Succulent Gardens for South Florida, Part 2
Succulent gardens can be beautiful and rewarding additions to South Florida’s horticultural landscape, requiring relatively low maintenance and thriving in our warm temperatures and bright sunshine.
Here are some growing essentials:
Sun, sun, sun: Most succulents need sun—not necessarily full sun all day long, but at least several hours, especially during the middle of the day. Species that grow in more-open situations need lots of sun. But don’t despair if you can’t provide it. Many succulents naturally grow under larger plants in partial shade; some grow in scrub or dry forest environments where the light is less intense.
Air circulation: Good air movement raises the rate of moisture evaporation off the plant. A dry succulent is a happy plant. Succulents often come from areas that have much lower average humidity than South Florida, or short humid seasons. They don’t like moisture remaining on their bodies. Don’t crowd them.
Excellent drainage: Succulents must have much better drainage than necessary for other types of terrestrial plants. Many we attempt to grow come from habitats with extremely low soil moisture. When it rains, the soil is briefly wet. By maintaining good drainage, the humidity is reduced around the plant, and that’s good.
Low nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer with additional micronutrients: Succulents often naturally grow in mineralized soils that are low in organic material. They don’t need much nitrogen and have evolved to use it efficiently.
Here are a few tips on how to design a garden that will provide succulents with the right environment:
Plant them in open areas that get strong sun for at least several hours each day, all year long.
Space them more widely than you would moisture-loving plants. Give them room to dry off and grow.
Plant them high. Make sure water runs away from their roots and doesn’t collect in the planting hole. Berm them, mound them, amend the planting holes with gravel (preferably lava rock or PermaTill) at the bottom, plant them high in the hole, and mulch or top dress with gravel.
Use a fertilizer specifically formulated for local soils, such as 8-2-12 in our area. That’s the best general formulation for almost any type of garden. Remember, fertilize to correct soil deficiencies, and the plants can feed themselves.
Sun-loving weeds can be a real problem in succulent gardens. Using a weed barrier such as ground cloth, then mulching with gravel, can help. Establish a regular schedule to keep the gravel clean of organic material, such as dust and leaves. Pulling or killing weed seedlings when they first appear will make your garden maintenance much easier and keep it looking great.
Next month, in the final part of this series, I’ll suggest some great plants for the dry garden, as well as some to avoid.
Harvey Bernstein is the horticulturist at Pinecrest Gardens.