Oleander

Nerium oleander

Take a summer drive through any South Florida beach town and you'll see oleander, a large and willowy shrub with colorful flowers.

Because of their moderate salt tolerance, you can use them in coastal landscapes.

And their ability to tolerate cold weather makes them happy anywhere in South Florida.

These tall shrubs are fast growing sun lovers that reward you with bright blossoms in shades of red, pink and white during the warm seasons - and are some of the easiest-to-grow Florida shrubs.

Because they can withstand high levels of pollution, you'll sometimes see them along Florida highways - a testament to their tough nature and low maintenance requirements.

If you'd prefer the look of an oleander tree, keep the base cleaned up for a multi-trunk specimen...or buy one from the nursery trained to a single trunk.

The only drawback to ease of care is the dreaded oleander caterpillar. It won't be a problem for all homeowners, but it's something to consider.

This pest likes to create its own bed and breakfast by cocooning on a nearby structure and chowing down on the plant's leaves. They can defoliate a shrub in no time flat.

The key to avoiding caterpillar infestation is to place the plants away from the house, garage, fence, or poolcage to make the spot less inviting (breakfast - yes, bed - no.).

If you do find caterpillars invading your oleander shrubs, spray with thuracide (a natural bacteria) right away.

Though they're a tasty treat to caterpillars, these pretty Florida flowering plants are poisonous, so don't plant where people or pets might ingest any part of the plant. They're even considered deer-resistant.

If you have sensitive skin, handling cuttings can cause skin irritations, so wear gloves and protective clothing.

white oleanders in bloom

This plant works well in a casual or tropical setting.

It grows upright and looks best left untrimmed in its naturally attractive form, rather than sheared for a manicured effect.

These are big plants that can grow wide as well as tall. If your landscape would be better off with a smaller plant, consider the dwarf variety which you can keep at just 3 feet.

Plant specs

This shrub is a fast grower that you can keep about 8 feet tall - or let it grow to 15 feet.

It's moderately salt-tolerant, and cold-hardy as well - Zone 9B or Zone 10 is fine.

Plant in a full sun area...not generally difficult since (if you take our advice) you'll be placing them away from the house, which shades many plants for at least part of the day.

Plant care

Add a combination of top soil (or organic peat moss) and composted cow manure to the hole when you plant.

Little trimming is necessary. Do a hard pruning in spring (late March) to encourage fullness and to Keep the plant's size in check.

These South Florida shrubs are drought-tolerant once established, but do best if you water regularly, allowing time for the plant to dry out a bit between waterings.

Fertilize 3 times a year - in spring, summer, and autumn - with a good quality granular fertilizer. Supplement feedings with bone meal and/or liquid fertilizer if you want to promote heavier flowering.

Plant spacing

If planting in a row, situate these shrubs 3 to 5 feet apart.

Keep them away from structures like the house or fence by as much distance as you can manage to avoid caterpillar issues.

Along a drive or walk, come in 4 or 5 feet to allow the plant to grow full and bushy without being in the way.

These shrubs are not meant to grow long-term in containers.


Landscape uses for oleander

  • hedge
  • privacy around a patio
  • single yard specimen
  • backdrop for smaller plants
  • accent for a garden bed

Other plants you might like: Bougainvillea, Yellow Elder

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