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Florida Gardening – By Violette Govan
GET YOUR GARDEN READY, HERE COMES THE SUN!”
If there’s one thing Floridians understand, it’s sunshine. For those of you with bright, sunny patios, perhaps a tendency to forget to water, or those who really don’t want to work too hard to reap the benefits of green scenery, indulge your inner horticulturist with Plumerias (Plumeria rubra), it’s cousin the Desert Rose (Addenium obesum), Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata), Buddha Belly plant (Jatropha podagrica), and numerous succulents such as Aloe vera, Century Plant (Agave americana), and so much more. All of these plants are extremely low maintenance, don’t require much water, and they love our Florida sunshine. Let’s get started!
The Plumeria, commonly known as the frangipani, is tropical deciduous trees which refer to the shedding of their leaves during the winter season. In our region, Plumerias are grown as ornamental shrubs famous for their extremely fragrant flowers used to make the Hawaiian leis. Anyone new to Florida will quickly discover that this gorgeous plant is a necessity for every Florida home or landscape. In a pot, plumerias make fantastic patio plants. They prefer full sun, they’re drought tolerant, don’t require much soil, and can be pruned to produce new specimens or shaped to suit your desires.
When growing plumeria from a cutting, begin with a healthy specimen about a foot in length. Allow the cutting about a week to harden off in a cool, dry place, then locate a gallon-sized container for planting. Fill the container with a mix of two parts potting soil, one-part perlite, as well as macro and micronutrient fertilizer before installing your cutting. Be sure the nodes on your cutting, which are crescent-shaped in appearance, are smiley side up to indicate you are planting your cutting in the proper direction. Firmly pack down the soil surrounding the cutting and top off your container with the soil mixture before thoroughly watering it in. Select a sunny home for your plumeria and leave it alone until the soil is dry to the touch again. To promote blooms, fertilize your plumerias with an 8-10-10 fertilizer every other month during the active growing season. Plumerias do not like wet feet, so when you notice the soil is dry or the leaves are wilting, water thoroughly to perk it back up. Also, if you prefer your plumeria to be grown as a shrub, prune branches at a forty-five-degree angle to promote new limbs. Remember, more branches can mean more opportunities for blooms!
The Desert Rose (Addenium obesum), is actually a cousin to the plumeria. This plant is characterized by its expanding trunk which is used to store water during periods of drought, and of course, it’s exciting blooms. Like the plumeria, these plants do not like to sit in water, and they don’t tolerate freezing temperatures, but if you can avoid these two common problems then you’re already on the path to beautiful, healthy plants. Addenium obesum is best grown in a somewhat shallow container with well-draining soil. The soil formula I provided for plumerias is sufficient for all the plants mentioned in this article, but if you enjoy the appearance of thick, tangled, bonsai-esque roots for your desert roses, then consider adding more perlite to your mixture and the following. Once a year you should re-pot your desert rose by lifting the specimen gently from its container, lightly shaking loose the dirt from the roots, replacing existing soil with fresh, nutrient-rich soil, then settling the roots of your specimen slightly higher in the container than it had been. Keep your desert roses in a sunny spot on your patio, and water as needed. It’s best to leave them in one place once they’re settled so they have a better chance at acclimating to their new surroundings. Expect temporary foliage loss after the plant undergoes stress from transporting or relocating desert roses, but within a few weeks, new leaves should sprout. During the winter nights, you can cover your desert roses with a sheet to retain the humidity it gives off, but definitely bring them inside if we’re expecting a hard freeze in order to prevent loss.
Your Ponytail Palms make great potted plants thanks to their ability to thrive on benign neglect. The expanding trunk, or caudex, stores water and grows throughout its lifetime. Though called a palm, the Beaucarnea recurvata is actually an evergreen perennial and member of the Agave family. While this plant doesn’t produce any showy flowers, it offers a unique accent to any porch or patio. Grow your ponytail palms in well-draining soil, don’t worry about needing to prune as this plant comes to terminal tufts, and place in an area with partial shade to full sun. On another note, if you do enjoy funky plants with pops of vibrant color, Buddha Belly plant, or Jatropha podagrica, is an alternative plant that requires the same needs as the ponytail palm. Buddha belly plants are ornamental plants featuring a swollen base with fig-shaped leaves. They are quite the conversation piece, often drawing curious eyes with their bright orange-red flowers. Unfortunately, the flowers do not have a scent, and the plant is toxic in nature. However, the flowers are major butterfly attractants, and for those enjoy butterfly gardens the nectar from the flowers is not toxic.
Aloe vera and Century Plant are examples of succulents that flourish with our sunny weather. Frankly, the majority of succulent plants will do well here with very little maintenance, so I want to focus on the small techniques that really make a difference in regard to the health of these plants. For example, Aloe vera can be successfully grown indoors, but will always perform better when grown outdoors under the sun. Aloe vera doesn’t take much skill to keep alive, but to propagate new aloe plants, the best method is through division.
This is where you select a pup from the side of the original plant, remove the container, and carefully break off the segment you like
along with existing roots from the mother plant.