CHARLES REYNOLDS: Dwarf oyster plants provide color without flowers

Tricolor oyster plant is a dwarf groundcover that grows best in light shade.
Tricolor oyster plant is a dwarf groundcover that grows best in light shade.

Although the oyster plant (Tradescantia spathacea) enjoyed generations of favor in Florida, weediness eventually caused this Mexican groundcover to wear out its welcome. But that oyster plant, sometimes called Moses-in-a-boat, has been replaced by sterile dwarf varieties. The more muted of the two dwarf oyster plants is simply called dwarf. It features leaves with a distinctive shade of green above and bright purple below. Unlike the 18-to-24-inch species, the dwarf grows only 8 inches tall. The other popular variety, known as Tricolor, is quite striking, combining pink, green and white hues.

Both varieties are tough and adaptable plants that tolerate sun, drought and sandy sites. They do, however, look best with afternoon shade and occasional irrigation during prolonged dry spells. And while sandy sites are OK, blending in some topsoil doesn’t hurt. Oyster plants can suffer considerable damage from freezes, so sheltered locations are ideal. These plants spread at a moderate rate and are propagated by division in the warm season. They contain sap that can irritate the skin of sensitive people and pets.


The drawbacks to keeping containerized plants in the landscape are numerous: soil in pots dries rapidly, containers can blow over if they’re top heavy and plants in pots are more vulnerable to cold damage because their root systems are exposed to chilly air. But a great feature of potted plants in the garden is that — barring very heavy containers — they’re mobile. They can be moved to locations that are more prominent, or less prominent, depending on their blooming season. Pots can also be shifted to follow the sun — or shade. In winter, plants sensitive to low temperatures can be moved to sheltered locations away from north and northwest winds. One word of caution: lifting and carrying containers can stress your back, knees and shoulders, so consider purchasing an inexpensive and lightweight hand truck.


The days are becoming noticeably shorter and slightly cooler, so this is a good time to prune tropical shrubs that need a haircut. This will allow warm season flowering plants such as hibiscus, ixora, allamanda, thryallis and Chinese hat plant to mature the new growth that pruning will prompt. If you put off the chore for a month or so, the new growth might be susceptible to early-season frosts.


If you haven’t fertilized your turf yet, do it soon using a product that contains little or no phosphorus (the middle number on the bag). A fertilizer with a 15-5-15 analysis would be an example. Applying at half the rate you used in spring is sufficient. Most shrubs, especially those kept mulched, don’t require fertilizer, but plants such as azaleas, camellias and gardenias will benefit from a product designed for their needs.

This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Weekend plantings by Charles Reynolds