This publication was developed in response to
requests from participants in the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods (FYN)
program in Miami-Dade County for a list of recommended low-maintenance
landscape plants suitable for south Florida. The resulting list includes
over 350 low-maintenance plants. The following information is included
for each species: common name, scientific name, maximum size, growth
rate (vines only), light preference, salt tolerance, and other useful
This section will describe the criteria by
which plants were selected. It is important to note, first, that even
the most drought-tolerant plants require watering during the
establishment period. Although this period varies among species and site
conditions, some general rules for container-grown plants have been
determined experimentally; they are as follows: 6 months for a 1-gallon
plant; 1 year for a 3-gallon plant; and 6-12 months per inch of trunk
diameter for larger trees.
The term ‘low-maintenance’ refers to a
plant that does not require frequent maintenance—such as regular
watering, pruning, or spraying—to remain healthy and to maintain an
acceptable aesthetic quality. A low-maintenance plant has low fertilizer
requirements and few pest and disease problems. In addition,
low-maintenance plants suitable for south Florida must also be adapted
to—or at least tolerate—our poor, alkaline, sand- or limestone-based
An additional criterion for the plants on this
list was that they were not listed as being invasive by the Florida
Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC, 2001), or restricted by any federal,
state, or local laws (Burks, 2000). Miami-Dade County does have
restrictions for planting certain species within 500 feet of native
habitats they are known to invade (Miami-Dade County, 2001); caution
statements are provided for these species.
Both native and non-native species are
included herein, with native plants denoted by §
in the following table. Some plants listed also tolerate wet soil
conditions or even periodic flooding; these are denoted by ª.
Also, a variety of plants that are not commonly available in south
Florida nurseries or garden centers were intentionally included with the
hope that increased demand will generate increased supply; plants that
are commonly available are denoted by ¨.
Plants were evaluated according to their
function or role in the landscape, and were then assigned to one or more
of the following categories: A. Perennials; B. Annuals; C. Shrubs &
Hedges; D. Flowering & Shade Trees; E. Fruit Trees; F. Palms, Cycads
& Palm-like Plants; G. Ornamental Grasses; H. Groundcovers; I.
Vines; J. Epiphytes; and K. Herbs & Vegetables. A definition of each
Perennials. Perennials are typically herbaceous plants that live three or more
years. They often bear attractive flowers, and many can be used as
groundcovers. (37 perennials are listed)
Annuals. An annual is a plant that typically lives for one year or less—or is
commonly treated as such in the landscape. Although most annuals require
moist soil, a few are considered low-maintenance. In south Florida, many
annuals are cool-season plants, and, thus, will not tolerate the heat
and/or wet/humid conditions of summer. Only drought-tolerant annuals
were included. (18 annuals are listed)
Shrubs & Hedges. A shrub is typically a woody plant with several stems. However, a wide
variety of plants can function as shrubs. A hedge is simply a row of
closely planted shrubs that form a border or boundary; hedges may
require some pruning to maintain proper form or function. (117 shrubs
and hedges are listed)
Flowering & Shade Trees. A tree is a woody plant that is usually very large
(tall or wide or both) and usually bears a single trunk. Flowering trees
are those that are cultivated primarily for their showy flowers, whereas
shade trees often lack significant floral displays. (59 flowering and
shade trees are listed)
Fruit Trees. Fruit trees are typically grown or cultivated for their edible fruit.
To ensure a healthy, productive fruit tree, it may be necessary to feed
and/or water them during fruit set. (13 fruit trees are listed)
Palms, Cycads & Palm-like Plants. Palms are predominantly tropical and
subtropical evergreen trees, shrubs, or woody vines of the Family Palmae
(also known as Family Arecaceae). Palm stems are generally unbranched,
bear a single growing point, and are topped by a crown of pinnate
(feather-shaped) or palmate (fan-shaped) leaves bearing conspicuous
parallel venation. In a few cases, entire palm genera are considered
low-maintenance, including Brahea, Coccothrinax, Copernicia,
Livistona, Phoenix, Sabal, Thrinax, and Washingtonia.
Although many palms require regular fertilization, the species listed
herein require less than most. (44 palms are listed)
are cone-bearing evergreen plants of the Division Cycadophyta; they are
often mistakenly considered palms. Note, the cycads included on this
list are resistant to the cycad aulacaspis scale, which is a serious
pest of cycads in the genus Cycas (which includes the sago
‘palms’). (20 cycads are listed)
plants are those that superficially resemble palms but belong to
unrelated plant families. (four ‘non-cycad’ palm-like plants are
Ornamental Grasses. Ornamental grasses typically grow in tuft-like clumps and bear
numerous small flowers on tall stalks that rise above the blade-like
leaves. Many are quite showy, and are welcome additions to a
non-traditional landscape. (14 ornamental grasses are listed)
Groundcovers. This category includes a diverse group of unrelated plants that are
used to cover areas of ground for aesthetic purposes (e.g., in
shady areas where grass will not grow). Groundcovers also function to
stabilize soil, or to provide focal points at the front of planting
beds. Generally planted in dense stands, groundcovers can be vines,
small shrubs, annuals, perennials, or grasses. (59 groundcovers are
Vines are weak-stemmed plants that derive their support from climbing,
twining, or creeping along a surface. Although most people think of
vines as climbing vertically, a few species also grow horizontally and
can function as groundcovers. Some vines have aggressive growth habits,
so they need to be watched carefully to prevent them from growing out of
control. (25 vines are listed)
Ephipytes. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants (e.g., trees) or
objects (e.g., rocks and boulders) for support or anchorage, but
not for water or nutrients. This category includes orchids, ferns,
bromeliads, and some cacti. (11 epiphytes are listed)
Herbs & Vegetables. Herbs are plants whose leaves, stems, or roots are
used as flavoring in food or as non-traditional medicines, while
vegetables are plants that produce edible parts (roots, stems, leaves,
or fruit) that are grown for food. Although not included in most
landscapes, some herbs and vegetables have ornamental value. (four herbs
and two vegetables are listed)
the ‘Right’ Plant
Putting the right plant in the right place is
of foremost importance in creating a healthy and successful
low-maintenance landscape. However, this principle is dependent upon
one’s ability to accurately select the ‘right’ plant species for a
given location. Common names are often misleading, and sometimes more
than one plant species may be referred to by the same or similar common
name. Therefore, whenever possible, it is best to refer to scientific
names when researching and selecting plants for your south ‘Florida
We would like to thank the following UF-IFAS
Specialists for reviewing this article: Dr. Robert Black, Dr. Kimberly
Klock-Moore, Dr. Kenneth Langeland, and Dr. Eva Worden. In addition,
Roger Hammer, Head Naturalist for Miami-Dade County Parks &
Recreation, contributed significantly to this publication, and we thank
D.F. Pine Rockland Plant Guide. Miami-Dade County Department of
Environmental Resource Management, Miami, FL.
R.J. 1997. Native Florida Plants for Home Landscapes. University
of Florida-IFAS Publication ENH-25, Gainesville.
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Selection, Establishment and Maintenance. University of Florida
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Landscape Plants. Betrock Information Systems, Inc., Hollywood, FL.
K.C. 2000. Non-native Plant Species Restricted by Federal, State, or
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of Florida, Inc. Internet: http://www.plantapalm.com/ vce/vce_index.htm.
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Publication EES-57, Gainesville.
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