Using succulents in your gardens


Halifax Media Group

Over the years, when folks have asked me to recommend plants that are cold-hardy, drought-proof, pest-resistant and low-maintenance. I’ve offered them a list of succulent species. In some instances, though, my suggestions were rejected because they were thought of as desert plants.

succWhile it’s true that such species lend themselves to desertique themes if set out sparingly along with boulders and a pebble mulch, those same succulents blend beautifully with other sorts of plants to create landscapes that evoke the tropics.

Take Yuccas, for example. From the Spanish bayonet — a large, clumping, fast-growing native plant with awesome flowers every summer — to the more graceful and finer-leaved beaked yucca (Y. rostrata), these tough-as-nails species thrive without care on sunny, well-drained sites. If smaller-scale, colorful Yuccas are desired, variegated versions of our native Adam’s needle are ideal. Varieties include “Color Guard” and “Golden Sword.” Yucca plants can be used as bold accents, incorporated into mixed shrubbery borders and combined with other exotic-looking landscape plants.

Also vastly underused in Florida gardens are Aloes — largely African plants ranging from 2 feet to 60 feet tall. Of the nearly 400 species of these flowering, evergreen plants, only a handful are regularly cultivated, including Aloe vera and soap aloe (A. maculate). These plants require well-drained sites and grow best in full sun, though many tolerate light shade.

Perhaps the most notable succulents in our landscapes are Agaves, collectively called century plants even though most species bloom and die when they’re about 20 years old. Before these plants perish, however, they typically generate a ring of offsets, so replanting isn’t necessary.

In addition to the large and familiar century plant (A. Americana) in both green and variegated forms, the smaller Caribbean agave (A. angustifolia “Marginata”) is relatively popular. But other species, which are woefully underused, also make striking landscape plants. Among them are Agaves with bluish foliage such as A. desmetiana and lechuguilla, and species with outstanding inflorescences like the foxtail agave, which — atypically — blooms year after year. Provide Agaves with sandy sites in full or part-day sun.

Other succulents that flourish locally include devil’s backbone, bulbine and cactuses such as hedge cactus, Opuntia species and night-blooming cereus.

Charles Reynolds is a Winter Haven resident.


Last modified: November 26, 2014
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