Our summer is here, no question — just waiting for the typical rainy afternoons. Florida summers can be brutal on plants not suited for the area. I will share a few of my favorite plants that perform each and every summer.
My favorite and most consistent performer is the moss rose. Its many positive attributes include cost, ease of care, hardiness, availability, and blooms of many colors.
Moss rose can be purchased by the flat at about $8 to $10. This will give you 18 plants to spread out in your garden. Moss rose grows quickly and will establish itself as a cover within a matter of weeks.
Caring for your new additions couldn't be easier. They will need water about every other day until established. They then are fine with our once-a-week water rationing schedule. Choose these plants for an area that's hot and dry. They do best with six to eight hours of direct sun a day. They don't like the shade.
This annual's flowers — bright reds, oranges, yellows, white, purples and pinks — glow atop green, succulent leaves. Moss rose grows 4 to 8 inches tall and spreads up to 2 feet.
Moss rose thrives not only as a ground cover but in strawberry jars, those clay pots with several pockets for planting, and any container. Plant them near the pot's rim and the foliage and flowers will spill over the edge.
It may be difficult to keep other plants well-watered in a strawberry pot or other clay containers, but moss rose is suited to dry conditions. These tough plants need excellent drainage, so they're also a good choice for sandy soils and slopes.
Try them in rock gardens, between pavers, along baked driveways or sidewalks, and in containers on patios and walks.
Water sparingly, if at all, once established and pinch off spent blooms to encourage flowering and to keep the plant tidy. Fertilize once or twice in mid or late summer. If we have a frost, it may kill the plants, but they often come back up from seed.
Another favorite is the aloe vera. I have to choose this plant since it is completely ignored in my yard and continues to grow and spread. My "stand" of aloe started in the house but when I tired of it, I planted it under the maple tree in the back yard.
This happened about five years ago and I have never given it supplemental water or fertilizer. It is near some of my hanging orchids so it does receive castoffs from them, perhaps a bit of water and water soluble fertilizer a couple of times a year.
There are more than 250 species of aloes in the world, mostly native to Africa. They range in size from 1-inch miniatures to huge plant colonies consisting of hundreds of 2-foot diameter plants.
Because aloe plants are 95 percent water, they are extremely frost tender. When grown outdoors, it is recommended that it be planted in full sun or light shade. Mine are in heavy shade and do fine. Perhaps the heavy shade has slowed their growth, but I notice no other concerns. Aloes prefer fast draining soil and survive a drought quite well.
Because of their popularity, aloe plants are available at almost every garden shop or nursery, sometimes even in the grocery produce section.
Aloes have a shallow, spreading root system, so if you grow them in pots, provide a wide planter rather than a deep one.
Use a planter with a drainage hole, or provide a 1-2 inch layer of gravel in the bottom to ensure adequate drainage. Use a good commercial potting mix with extra perlite, granite grit, or coarse sand added. You may also use a packaged "cacti mix' soil. Fertilize yearly in the spring with a dilute (half strength), bloom type fertilizer (10-40-10).
Aloes are propagated by removing the offsets, which are produced around the base of mature plants when they are at least a couple of inches tall. They may also be grown from seed.
Another favorite and extremely low maintenance plant is the Knock Out rose. I usually shy away from fads, but have found this looks great in my front beds.
This plant hit the garden scene a few years ago and has proved to be a notable addition to Florida gardens. Knock Out roses were developed by William Radler, a Wisconsin botanist who was looking for a hardy, disease-resistant rose bush. Knock Out rose is a shrub rose that grows to about 3 feet in height and stays in a relatively tidy mound. Proper care will keep this rose bush blooming late into the fall.
Cut the Knock Out rose bush down to about 12 inches in early spring, using a handheld pruner..
Shape the bush during the growing season. Radler recommends keeping the mound as rounded as possible. Trim any branches growing faster than others. I periodically trim those branches growing askew but don't necessarily keep mine mounded. Leave the Knock Out rose bush intact in winter and cut the shrub down each spring. The roses bloom on new growth.
Remove faded blooms by deadheading to encourage new growth. Regular deadheading will keep the rose bush blooming until late fall. Water at the bottom of the shrub. Reducing the shrub's exposure to overhead watering prevents leaf spot and disease. Increase watering frequency in dry weather. Mine received little supplemental water except in the spring, when I was establishing moss rose plants that were close by.
Spread a layer of mulch around the bush, taking care not to pile it against the stems. Apply mulch about 3 inches thick. Apply a fertilizer developed for rose bushes. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on fertilizing frequency. Plant the bush in a sunny location with well-drained soil.
Do you have a favorite plant that performs well in our climate? If so, please drop me a note to share with our readers.