Parched but pretty

By Jessica Vander Velde, Times Staff Writer

Published Monday, May 4, 2009

We're in the middle of a dry season during a three-year drought. Could it get any worse? The colorful water-guzzling plants being sold in stores seem to taunt, and thirsty St. Augustine grass dries up without weekly irrigation. What's a green thumb to do? Cue drought-resistant plants. No, we're not talking cacti. This isn't Arizona. You can have a lush, colorful lawn in Florida with just rainwater, says Riverview Flower Farm co-owner Rick Brown. And he's talking about the current rate of rain — not much. You can choose your price tag and commitment level. If some of your plants have died, replace them with hardy Mexican petunias or red star cordyline. Or go all the way and rip out your irrigation-dependent grass to save water and lower your monthly bill. Ground covers like beach sunflower or ornamental sweet potato will keep your yard looking good. Brown's farm, which sells to Home Depot, grows about a dozen varieties of plants that don't need much water, and many can handle Florida's full sun. He has started providing more because the watering restrictions have made them popular. "It's what people want right now," he said.

Senecio "blue chalk fingers"

This succulent has exotic-looking blue-green leaves. It's also heat-tolerant.

Purple queen

Rainwater is sufficient for this plant, and it spreads, so plant them 18 to 36 inches apart.

Lantana "gold mound"

This popular plant attracts butterflies and can take the full sun.

Mexican petunia, purple showers It's salt-tolerant, so it's good for the coast. Rainwater is sufficient, but weekly hand watering will increase blooms. Thrives in the sun or partial shade.

Beach sunflower

This ground cover can survive on only rainwater, and it attracts butterflies. Plant them about 3 feet apart and they'll cover the ground quickly. It's salt-tolerant and can take the full sun.

Verbena cultivar, "little one"

It attracts butterflies and grows to be about 2 feet tall, so it's a good option to change the topography of your flower bed.

How much will this cost?

Replacing a 9- by 9-foot plot of grass will cost about $12.97, if you choose Home Depot's beach sunflowers, perennial peanuts, ornamental sweet potatoes or purslane, which come in sets of nine small plants. Place each about 3 feet apart. If you can't wait long for full cover, plant them closer in a smaller space or buy more.

These also resist drought

Ground covers: ornamental sweet potato, purslane, perennial peanut and Livingstone daisy "Mezoo trailing red."

Attracts butterflies: pentas

Makes nice arrangements: diamond frost.

Adds height to flower beds: red star cordyline and variegated flax lily.

More resources

For more information on gardening in Florida:


• www.florida


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