Previous articles in this series discussed the allure and how-tos of planting a succulent garden. It’s important to select species suited to our humid and seasonally rainy subtropical climate. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as going to the local big-box store and purchasing the most appealing plants.

What’s sold often is unsuitable for our climate—mostly spineless succulents or small cacti that are best used as temporary displays in dish gardens. Most of the store selections are either imported from other states that have different growing environments, or are locally grown in controlled, rain-protected nursery conditions. Although these plants are interesting and colorful, they won’t survive long-term when planted in a fully exposed outdoor garden.

For suitable plants, consider what our public-display gardens have successfully grown over time. Visit the succulent plantings at Pinecrest Gardens and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Do some internet research. Browse local nurseries and ask them what succulents they carry that have been proven to grow well. Order from online sources where almost anything is available in smaller sizes.

Here are some suggested succulents and some to avoid:

  • Cereus repandus, the Peruvian apple cactus, is the large, bluish-green tree cactus that often is seen in older South Florida neighborhoods. A native of northern South America and Antillean islands, it grows without any care in our area. Plant it as a dramatic focal point or tree in a dry garden. It produces strikingly large, water lily-like white flowers and sweet, apple-sized round red fruits. Large cuttings are easy to root.
  • Adenium species and hybrids such as the desert rose. Wild forms are found in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Their bright flowers and seasonally leafless habits hint at a close relationship to frangipani. Give them good drainage and some fertilizer and moisture during the warm summer months. Keep plants dry once they start going leafless in winter. They need strong sunshine at all times.
  • Agave species come from the American Southwest, Mexico and Central America, and the Caribbean. Species vary, from diminutive plants that can spend their entire lives in small pots to formidably armed behemoths that can reach 15 feet in diameter. They can be solitary or clustering. Most agaves are tough plants that are easy to grow. Green-leaved species seem to be especially rain-tolerant.
  • Aloe species and hybrids can be difficult to source locally. Try to locate those that originate from eastern Africa or Madagascar, since many succulents found there will grow happily here. Aloes do surprisingly well for us, intermittently providing lovely flower spikes in red, orange or yellow tones. The medicinal aloe, aloe vera, is easy to find and will develop quickly into attractive, thick clumps. The closely related bulbine, with its grassy appearance and charming yellow or orange flowers, increasingly is used in local landscaping.

Dive in and experiment with the bold and beautiful world of succulent gardening.

Harvey Bernstein is the horticulturist at Pinecrest Gardens.