Fairchild’s tropical garden column

Putting the right plant in the right location

 

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

South Florida can be a difficult place to carve out your tropical paradise, with calcareous soils, a distinct wet and dry season and a bevy of plant pests, but by choosing the right plant and putting it in the right spot, you not only conquer our poor soils and extreme rainfall patterns, you can also often forgo using supplemental irrigation, pesticides and fertilizer.

Over my 20 years of writing and teaching about horticulture, that theme has run through it all: Put the right plant in the right location.

There are many plants that are adapted to our soils and climate that also do a good job of withstanding most pests. By matching these plants with their ideal sunlight requirements, space needs and water conditions, you can create a perfect combination allowing plants to flourish with minimal inputs from you. And as a homeowner, isn’t that what you really want? High-output, low-input plants that are capable of giving you shade, fruit, butterflies, hummingbirds and flowers with minimal work from you.

So many mistakes are made in the home garden by people who try to plant trees or shrubs that are not adapted to South Florida. The home improvement stores are full of pitfall plants that will never do well no matter where you plant them or how you care for them.

The wrong plant is certain failure, but what about those instances when you have a great plant for South Florida, but you don’t know enough about it to get it into the right spot?

For instance, our native oak, Quercus virginiana, is a massive tree reaching a height and spread of 50 feet or more that should not be planted anywhere near power lines or building foundations. It needs a large space for its root system and canopy, yet it is often planted directly under power lines or in a tiny, compacted area of soil where its roots have nowhere to roam. As a result, a high percentage of oak plantings are doomed from the very start.

You need to know how big a tree or shrub will grow before you plant it so you can give it proper spacing. By putting a tree or shrub that is in proper scale with your planting, you eliminate the need for costly and time-consuming pruning.

Light requirements are another key factor. The mango tree is a great plant for South Florida, but if you plant it in the shade of a larger tree, you will end up with a handsome tree but no fruit. Most fruit and flowering trees need sunlight to produce their delicious and eye-popping bounty.

Size and sunlight requirements are important, but water is also a key factor. The native Everglades palm, Acoelorrhaphe wrightii, for example, requires slightly moist soil. So even though it is a native plant, it won’t do its best if you just plop it into your yard. It should be planted in a low-lying area or near a lake or other body of water in order to thrive.

Putting the right plant in the right location is crucial to success in the home garden. Remember to find out the overall size, sunlight requirements and water needs of your plantings before you place them in the ground. Use the Internet, horticulture classes and workshops, books and other sources of information like nurserymen and growers to find out all you can about the plants you bring home. When you put the right plant in the right spot, gardening in South Florida becomes less of a chore and more of a pleasure.

Jeff Wasielewski is an outreach specialist at Fairchild, an expert in South Florida horticulture and a professor of horticulture at Miami Dade College. He can be reached at jeffw@fairchildgarden.org.

Read more Home & Garden stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
Trays are a great and stylish way to keep your home organized and beautiful.

    Decorating

    Style at Home: 5 terrific ways to use trays

    If you went on a scavenger hunt for a tray in my home, you’d find one in every room. In the 33 years I’ve worked in interior design, some of the decorating foot soldiers I use to style my home have come and gone (anyone remember tassels?). But trays are here to stay.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">BUTTERED UP: </span>The glass dome on this Victorian butter dish is known as ‘Rubina.’

    Treasures

    Unusual Victorian butter dish still valuable

    Q: This butter dish was given to my grandmother over 50 years ago. It is 5 inches in diameter. The markings on the bottom part of the metal are “Rogers Smith & Co.” with “Meriden Ct, Quadruple, 7, USA.” Are you able to give us any information on this piece?

  • Washington Report

    Is spring the time to list your home?

    It’s common knowledge verging on holy writ in real estate: Spring is the absolute best time of the year to sell a house.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category