Planting oleander is an easy way to brighten up a Florida garden. Oleander produce profuse groups of striking blossoms with minimum care, and they bloom most of the year. It never gets too hot or too cold for oleander in Florida. Oleander care couldn’t be easier, but beware of the oleander caterpillar.
Oleander colors generally run from bright white to deep red. Pink is the most popular. Usually the closer to white the more prolific the bloom. Pink bloom nearly as heavily as white. There’s a steep drop off with red. Other colors are available, such as peach, yellow and purple. Varieties with a thicker blossom are also around.
Oleander come in dwarf varieties too, some as small as four feet tall. These work will in pots and small yards.
Sun, sun, sun, the more sun the more blossoms. Other than that they’re not picky. A neutral PH is good, but they handle a wide range. Well drained soil is best, but not required. Dig a hole, toss one in, add fertilizer, water it, and it’ll grow.
Oleander need little care in Florida. They’re drought resistant, salt resistant, wind resistant, and deer resistant. Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer while growing. Once they’re mature, a light fertilizing is all they need, if that. They handle wet soil well, but if the leaves start to yellow, it’s a sign they’re getting too much water.
Oleander are poisonous, but their lethality is inflated. They taste so bad deer won’t eat them. A person or pet would have to eat a lot before it would kill them. If you don’t eat oleander, cook with it, or drink a tea made of it (Yes, someone did, and they did die.), it’s not going to be fatal.
Contact, especially with the white sap sometimes irritates the skin. Wear gloves when handling them, especially while trimming. Some people are allergic. They should avoid the plant.
The most destructive pest is the oleander caterpillar. They’re more common in South Florida. At first they only eat the underside of the leaf between the veins. As they grow they develop more resistance to the oleander’s toxins, which are concentrated in the veins and stem. When oleander caterpillars are close to pupating, they will eat the whole leaf, and they eat fast.
The adult form of the oleander caterpillar is the polka-dot wasp moth. They have white dots on their wings and body. The back of their abdomen is red. Their shape is similar to a wasp’s. This may offer them protection from predators. The moth only lives for five days, but lays a lot of eggs in that time and they only lay them on oleander. If you spot any flying around your plants, Inspect them for caterpillars and damaged leaves.
If there’s only one small plant, removing the oleander caterpillars by hand works. If there’s more, products with Bacillus thuringiensis are great. They’re safe to use and only kill caterpillars. They don’t kill the wasps and other insects that prey on the them . Thuricide is one such product and Home Depot sells it.
Scales and aphids can also cause problems. Insecticidal soaps or will safely kill both pests. If using home made soapy water, test it on a small area first.
Oleander are grown in different shapes.
The oleander bush is the most common form and the way they grow naturally. A line of oleander makes an excellent wind resistant hedge, plant six to twelve feet apart. They can grow as high as 20 feet, but trimming will maintain them at eight to ten.
Oleander tree care takes work, but the result is often spectacular. Multi-trunk are easier than a single trunk, but not as impressive. Simply cut of the lower branches and remove any suckers to produce a tree with multiple trunks.
Growing a single trunk oleander tree is harder. Start by finding an oleander bush with a tall straight shoot. Cut off all the others at ground level. As it grows, clip off all side branches and suckers. These suckers will show up for years. If caught early they’re easy to knock off, but the bigger they get the more trouble it is. Because oleander is a bush and a tree shape is unnatural, it’s easily blown over. If in a windy spot, it’ll have to be staked up, probably for years. Once the plant has reached the desired height, trimming will allow the roots and trunk to grow large enough that staking won’t be needed. To grow as a braid, find an oleander bush with three nice straight shoots. Clip of the others at ground level, braid, then grow as you would an oleander tree.
The dwarf varieties work well in pots. The others can also be used, but they’ll tend to outgrow the container and become root bound. Trim non dwarf varieties heavily to keep small.
Various colors, various shapes, various sizes, and will grow in a variety of soils. Only bougainvillea can compare if you want lots of color lots of the time. There’s always a place for oleander in a Florida garden.