out across a rock garden or cascade down a container or wall.
Salvias – Salvias are great plants for Florida gardeners; with heat tolerant blooms that come in a variety of colors and a long flowering season they can find a home in almost any garden.
Walking Iris – Neomarica sp. is a clumping herbaceous perennial with long, glossy green leaves and small, iris-like flowers. The flower color will vary depending on the species; they can be white, yellow, or blue-purple.
Evergreen Wisteria – Evergreen wisteria (Millettia reticulata) is not only a beautiful and fragrant perennial vine, it's also an excellent alternative to the more commonly seen—but invasive—Chinese wisteria.
Crinums – A hallmark of Southern gardens, crinums have been cherished and cultivated by gardeners for years. Crinums work well in the Florida landscape because of their easygoing nature. Many have been known to grow for years on old home sites or cemeteries with little or no care.
Gerbera Daisy – Florida gardeners are lucky to be able to grow the bright and beautiful Gerbera daisy practically year-round. Native to South Africa, these plants have big, daisy-like flowers that come in a wide range of colors and make excellent cut flowers.
Spanish Bayonet – Planted in the right location, Spanish bayonet can be a great accent plant for the Florida landscape. With its dramatic flower spikes and sharp, pointed foliage, it's sure to grab attention.
Sweet Corn – A favorite with home gardeners, sweet corn isn't difficult to grow as long as you've got plenty of room. Corn is a New World native crop, with archaeological evidence suggesting that it was first domesticated in Mexico.
Heart-leaf Philodendron – These easy-growing foliage plants thrive with indirect light and very little maintenance. They're often grown in hanging baskets which allow the thin stems and heart-shaped leaves to beautifully spill out of their container.
Kale – Often referred to as a "superfood" because it's rich in iron, calcium, and vitamins A, C, and K, kale is easy to grow in the Florida winter garden.
Firethorn – Known for its colorful berries, firethorn is a fast-growing shrub that can serve as both a wildlife food source and a thorny barrier plant.
Meyer Lemon – Milder than a true lemon, this fruit tree is more cold-hardy than most and can be grown successfully in containers.
Bat Flower – This exotic plant needs a little extra care, but its unusual "wings and whiskers" make it worth the effort.
Bamboo Cycad – This ancient plant brings a unique and exotic look to any Florida landscape, and couldn't be easier to care for.
Asiatic Jasmine – This hardy groundcover can handle almost any condition, and is especially useful in places where turf won't thrive.
Agave lophantha – Native to Mexico and southern Texas, this desert succulent loves the heat, but can also handle a winter chill.
Crossandra – This tropical flower is native to South Asia, and will thrive in Florida's humidity and heat. Its orange or salmon blossoms attract hummingbirds.
Croton – Known for their colorful, tropical foliage, crotons will draw attention with their stunning color and make a bold statement in your house or yard.
Caladiums – Native to Brazil, caladiums are known for their colorful leaves. They will attract attention to any landscape and bring life to shady areas.
Zinnias – Native to Mexico and available in a rainbow of colors, zinnias are annuals that thrive in the heat of the Florida garden.
Taiwan Cherry – This Florida-Friendly tree errupts into cheerful color in early spring, with flamingo-pink flowers covering its bare branches.
Lettuce – Winter is the best time to grow lettuce. Good leaf lettuce selections for Florida include 'Black-seeded Simpson' and 'Red Sails'.