Attractive plants that do well in South Florida gardens are difficult to find. Here are three that I’ve added to my must-have gardening list:
Shrimp Plant (Justicia brandegeana)
I first discovered the shrimp plant at my favorite Nursery in the area, Weatherby’s in Fort Pierce. When I said I was looking for something that was hardy, and would do well in shade because I had been unsuccessful with hostas (great plants for north of zone 9), one of the employees recommended shrimp plants. What a wonderful recommendation. I have never regretted my purchase. The shrimp plant is a tropical Mexican native, that has become naturalized in South Florida. These plants have funky cone-shaped flowers that produce buds like the bottom of a shrimp’s tail. They are hardy indeed. I planted them with a bit of good garden soil and watered well in the beginning, and then let them go. And they have thrived ever since. They are great shade plants, and do best with a few hours of full sun, or daylong dappled light. Although I would not plant a Shrimp Plant in deep shade, it certainly can survive there, but I’ve been told they get a bit leggy and don’t blossom as often. For best results I prune back after they’ve bloomed, for a fuller, bushier specimen. The blossoms can be in yellow, salmon pink or red. Some say the red variety are the hardiest; others claim it’s the yellow. Whatever color you choose, the shrimp plant will not disappoint when you need color under cover.
My brown thumb applies to outdoor gardening only. When I lived in the Northeast, many a coleus suffered and died under my inept care. But coleus is a perfect plant for South Florida’s warm, humid climate. The best thing about the coleus is that it comes in such a wide assortment of brilliant colors and leaf variations. They are a tender perennial, and are sold as inexpensive annuals in the home garden centers, but I find they do well in my zone (9b) and south. They do require a bit of care – good soil and plenty of water – when first planted. But the coleus in my garden do very well once established. Although they can survive in full sun, the radiant colors become a bit faded and bleached out. So place them in the partial sun to shade to get the best results. Coleus also does best when the tops are pinched back, especially the flowering spikes. You can do this with a garden shear or pruner, or by using your fingers. This will not only produce fuller, bushier plants, but they will not go to seed, and they will last for many more years to come.
African Iris (Dietes iridioides)
I am a fan of the Bearded Iris. My favorite Van Gogh painting are of the delicate irises. I used to belong to an iris club, and we would often share rhizomes of our favorites. But, alas, South Florida is much too hot for the average bearded iris to survive. That’s why I was so happy to discover the heat hardiness of the African Iris. The African Iris is a perennial plant, and does not do well with being cut back after blooming, like the bearded iris. The African Iris pushes out white blossoms with hints of lavender and yellow, and spear-like stiff leaves that shoot out like a fan. The do best at the border of a shade garden because they require a bit of light. They look best in a mass planting, and they are extremely hardy and will tolerate a frost, once established. Because it comes from South Africa, the African iris will withstand poor soil conditions and dry weather.