About Central Florida Gardener

Welcome and thank you for visiting Central Florida Gardener. Florida is a unique state in which to garden. It can be frustrating but also rewarding for gardeners who persevere. This blog was created as a resource for Florida gardeners, both new and experienced, in search of information specifically for Florida gardens.

You are invited to participate by leaving your comments, suggestions, tips and recommendations relevant to Florida gardening - don't be shy! Thank you for dropping by to learn more about gardening in the Sunshine state. I look forward to hearing from you! Susan

Monday, April 06, 2015

A Florida-Friendly Yard

A very nice Florida-Friendly landscaped yard
Most people envision an expansive yard of lush green grass with a few neatly trimmed shrubs placed around the house. While it can be a pretty vision, it's not very practical anymore.

A large expanse of turf requires a lot of water, chemicals and mowing. Along with that comes a huge impact on our ever-dwindling water supply, and steady stream of chemical pollutants into our Florida waterways, which are already affecting our beautiful springs. And, I haven't even mentioned the hours of mowing and spraying the grass in an effort to eliminate chinch bugs.

It's time for Florida gardeners to put their 1/4 acre of a yard to better use and create a more diverse and productive landscape. Where do we begin?

The University of Florida extension has already done the work for us. They have developed these 9 Florida-Friendly Landscaping Principles:

1) Right plant, right place
2) Water efficiently
3) Fertilize appropriately
4) Mulch
5) Attract Wildlife
6) Control Yard Pests Responsibly
7) Recylce
8) Reduce Stormwater Runoff
9)Protect the Waterfront

Click here to visit their site for more detailed information on these 9 principles.

Find the right plants by clicking here to visit the Florida-Friendly Plant Database.

Need some inspiration? Click here to take a look at these Florida-Friendly gardens on our Pinterest page.

Now get busy and create your own Florida-Friendly garden!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Chinese Ground Orchid

In late winter, the foliage of the Chinese ground orchids Bletilla striata emerge from the soil. Right behind them are the delicate little purple and white flowers. There is also a white variety. These cold-hardy ground orchids are different from the tropical ones sold in local stores. This particular variety goes to sleep in winter and then re-emerges in spring, similar to caladiums. The bright green palm-like foliage remains through early autumn. 

They multiply readily and can be shared or planted throughout the garden. Of all the bulbs planted in my garden they are the first to bloom in spring.

If you like ground orchids, the Bletilla striata is a good cold-hardy choice for central Florida gardens. I have never seen it sold locally but it can be purchased online.

Monday, August 25, 2014

From the Ground Up

The secret to healthy good looking plants is not really a secret at all.  It's just plain old common sense. It all starts from the ground up ~ ~ with the SOIL!

It's the NUMBER 1 and MOST IMPORTANT thing to do, consistently, when establishing a garden.

Florida's poor sandy soil does not contain enough nutrients for good plant health and for retaining water. It's easy to recognize plants that are growing in the barren, unproductive, paltry looking stuff we call soil. Many of us have learned this lesson the hard way, and now subscribe to the notion of adding a generous, heaping supply of organic matter to every garden bed before planting. As my mother always said (and you know mom's are always right) and I quote, "It's better to place a 50 cent plant into a $5 hole."

Don't skimp . . . add your homemade compost or spend the extra money to buy mushroom compost or composted manure. And, by all means, be generous when creating that $5 hole. Your plants will love it, and you'll be a happy, successful gardener.

~ ~ More useful ways to enrich the soil ~ ~

* Make your own compost with leaves, grass clippings, food and plant wastes. It's a great way to save money on soil amendments, and it will be readily available for use when needed.

* Lay newspaper or cardboard around plants before mulching. Both provide nutrients as they breakdown, and serve as a good weed barrier for newly disturbed areas.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch all garden beds. Oak leaves are a good source, if they are available to you. They are great in turning sandy soil into black gold. Heap a generous amount of oak leaves on all  beds each spring, and they will generally last until the next spring. If leaves aren't available, renewable mulches such as pine bark, pine needles, straw or melaleuca are good choices. Cypress mulch which isn't as easily renewable and could be harvested from old and rare cypress trees is better avoided.

That's it! This one simple step of enriching your soil will help you create a beautiful garden. It won't be long before your neighbors are asking you what your secret is to growing healthy, beautiful plants.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Simon Seed Farm & Garden Center

At the start of every vegetable gardening season, I make numerous trips to Simon Seed Farm & Garden Center located at 105 W. Magnolia Street  - right off the main street - in Leesburg. My rationalization for going  . . . not that I really need one, but you know how it is when you really don't need any new plants . . . is to purchase vegetable starts. Well, since I start most of my veggies from seeds that rationalization really doesn't hold water. The true reason I go is for the feeling that it gives me to hang out in this wonderful little garden center from another era.

I can't seem to get enough of the wildly natural plantings that encircle their garden center and to enjoy their whimsical use of old lawn relics. Thank goodness our mowers have progressed from this rusty old relic. Hey, I never thought about leaving my old and useless mowers in the yard - - a definitely, unique idea!

You can enter one of two ways. Either through the garden center proper, or 

climb the steps up to the old wooden porch that runs the length of their building, and overlooks the garden center. Should you decide to enter this way, you'll be greeted by the cooing of doves and the scratchy voice of a very LARGE parrot. I choose this way of course!

Lining the porch is a nice variety of herbs and vegetable starts. These are not the typical vegetable starts you buy at the local box store. These are hmmm, should I say it, in better condition, and you can afford to buy more because they're small. But, if you want a half-grown garden, then you might want to visit those other stores.

Here's a clever idea for you. They've hung an old wooden ladder horizontal from the ceiling and have used metal "s' hooks from which to hang plants from. This would be a great idea for hanging orchids.

And, speaking of orchids, you can purchase them here, along with other container and houseplants. One of the things I love about this nursery is that despite its small size they carry a nice selection of unique plants that are not that easy to find. In the past, I've purchased some neat begonias, herbs, succulents, salvias and there are quite a few others that I've been tempted to buy . . . and probably will in the future.

Here's those succulents I was talking about. They also have a small, but nice selection of clay pottery. The owner surely has a knack for creating vignettes in the garden . . . don't you think?

Here's something you don't find at every garden center . . . bog plants. These plants that love to have "wet feet" are displayed together in a large black tub.

Then there's the ponds and their plants.

And, a second pond with more pond plants. For a small nursery, they've got a very diversified variety of plants for sale.

Off the side porch you'll find a nice selection of Florida-friendly shrubs, perennials and annuals to choose from. Doubt that you'll find these folks selling petunias and pansies in May.

Do you see why I LOVE visiting Simon Seed Store? So much old-fashioned ambiance and a wonderful selection of plants to choose from. And, I haven't even mentioned that they have a nice selection of orchid supplies, fresh eggs, local honey, hens and baby chicks, rabbits, fertilizer, seeds, of course . . . plus a dog and cat that follow you around. 

It's nothing short of pure "garden center" Heaven!

Definitely, put Simon Seed Co. on your short list of nurseries to visit. You'll enjoy strolling through the restored downtown district of Leesburg and having lunch at one of the many cafes.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

5 Easy Earth-friendly Garden Moves You Can Make Now

Whether you're looking to improve your landscape, grow your own vegetables, or improve the health of the planet, here's 5 easy earth-friendly garden tips that will make a difference immediately.

#1 - Compost  - Create a simple compost pile and toss plant clippings, twigs and vegetable scraps into it. Not only will you reduce the amount of trash you send to the landfill, you'll never have to buy bags of compost for your garden again.

#2 - Eliminate or reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers - Finding effective solutions to toxic pesticides is beneficial to your health, wildlife and ground water runoff. Manually removing pests or using a simple solution of soap and water will generally solve most pest problems. Reducing the use of fertilizer in the garden will help reduce the amount of toxins that end up in our lakes and rivers.

#3 - Plant drought-tolerant and native plants - As water supplies dwindle in our state and more water restrictions are implemented, native and drought-tolerant Florida-friendly plants will become the workhorse of the Florida garden. These plants will keep your garden beautiful while using less water.

#4 - Shrink your lawn turf  - Turf grass requires lots of water and lots of maintenance. Less turf grass means less water, less time mowing edging and blowing, and less fossil fuel.

#5 - Choose mulch carefully - The process of creating mulch involves the logging of trees, bagging it in all those plastic bags and trucking it to garden centers. Definitely, not an earth-friendly process.  By using available resources such as fallen leaves and pine needles first to mulch your garden beds you'll be saving lots of $$$'s and will reduce the amount of mulch you may need to purchase. Also, planting ground covers reduces the need for mulch.

These are just a few things you can do to create a greener garden. What earth-friendly garden tips do you practice in your Florida garden? 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Natural Florida Landscaping - The Book

Several years ago I began working on creating (or should I say "enhancing") a natural area on our property that will provide food for all types of wildlife.

In my search for information on the types of plants that will attract a large variety of wildlife, I came across a book written by Dan Walton and Laurel Schiller entitled Natural Florida Landscaping. This duo have been growing native plants, and selling them in their Florida Native Plants Nursery in Sarasota for the last ten years.

It is a small book (about 102 pages) but is written in a simple and effective format that allowed me to easily determine which plants fit my location requirements. Many times when I finish reading a book such as this, I find myself overwhelmed with information and confused on where to start. That was not the case with this book. The most helpful part of this book were the tables of trees and plants well suited for north, central and south Florida. These tables included the average height, moisture and light requirements, as well as comments on what it provides for wildlife. I immediately began to create lists based on my location without getting confused or overwhelmed.

Other good information in this book includes advice on "rethinking" your current yard with tips on how to begin adding natives to what is already there. Small changes can attract wildlife, conserve water, reduce pesticide and fertilizer use. Plenty of helpful ideas are spread throughout this book. They include tips on planting to reduce your home's energy use, which plants provide shelter, food and homes for wildlife, creating water ponds, and adding edibles for human consumption, too.

The tables include lists of: canopy trees, small trees, large shrubs, small shrubs, ground covers, palms, vines, native grasses, wildflowers, pond plants, ferns, plants for full sun and deep shade, plants for poorly and well-drained sites, and salt-tolerant plants.

Bottom line: Someone who wants to attract wildlife, and reduce their landscape's maintenance and water requirements will benefit from the information contained in this book.

If you're interested, please check out the "wild" area in my garden that this book helped me create.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Benefits of a NOT SO Tidy Garden

At the end of summer we all seem to be venturing back out into the garden to tidy up a bit.

A little clipping back and deadheading seem to be in order. BUT, WAIT! Before you clip those faded flowers from your annuals and perennials it's important to note that these seed heads provide an essential diet for the birds that winter in our Florida yards.
Pictured above - Zinnia

 I know . . . I hear you . . . you don't like having a messy looking garden. Neither do I, but I think it's possible to tidy up the garden and still leave plenty of seed heads around for our feathered friends.

Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta (left) and Bee Balm Monarda punctata (below).

My suggestion would be to plant non-seeding plants around those that go to seed. By the end of our summer, the plants have all grown together, and they will help conceal the dried seed heads. Plus, the merged and tangled plants will provide extra cover for birds.

Last year, I enjoyed watching a number of birds zooming in and out of my front "island bed" feasting on native Bee Balm Monarda punctata, Stoke's Aster Stokesia laevis, Coneflower Echinacea purpurea, Salvia Salvia spp., Indian blanket flower Gaillardia pulchella, Black- and green-eyed Susan's Rudbeckia hirta, Pentas Pentas lanceolata and Thryallis Galphimia glauca.

Other perennials that provide seeds are Gaura Gaura spp., Russian Sage Perovskia atriplicifolia,   Cosmos Cosmos bipinnatus, and Mexican sunflower Tithonia rotundifolia.

The tiny Goldfinches that winter here in Florida scooped up the tiny seeds, in the old crape myrtle blooms in my garden, once they dried and opened. So, if you like to trim the seed heads off your crape myrtles be sure to leave that job until spring. And, don't forget to hold off on trimming ornamental grasses back until spring as they provide seeds, as well.

The same little birds were also busy picking seeds out of the cracks in the road.

Some folks, including me, like to provide extra food for the birds by having feeders in the garden. It's not necessary if you plant the right plants, and leave the seed heads on, but if you enjoy feeding the birds . . . go right ahead . . . they certainly won't mind! And, should some of the millet sprout beneath the feeder . . . leave it for the birds.

Recently, I finally got around to picking up some old boards that had been lying in the back of a garden bed for a year or more. When I lifted the last one, out jumped three frightened toads. I quickly put the boards back down, and decided they would be more useful staying there than putting them in the trash for pickup. 

A couple other good practices is to leave leaf litter in your garden beds, and create a stack of cut up small branches in the back of the bed behind your plants. Many small creatures and insects will call these wood stacks home, and they will also be a source of food for birds.

It's wonderful to know that we don't need to be so tidy in the garden. It certainly eliminates some work for us, and it will provide a more welcome environment for local wildlife.

Which of your plants have you seen birds feeding on during the winter months?