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Purple Orchid

December 22 • 2021

Landscaping Mistakes I’ve Made in Southwest Florida Landscaping

Are you from “up North” trying to Landscape in Southwest Florida?

As the daughter of an award-winning Dairy Farmer in Wisconsin, I have always had an interest in horticulture. A different career had me traveling from state to state for several years until settling in Lee County Florida in 1999. Now I’m pursuing my true interest of Horticulture, specifically, Florida Friendly Landscaping. Educational webinars from the University of Florida, County Extension Offices, studying for FNGLA’s (Florida Nursery Growers and Landscapers Association) Florida Professional Horticulture Professional Certificate, and hands on experience in my North Fort Myers yard and my new career at Good Roots Nursery in Estero, Florida, are helping me to continue learning. Here are a few examples that may help you as you venture into Florida landscaping and gardening.

Planting Houseplants Outside in South Florida

Almost anything grows in the subtropical climate of southwest Florida. It’s easy to use the beautiful house plants you brought along to try to get started making your yard your own. Whether you are on Marco Island or Sanibel, in Fort Myers, Estero, Cape Coral, Punta Gorda or beyond, be sure to do your research. I planted a Ficus tree (Ficus Benjamina: Weeping Fig). Didn’t realize it could eventually get 60 feet tall and 100 feet wide! Luckily it was planted far from the house. However, there are so many Florida Native alternatives that benefit the environment and the beauty of your landscape. Fortunately, this tree is not invasive, however, there are houseplants that when planted outside in south Florida affect the environment by displacing the native species. Please do your research before planting any of those precious houseplants in the Florida landscape. Many of them will look great and thrive in potting containers inside the screened lanai!

Some house plants from the north that do work well in South Florida Landscape are:  

  • Bromeliad – Bromeliaceae
  • Orchid –  Orchidaceae
  • Peace Lily – Spathiphyllum
  • Dumbcane – Dieffenbachia
  • Dwarf Umbrella Tree – Arboricola (up north we called it Schefflera)
  • Jade Plant – Crassula arborescens
  • Croton – Codiaeum variegatum

Spending Money on Invasives

The definition of Invasives from the University of Florida is “Invasive species are introduced plants and animals that cause harm to the environment, the economy, and/or human health. Often displacing native species, these invaders skew the delicate balance between animals, plants, and important processes such as waterflow and fire.”

It’s easy to spend an inordinate amount of money, time and work on invasive plants. Wouldn’t it make sense that every plant available for purchase is ok? And if you see it in yards all over the place, and even in the medians of the roads, it should be ok? Unfortunately, no. It is best to research or get advice from a Florida Native Garden Center or Nursery. Some of the plants I have had the experience of planting, and then trying to remove are:

  • Mexican Petunia (Ruellia simplex).  It is used extensively in landscapes and common areas.  It spreads easily and needs to be controlled. I removed mine by spraying with straight brush killer and then actually digging out the roots.  There are endless Florida Native and Florida Friendly shrub, ground cover and bedding plant options that can be used in place of this plant.
  • Lantana camara.  It has multi-colored flowers that attract bees and butterflies.  Unfortunately, is it not only invasive but also is toxic to livestock.  Florida native lantanas are Lantana involucrate and Lantana depressa.  Visit a nursery or garden center that carries Florida Natives to see these beautiful, environmentally friendly plants that attract pollinators.
  • Elephant Ears (Colocasia, Wild Taro). This is the only type of Elephant ear that is invasive in Florida. Other options are Alocasia ‘Regal Shield’, or ‘California’ among others, that can be found at garden centers and nurseries that carry Florida Friendly ornamental landscape plants.

Judging Light

Something Northerners generally didn’t have to think about is how the difference between Summer and Winter sunlight affects their landscape. Since the temperatures in southwest Florida rarely dip under 32 degrees for a low and highs in the 50s, we are able to enjoy four seasons of gardening and landscaping. It’s important to observe and compare one season’s sun that goes nearly directly from East to West over the house, to the other extreme of shining into covered lanais and windows, and under trees, especially in the morning and evening. This is something that needs to be thought through when planting perennials and annuals. Lanai screens are tricky too. It seems like inside and around a lanai cage would be considered full sun, unless there are trees. That really isn’t the case. Inside the cage, it is lightly filtered. On the north side of a cage, during most of the year, it is filtered by two layers of screen.

Here is my most memorable landscaping “correction”. Our lanai faces north. Thinking it is full sun, we surrounded our lanai with beautiful bougainvillea “Helen Johnson”, the dwarf variety of bougainvillea. It loves full sun and produces lilac/pink flowers from fall to spring. Eventually the plants on the north side bloomed very little and eventually disliked the area so much that they were losing their leaves. We dug up and threw some away. With some advice from a knowledgeable horticulturist, we revived the remaining plants in pots. They are now planted in two other areas of the yard where they are thriving.

Planting Distance from the House

It is common to plant trees, shrubbery, ground cover and even bedding plants too close to the house. This advice is applicable in most any geographical market. Plants too close to the house can affect their health and the health of your home. Plants with large root structure and large canopies need to be planted a proper distance from the house so they may exhibit their mature beauty. Also take care to observe power lines and the distance from your plant and the pruning that may be required. It is best to plant anything at least out from under the drip line of the eave of your roof, whether or not you have rain gutters. Keeping the distance helps for household maintenance like washing windows and painting. It also keeps the plants and the structure healthier by providing space that prevents fungus and pest infestation. If plants are directly under the drip line of a roof, that does not have a rain gutter, they may be injured by the heavy summer rain runoff. If they are under the eave, they do not benefit from natural rainwater.

I hope you found these experiences helpful as you navigate through creating your Florida Friendly landscaping.

Please come visit the helpful team at Good Roots Nursery and Garden Center in Estero.    

Joann Larkee, FCHP
Sales Associate/Marketing
Good Roots Nursery and Garden Center
17660 Corkscrew Rd
Estero, Florida 33928

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