If you have ever taken shovel to earth in your South Florida yard, you know that you will hit rock after just a few inches of sacred topsoil. The rock is known as Miami Limestone. Its high pH makes it hard for plants to absorb some minor elements that they need, and the limestone does a terrible job of holding on to nutrients and water.
The soil situation is bad. But the soil, combined with our wet summers, dry winters and a potpourri of plant pests, makes South Florida a very difficult place to carve out a garden.
The good news is that many trees and shrubs are adapted to grow in our rocky calcareous soils and monsoon climate.
Below are some plants that I like to think of as bulletproof. Just plant them properly, give them enough water to get established and begin producing new foliage, and you can almost walk away. They will need no supplemental irrigation, fertilizer or insecticides.
The plants range in overall height from 15 to 30 feet, When used in combination, many can make an excellent screen that hides unwanted views and creates privacy.
These plants are all well adapted to South Florida and are proven workhorses of the garden.
• Calyptranthes zuzygium, Myrtle-of-the-River: This native tree is very similar to many of the stopper species listed below and should be used in much the same way. It has a columnar growth habit and is a good choice for use as an informal hedge. It can grow to 20 feet and does best in full sun.
• Canella winterana , Wild Cinnamon: This native tree has red flowers in the summer and fall that produce bright red fruits that cluster near the tips of the branches. This plant has a columnar growth habit and can reach 30 feet. It is slow-growing and works well as a screen. The wild cinnamon can grow in full sun to partial shade.
• Capparis cynophallophora , Jamaican Caper: This native will reach 20 feet and tends to be columnar. The leaves are extremely glossy and have tiny hairs on the underside that give them a velvet appearance. The flowers are elegant white or light purple and produce fruit that will attract birds. This plant is extremely flexible and resistant to hurricane winds. It can be grown in light shade or full sun.
• Conocarpus erectus , Silver Buttonwood: This native tree is extremely salt-tolerant. It can reach 20 feet and can be used as a hedge or small tree. The leaves are silver to gray and have an extremely soft texture. The wood is very dense and the bark is textured, making it a good host for epiphytes.
• Eugenia axillaris , White stopper: This native tree is best known for the earthy aroma produced by its leaves. The white to creamy yellow flowers are somewhat showy due to their numerous stamens. The small leaves emerge bright red and turn dark green. The tree can reach 25 feet and tends to be columnar in shape. White stopper can grow in partial shade and is extremely salt-tolerant.
• Eugenia confusa , Redberry stopper: This Florida native is handsome and will attract various species of native birds. This stopper can reach 20 feet with a spread of about five to six feet. New leaves and fruits are red. Mature leaves are glossy and round, terminating in a pronounced point. Full sun is best, but it will do well in partial shade.
• Eugenia foetida , Spanish stopper: The Spanish stopper has small, light green leaves, and the fruits will attract native birds. This stopper grows at a moderate rate and will reach 20 feet. It is an excellent substitute for the hedge plant Ficus benjamina. This plant is extremely salt-tolerant. Full sun is best, but it will do well in partial shade.