In The Garden: Carissa, the green armored buffer
Carissa (Carissa Macrocarpa) is native to South Africa, but it is a long-time favorite of our area and you will find it planted along the eastern coastline of Florida and a couple places along the western coast of Southwest Florida.
One of the large varieties that grows well in South Florida is the Natal Plum cultivar, known as Large Num Num in its native Africa. The cultivar has small white flowers that carry a citrus fragrance all year long and small plum-shaped fruit. Although the fruit can be made into a jelly, when the fruit is small it can be poisonous. I would recommend just appreciating its small grape-like reddish appearance instead. Another popular variety for our area is the Emerald Blanket, a dwarf cultivar that has a low-spreading growth pattern. This variety makes an excellent choice for a low groundcover shrub, providing a rich, dark green swath of color.
Carissa can survive in sandy soil and has a high tolerance for salt, which makes it ideal for island plantings. But be warned of its small sharp 1-inch to 2-inch thorns that tend to hide underneath the small glossy leaves. On the Natal Plum and Boxwood Beauty cultivars, the leaves as well have spiked ends and are not recommended next to a walkway. Although, if you are looking for a buffer plant that could be kept a couple feet in height and that can deter intruders say along a busy pedestrian path, the Natal Plum might be a good choice for you.
If you are artistic in nature and have the patience for the art of Bonsai, trimming plants with a Bonsai appearance could be an interesting choice. There are also smaller varieties Bonsai, Prostrata or Horizontalis (Natal Creeper) that are smaller in size and can be maintained around 2-foot in height. Even left to its natural grown pattern, Carissa is a good choice in an Asian-themed garden because of its clean, compact leaf patterns. With just minor trimming to maintain a nice shape, you can keep the plants looking good. It requires just basic plant care, regular watering – letting it dry out between watering – and fertilizer a couple times a year to keep it looking healthy.
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