Top 20 Florida Shrubs

Top 20 Shrub Choices in Florida

If you are a lover of unusual plants, this isn't one of them.  From years of experience I have found that it is good to have a palette of reliable plants that showcase your unusual plants.  Many unusual plants are unusual because they are hard to grow or hard to grow for Growers.  Therefore, you don't want a whole yard of high maintenance, fussy plants.  But you can have your cake and eat it too.  Utilize the tried and true varieties and showcase one or two somethings that are spectacular.

One of those staple plants is Schefflera arboricola `Trinette' or Variegated Arboricola.  The variety Trinette is a very colorful variegated yellow and green variety.  Another great characteristic is that it is slow growing and compact and works well in larger groupings.  The yellow leaves are a great contrast to reds and dark pinks such as Firespike and Dwarf Jatropha and can be used as a layering plant.  Variegated Aroricola can easily be kept at 2-3' tall and 2-3' wide or left alone with no pruning they can reach 6-8' tall and 4' wide.  They prefer sun but will tolerate dense shade. 

Maintenance: the best way to prune is to clip prune.  That's right get out your pruners and turn off the hedge trimmers.  These plants tend to shoot up uneven growth so often times just a couple cuts of more aggressive branches and you are all set.  Enjoy these plants!


Looking for an unusual plant in Florida that you won't see in your neighbors yard- well here it is!  It is called Odontonema strictum or the common name is Firespike.  It will grow in zone 7-11.  I love this plant because when the flowers come out it is very striking but as the little flowers drop off the long flower stem- the stems are still red and very attractive.  Therefore you don't have to prune these plants as soon as the flowers go by.  It was voted "Plant of the Year" in 1998 by the Florida Nurserymen and Growers Association.  Any plant voted by any Nurserymen Association is usually a good choice. 

Firespike grows about 4-5' tall and the same in width.  They prefer sun to light shade. They bloom from the middle of the summer until mid winter.  It is good to cut them back severely in February.  If you are in areas of Florida that get freezes it will die back to the ground but will recover again.

I have planted them along with Ruella Purple Showers and Pinwheel Jasmine.  They also look great with pentas.  Enjoy this lovely plant!

Pinwheel Jasmine

The common name of jasmine is used for a variety of plants that aren't even jasmines. Pinwheel jasmine is one of them. The botanical name is Tabernaemontana divaricata. It is also know as Butterfly Gardenia. You see how common names will get you into trouble? Anyway this is a gorgeous plant with rich green shiny leaves and white fragrant flowers. The flowers look like little pinwheels-hence the common name.

It grows well in partial shade- filtered sun throughout the day or half day of sun. The ideal size for this plant is 4-6 ' tall and 4-6 wide. It does not like to be heavily pruned or constantly hacked back as plants are in Florida. Plant it in a space that allows for this growth. If you try to keep it under 4' it will not bloom. Now, did I say that it is more fragrant at night, so plant it near a patio or deck where you can enjoy it's fragrance. My experience with this plant is that it likes slightly rich soil. I have planted it in manure enriched soil as well as topsoil. In both these cases the plant thrived. I always use an organic fertilizer twice a year.

When you try to find this plant, start by asking for Pinwheel Jasmine but bring the Botanical Name with you and your local nursery will help you.

I wanted to add a few more pictures of this beautiful plant I collected this week.  Watch out for the gnomes living under the plant.  This plant was in late afternoon sun with shade all morning and throughout the midday. You can see that it is large and more compact then the photo above.  It has plenty of room and a bit more sunlight.


When I first came to Florida I wanted to get information on what were the best, most reliable plants to use in this harsh environment. If you are from New England, stop complaining about your environment being so tough, Florida is quite a challenge: the heat, the dryness, the downpours and flooding. So, back to my top 20 shrub choices; it is good to know what shrubs will do well without a lot of extra work. These can be used as the backbone of your planting, then you can highlight with other possibly higher maintenance plants because you just like them.

The first plant I want to talk about is the Croton. The Botanical name is Codiaeum variegatum. I will be using the Botanical/Latin names for plants because really this is the only way to accurately identify them. For some reason, you do not see the Latin name used in Florida so it provides a great deal of mystery when buying plants with questions such as, " Is this the variety that grows 10 feet tall or 2 feet tall?" Answer, ummmm, " I think it is the short one." Wow, that really gives me security.

So, the Croton is very common but there are many interesting varieties. I will have more pictures later. The most common variety, Petra Croton, grows to about 6' tall and 4' wide but can be kept at 3'x3'. They will grow in part shade to full sun. The color can fade a bit in the full sun. These plants are subject to frost damage and this past winter with temperatures dipping into the thirty's with regularity, there wasn't a leaf left on any of the plants in my neighborhood. However most came back and on some of my jobs the entire top died and they came back from the base.

These plants, once established , will survive without irrigation, just the natural Florida rains. One of the nice things about these plants is the variety of colors in the leaves. As far as landscape design, you can work off these colors and make a beautiful arrangement. They also brighten up a semi-shaded area that is composed only of green plants. In the partial shade, mix them with Autumn Ferns, Ti Plant, Variegated Ginger and in the sun, use Cannas, Allamandas, Pentas.