Easy, Cool-Season Color in the Palm Beach Landscape

Easy Cool-Season Color in the Palm Beach Landscape By Pamela Crawford The cool season is the most pleasant time of the year in the Palm Beach landscape because of the wonderful, cool-but-seldom-cold temperatures. This is the time we want to be outside enjoying our gardens. This article describes the top ten long lasting shrubs for easy cool-season color in the Palm Beach landscape. Most annuals (seasonal flowers) do better in cool season than summer because they prefer cooler temperatures. We are the envy of many gardeners from other places because of our ability to grow such a wide variety of annuals in our ideal cool-season. But, most of our traditional shrubs peak in summer.  Ixora, plumbago, and thryallis are examples. They are loaded with blooms at a time when we prefer our air-conditioned houses. So, I searched the world over for shrubs that would peak in cool-season, when we want to spend time outdoors. Twelve years of searches and plant trials paid off. This article describes  the very best of long-lasting shrubs that provide easy cool-season color in the Palm Beach landscape. landscape-delray-574-pamela-crawford Above: The ‘Before’ photo shows a typical, older landscape at this country club featuring grass, hedges, and annuals for color. Most of  the plants in the ‘After’ photo are long-lasting, blooming shrubs that peak in the cool season. While the old hedges require monthly trimming, the new, flowering shrubs only require trimming once or twice a year.  Dombeyas are the largest shrubs, blooming with pink flowers. Yellow shrimp plants bloom in the background. Some Impatiens and ‘Victoria Blue’ salvias are annuals used to accent the garden.   The Dombeyas will grow to fill those spaces by the next cool-season, and the salvias will not be replaced. landscape-palm-beach-380-pamela-crawford Above: This pathway goes from the country club parking lot into the club house. The plain hedges (before) were replaced with a winter garden  (after). Pink blooming Dombeyas and yellow shrimp plants are the major flowering shrubs in this garden. Annual blue salvia fill in between the shrubs. They will not be replaced since the shrubs will grow to fill in the space during the next summer. Impatiens line the path. New landscape designs feature more color and less grass. The effect is lusher and much more colorful. Flowering shrubs  are becoming the backbone of new landscapes.  Annuals used to be the major source of garden color in Florida. They are now used to accent perennial gardens, or to create color accents in assorted beds. The shrubs described in this article last for many years.  They all bloom in cool-season and are trimmed once or twice a year in summer. The very best cool season, easy, long-lasting shrubs for the Palm Beach landscape include: 1. Begonia, pink angelwing  is the number one performer in shade, blooming every day of the year in the Palm Beach landscape.  This perennial begonia features constant  large, beautiful hanging clusters of pink flowers.  And it gives this fabulous performance with very little care – only 1 or 2 trimmings and a few fertilizations each year. begonia-w-pamela-crawford The pink angelwing lives for over 10 years. Large specimens add instant color and impact to a garden and are very easy to grow. Angelwing  begonias are informal plants, perfect for tropical gardens. Use this begonia as a mass or an accent. Do not confuse this begonia with the small, annual begonias that only last one season. This one is a perennial and lives for many years. The pink angelwing begonia is a must for every Palm Beach winter garden. AVERAGE SIZE:  Easily maintained at sizes between 3 feet tall by 2 feet wide and 7 feet tall by 3 feet wide. EASY MAINTENANCE:  Fertilize your begonias in March, June, and October with Dynamite or Nutricote.  This plant does not do well without this fertilizer, particularly in neighborhoods in the western parts of Palm Beach County.  Trim any time of the year, usually only once or twice. Some prefer to even out the height of the different canes for a streamlined look. Others like the informal look of the plant’s natural character, which is varying heights in the same plant.  Branches will droop when the plant is too tall. Stake them if you want the height or cut the drooping branch to the ground. It will regrow from the base, filling in the bottom of the plant. As the plant matures, the canes thicken and support more height. BEST  COLOR:  Blooms all year in the Palm Beach landscape. Peaks in winter. AVERAGE LIFE:  At least 10 years with the proper maintenance. CAUTIONS:  None known. LIGHT:  Medium to light shade, not dense shade. Endures more light than you may think but not direct sun all day. WATER:  After initial establishment period, low water. Ideal is once a week in medium shade, a bit more in more sun. Tolerates irrigation up to twice a week. Untested without irrigation in the Palm Beach landscape. SALT TOLERANCE:  Low. 2. ‘Odorata’ begonia: A prolific winter bloomer with lovely, white flowers in shade. This begonia is a must for the winter garden in the Palm Beach landscape. It blooms quite heavily during the cooler months. The plant lasts for years, giving a dramatic show up close or from a distance. Many different kinds of begonias thrive in Florida, from small annuals to huge angelwings.  This one is small to mid-sized, growing 2 to 3 feet in height. And it is simple to maintain, only requiring 1 trimming per year and a few fertilizations. Begonia-w-boca-raton-landscape-pamela-crawford AVERAGE SIZE:  18 to 30 inches tall by 18 inches wide. EASY MAINTENANCE:  Immediately after planting, fertilize with Dynamite or Nutricote. Repeat in March, June, and October of each year. If the summer is unusually hot and rainy, inspect the leaf color of the plant in August. If it appears washed out, add an additional fertilization at that time.  Trim this begonia once a year in summer, when it has the least flowers and recovers fastest from a cutback. Trim back hard to about  12 inches tall. It takes about a month or two for the plant to recover. If the begonia gets leggy in between annual cutbacks, trim lightly as needed. BEST  COLOR:  These begonias last for many years, flowering for 6 to 9 months, predominantly during the cooler months in the Palm Beach landscape. When the plant is not in flower, its leaves are attractive. AVERAGE LIFE:  At least 10 years with the proper maintenance in the Palm Beach landscape. CAUTIONS:  None known. LIGHT:  Medium to light shade, not dense shade. WATER:  Medium. Ideal watering is twice a week after the initial establishment period. Tolerates water up to  4 times per week. Requires more water when grown in containers. Do not overwater this plant, or it will get fungus. SALT TOLERANCE:  Medium. 3. Bromeliads:  These are one of our shade superstars if you know which ones to buy. Over 2500 different kinds of bromeliads have been discovered in the wild and many more have been hybridized for indoor use. Many don’t live long in the Palm Beach landscape. I specify bromeliads in my landscape designs that have been tested for years in the Palm Beach landscape and are tried and true performers. My favorite is the Aechmea ‘Blue Tango.’  It is a spectacular winter or spring bloomer that flowers for up to 4 months with little care in the Palm Beach landscape.  It is so beautiful that no one can believe its ease of care. Aechmea-fendleri-delray-landscape-pamela-crawford Above: ‘Blue Tango’ bromeliad The bloom period is long and timed perfectly for when we want to be outside. This plant blooms four to 6 months each year, normally from winter to spring.  It bloomed quite dependably for 4 or 5 years of trials. The fifth year, it bloomed late, starting in March. When the plant is not in flower, its leaves are attractive. AVERAGE SIZE:  Bromeliads come in a broad range of sizes, from 4 inches by  4 inches to huge,  5 feet tall by 5 feet wide specimen. CAUTIONS:  Many bromeliads are painful to handle because of spines. Wear a heavy, long-sleeved shirt and gloves. Also, mosquitoes can breed in the water that is held in the middle of the plant. A bromeliad grower recommended a product called ‘Mosquito Bits’ that is available from amazon.com. These are pellets you can put in the center of the bromeliad that inhibit or prevent mosquito breeding. The grower said that the ‘Bits’ don’t hurt the bromeliads.  I haven’t tried them so I can’t vouch for their results in the Palm Beach landscape. EASY MAINTENANCE:  Immediately after planting, fertilize the ground around the plant with Dynamite or Nutricote.  Repeat in March, June, and October of each year. Do not put fertilizer in the center of this plant; spread it on the ground so that it will reach the roots.  Bromeliads to not require trimming until the mother plant dies after flowering and producing pups (babies). Trim off the dead plant after it becomes brown. Leave the remaining pups to grow where they are or separate them to cover more ground. Since this only has to be done every few years, this is truly an easy plant. BEST COLOR:  Some bromeliads with colored leaves offer year-round color. Others develop strong color right before they flower. Those with showy flowers generally bloom for 2 to 4 months each year. AVERAGE LIFE:  A single plant lives about 2 years but sends up babies to replace itself. A clump of good landscape bromeliads lasts indefinitely in the Palm Beach landscape. LIGHT:  Varies by type of bromeliad. Some take medium to light shade and burn in full sun. Others (but not as many) take full sun.  I am quite careful about buying bromeliads for my landscape jobs if I am using them in full sun in the Palm Beach landscape. Even if you buy one that grows in full sun, if the grower has grown it in shade, it might get sunburned (ugly blotches on the leaves), particularly if you plant in summer. WATER:  Low.  Ideal watering is once every week or two after the initial establishment period. Tolerates water up to 3 times per week but rots with too much. Requires more water when grown in containers. SALT TOLERANCE:  Low for bromeliads with thin leaves. Most thick-leaved varieties have a high tolerance for both salt and wind in the Palm Beach landscape.  4. Brunfelsia  is one of our most beautiful winter bloomers – a must for winter gardens in the Palm Beach landscape.  It is beautiful and quite a conversation piece, with its 3 colors of flowers. But it has quirks. It goes through shock frequently after planting, which is lessened by a lot of water. Soaker hoses are ideal. The second year in the ground, it is much more comfortable and less thirsty. And, it will not bloom if trimmed at the wrong time of year. It needs a calm spot, defoliating quickly in too much wind (Take special care of wind situations in houses or condos located near waterways or on the ocean and condominum buildings that may have wind tunnels.) So, plant it in a sheltered location at the beginning of the rainy season, and trim in summer. You will be very happy with this plant under those conditions. Brunfelsia-w-boca-raton-landscape-pamela-crawford AVERAGE SIZE:  Easy to maintain at sizes between  4  feet tall by 3 feet wide and 6 feet tall by 5 feet wide in the Palm Beach landscape. EASY MAINTENANCE:  Brunfelsias are heavy feeders. Immediately after planting, fertilize with Dynamite or Nutricote. Repeat in March, June, and October of each year. This plant does not do well without this fertilizer, particularly in neighborhoods in the western parts of Palm Beach County. If the summer is unusually hot and rainy, inspect the leaf color of the plant in August. If it appears washed out, add an additional fertilization at that time. TRIMMING:  Trim hard by hand once or twice a year during the summer months when it is not blooming. If trimmed after August, this plant will not bloom the following winter in the Palm Beach landscape. BEST  COLOR:  Brunfelsias flower in winter, quite dependably from late November until spring. The plant lasts for many years, looking good while not blooming in the Palm Beach landscape. Occasionally, it partially defoliates at the end of it’s bloom cycle in late winter or early spring. It recuperates quickly with its March fertilization and warm, spring temperatures. CAUTIONS:  Frequently goes through shock after planting, losing many leaves. Also, defoliates much more in windy locations than most plants. Use in a very calm location in your Palm Beach landscape. Take special care of wind situations in houses or condos located near waterways or on the ocean and condominum buildings that may have wind tunnels. LIGHT:  Medium shade to full sun. Ideal light is light shade. WATER:  Very high water during the establishment period. Soaker hoses for a few hours a day are ideal for the first month or two. Medium water after plant is well-rooted in the ground. Ideal watering is twice a week after the initial establishment period. Tolerates water up to 4 times per week. Requires more water  when grown in containers in the Palm Beach landscape. SALT TOLERANCE:  Low. 5. Crotons offer year-round, easy color and an interesting texture with little care in the Palm Beach landscape. There are hundreds of varieties, varying from 2 feet tall to large shrubs reaching 6 feet tall. All feature colored leaves thatalso vary by type. Some are bright colors, like the ‘Stoplight’ croton, while others are subdued yellow and green. Crotons featuring shades of pink, like the ‘Icetone’, are also popular now in the Palm Beach landscape. stoplight-croton-pamela-crawford Above: ‘Stoplight’ croton AVERAGE SIZE:  Easily maintained at sizes between 2 feet tall by 2 1/2 feet wide and 6 feet tall by 4 feet wide. Size depends on type as well as maintenance. EASY MAINTENANCE:   Trim as needed to maintain desired size.  Crotons of the same type planted in a  mass  grow  at different  rates.  Keep them trimmed  to the  same  height. If plants look  leggy, trim some of the leggy branches back to the ground. If you do this in June or July, as many as 3 branches sprout from each cut, filling in the bare base. Although crotons’ nutritional needs are low, they benefit and grow faster from  fertilizations in March, June, and October with Nutricote or Dynamite. BEST  COLOR:  Leaves provide color all year in the Palm Beach landscape. AVERAGE LIFE:  15 to 20 years. CAUTIONS:  Milky sap irritates skin and stains clothes. (I have had no problems, but caution is wise). Crotons show some cold damage in temperatures lower than 40 degrees. This is most likely to happen in severe cold spells (very infrequent this far south) in open areas, particularly neighborhoods located in the western parts of Palm Beach County, or in very open areas (like western waterfront areas). The plant recovers quickly in the spring. LIGHT:  Medium shade to full sun.  Varies by type. WATER:  After initial establishment period, low water. Ideal is once a week. Tolerates irrigation up to 4 times a week. SALT TOLERANCE:  Medium-high. 6. Dombeya  ‘Seminole or Florida Hydrangea is one of our most beautiful winter bloomers that resembles  the northern hydrangea.  It  is a fabulous plant, a must for winter gardens in the Palm Beach landscape  It produces six months of traffic-stopping color with very little care. The flowers resemble northern Hydrangeas but are not related. Many different types of Dombeyas exist. Some are large trees, with attractive, drooping flowers that need to be viewed from below. But, the Seminole holds its flowers on top of the leaves, so they are easily viewed from any angle. The plant is amazingly tough, taking adverse conditions with no problems. The only issue with the plant is that it is somewhat difficult to propagate, so not many nurseries stock it. If you see one, buy it because you might not see it again. But, be sure that it is the Seminole type and not the tree type  (Dombeya wallichii), which is much easier to propagate but much different in its size and performance. Dombeya-w-pamela-crawford AVERAGE SIZE:  Easily maintained at sizes between 6 feet tall by 6 feet wide and 8 feet tall by 8 feet wide. EASY MAINTENANCE:   Dombeyas are not heavy feeders. Immediately after planting, fertilize Dynamite or Nutricote.  Repeat in March, June, and October of each year. Trim back hard in June. The goal is to round out the shape of the plant, not square it off. This annual trimming is normally enough for superior performance the next winter. Do not trim back after August, or you might not have blooms the following winter. BEST  COLOR:  Dombeya ‘Seminoles’ usually bloom twice a year. The first period starts in late fall and continues through late January. The plant takes a break for about a month and starts blooming again in March, continuing until late May. The plant itself looks good, even when not blooming. AVERAGE LIFE:  15 to 20 years. CAUTIONS:  Attracts bees. LIGHT:  Light shade to full sun. WATER:  Medium.  Ideal watering is twice a week after the initial establishment period. Tolerates water up to 5 times per week. Requires more water when grown in containers. SALT TOLERANCE:  Medium. 7. Pink firespike is a beautiful, large shrub that offers great color all winter with very little care. Hummingbirds and butterflies love it since it is one of the best flowering shrubs in the Palm Beach winter landscape.  Everyone who sees it comments on its beauty when it is in full bloom. And it blooms for a long time, easily six months nonstop.  Provided you have a large spot, it’s very easy to grow. Give it at least six to eight feet to spread; then, enjoy the winter flowers. This firespike is larger than the red firespike, and they bloom at different times. Firespike,pink-cu-pamela-crawford (2) AVERAGE SIZE:  Easy to maintain at sizes between 6 feet tall by 6 feet wide and 7 feet tall by 6 feet wide. Larger than the purple or red Firespike. EASY MAINTENANCE:   The pink firespike is not a heavy feeder. Immediately after planting, fertilize with Nutricote or Dynamite. Repeat in March, June, and October of each year. Do not over-fertilize this plant. Too much will make it grow much too fast. Trim back hard twice a year, once in spring, right after it stops blooming, and again in August. The pink firespike can be cut back as low as 18 inches tall without damage. Do not cut too hard from September through March, or you may inhibit its winter blooms. Slight grooming can be done at any time. BEST  COLOR:  Pink firespikes last for many years, flowering for about 6 months of each winter. When the plant is not in flower, its leaves are attractive. I recommend a hard cutback in summer, which leaves it quite bare for about a month. AVERAGE LIFE:  10 to 15 years. CAUTIONS:  None known. LIGHT:  Light to medium shade. Untested in high heat and light. WATER:  Medium.  Ideal watering is twice a week after the initial establishment period. Tolerates water up to  4 times per week. SALT TOLERANCE:  Low. 9.  Scarlet Red Cloak is one of our most spectacular, large-blooming shrubs featuring huge, red flower spikes that last for months at a time in the Palm Beach landscape. Scarlet red cloak is a wonderful shrub if you love flowers, have a large spot, and can put up with some bugs.  Caterpillars chew the leaves occasionally, especially shortly after planting.  Spraying is not required unless the damage becomes severe. For most people, it is worth seeing some holes in the leaves in order to experience the beauty of  the flower, which is one of the showiest I have ever seen in the Palm Beach landscape. Since it usually blooms in winter, it is a dramatic addition to winter gardens. Unlike many of our tropical plants with showy flowers, like gingers and heliconias, the scarlet red cloak is evergreen. The large, lime-green leaves are attractive, even when the plant is not blooming. I’ve never tried this plant in windy locations, but since the leaves are large and on the thin side, they could shred in high winds. I’m not talking hurricane force winds, but winds typical of our winter ‘northeasters’ that precede our two to three cold spells per year. So take care if placing it in an open location, particularly in houses or condos located near waterways or on the ocean and condominum buildings that may have wind tunnels. AVERAGE SIZE:  Easily maintained at sizes between  7  feet tall by 7 feet wide and 9 feet tall by 9 feet wide. I have not seen it larger than 9 feet tall in the Palm Beach landscape but have heard of it growing to 15 feet tall in other countries. EASY MAINTENANCE:  Immediately after planting, fertilize with Dynamite or Nutricote. Repeat in March, June, and October of each year. If the summer is unusually hot and rainy, inspect the leaf color of the plant in August. If it appears washed out, add an additional fertilization at that time. Trim once a year, immediately after it stops flowering. The timing is very important because the plant starts blooming about 8 to 10 months after trimming in the Palm Beach landscape. It takes very hard cutbacks well. Do not trim it again until after it has stopped flowering again, or you will prevent it from blooming the next year. BEST  COLOR:  Blooms peak in winter.  Scarlet red cloak’s spectacular flowers usually appear in fall and winter for about 6 months. The plant occasionally surprises you with summer blooms that end before January and do not reappear until the following fall. When the plant is not in flower, its leaves are attractive. The scarlet red cloak is evergreen, staying attractive all year, except for minor leaf burn if the temperatures drop to the mid to low 30’s (very seldom in Palm Beach – I can’t remember when it was that cold that far south!) AVERAGE LIFE:  At least 10 years with the proper maintenance in the Palm Beach landscape. CAUTIONS:  None known. LIGHT:  Prefers light shade, but grows in full sun as well. Untested in medium or dense shade in the Palm Beach landscape. WATER:  Medium.  Ideal watering is twice a week after the initial establishment period. Tolerates water up to  4 times per week. SALT TOLERANCE:  Unknown. 9. Shrimp Plants: One of the best plants for shade color in the Palm Beach landscape.  Dramatic, beautiful flowers every day of the year with very little care in shade. The shrimp plant was the favorite of most people who visited our trial gardens. The flower is very showy and quite unique, a yellow spike with an accent of white. It is one of  the few plants that flowers all year, even during our coolest or our hottest days. The shrimp gives much more color impact than most other perennials, in either sun or shade. Hide its tendency to legginess with smaller shrubs or groundcovers as a lower layer. shrimp-pamela-crawford Above: Shrimp plants with mammey crotons and pink impatiens Shrimp plants require more maintenance than the other 9 plants on this list (see ‘Maintenance,’ below). Do not use shrimp plants in windy locations. Take special care of wind situations in houses or condos located near waterways or on the ocean and condominum buildings that may have wind tunnels. Shrimp plants hate wind! AVERAGE SIZE:  Easily maintained at sizes between 3 feet tall by 2 feet wide and 6 feet tall by 3 feet wide.  MAINTENANCE:  Fertilize shrimp plants in  March,  June, and October with Dynamite or Nutricote (If you use any other fertilizers, they probably won’t work on this plant). Shrimps are heavy feeders. If all the leaves yellow slightly, fertilize again. Both fertilization and hand pruning are essential for the success of this plant.  One method is to cut back drastically (to short sticks) in the summer. It takes about 6 weeks to recover.  Another pruning method is stagger-cutting. Cut about one third of the plant back at a time, cutting the tallest branches to the ground. This method keeps constant new shoots growing at the base of the plant. Stagger-cutting is generally done about twice a year and produces constant blooms. If the shrimp plant is cut from September through February,  the stalks that are cut will not bloom until the following summer in the Palm Beach landscape. BEST  COLOR:  One of the few plants that blooms all year in the Palm Beach landscape. AVERAGE LIFE:  At least 5 years with the proper maintenance. CAUTIONS:  None known. LIGHT:  Medium to light shade, not dense shade. Endures more light than you may think but not direct sun all day in the Palm Beach landscape. WATER:  After initial establishment period, low water. Ideal is once a week in medium shade, a bit more in more sun. Tolerates irrigation up to twice a week. Untested without irrigation. SALT TOLERANCE:  Low. 10. Ti Plants offer strong color with little care if you learn to prune it once a year. They are one of the most colorful plants in the Palm Beach landscape.  The bright pink to fuchsia leaves give year-round color with very little care. The vertical shape of the ti plant is very useful in situations where tall, narrow plant shapes are needed, like in-between  2 windows.  In clumps with at least 9 stems, ti plants will produce dramatic color accents in the Palm Beach landscape. Most 3-gallon plants, the most common size sold by garden centers, have 3 stems, so plant groups of at least 3 pots of these together.  The plant is tolerant of low-to-high light, providing it started life in similar conditions. You may avoid  ti plants because many in Florida look shabby.  People are afraid to trim them for fear of killing them.  You cannot kill a ti plant by trimming it!  And, new varieties are common now that don’t get shabby-looking in the Palm Beach landscape. Cordyline-pamela-crawford Above: ‘Madame Chaoul’ ti plant. There are hundreds of different ti plants available. Sizes vary from about 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide to 6 feet tall by 6 feet wide. Colors vary from subtle green and white to bright shades of hot pink, green, and white. Ti ‘Red Sister’ is the most common ti in the Palm Beach landscape, and my least favorite. This ti plant gets brown leaves in winter, and if you forget to prune it the next spring, it looks just awful. Other varieties are currently available that don’t get the brown mess on their leaves. AVERAGE SIZE:  Easily maintained at sizes between 3 feet tall by 2 feet wide and 6 feet tall by 3 feet wide. Size varies with different varieties in the Palm Beach landscape. EASY MAINTENANCE:  Fertilize in March, June, and October with Dynamite or Nutricote. Trimming is the key to its attractiveness in the landscape. Trim once a year in April.  Stagger the cuts on the different stalks for a layered effect or trim the tallest one third of the stalks to the ground. Stick the cuttings in soil nearby,  and they will root.  Some grooming (removing of brown or white leaves) may be needed intermittently throughout the year, especially in early March, to trim off the brown tips and white patches caused by winter cold and wind. BEST  COLOR:  Ti plants provide color from their leaves all year in the Palm Beach landscape. AVERAGE LIFE:  At least 10 years with the proper maintenance in the Palm Beach landscape. CAUTIONS:  None known. LIGHT:  All ti plants do well in light to medium shade. Some varieties  take full sun as well. WATER:  After initial establishment period, medium water. Ideal is twice a week in sun, once a week in shade. Tolerates wet situations well, as many as 5 irrigations a week. Untested without irrigation. SALT TOLERANCE:  Low This article is taken from: “Easy Gardens for South Florida” by Pamela Crawford. © 2001  Color Garden Inc. and “Best Garden Color for Florida” by Pamela Crawford. © 2003  Color Garden Inc.   All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, on the internet, recording or any other information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.