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

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?









Monday, October 07, 2013

What is Sustainable Gardening?

Sustainable gardening is one of those terms that is difficult to grasp. The  name is vague and really doesn't disclose a clear meaning.

In a sustainable garden, the gardener practices the art of improving their plot of land by composting waste, building the soil, creating a habitat for wildlife with native and Florida friendly plants, reducing the use of chemicals and gas powered equipment, and using available resources wisely.

In other words, we work to sustain our land in a way that leaves it in better condition than when we purchased it. It's an old concept with a fancy new name.

Why is Sustainable Gardening gaining in popularity?

After years of building sterile landscapes of lawn and foundation plantings, over-development of land, and harmful uses of pesticides, more people are coming to the conclusion that there's a better and simpler way of doing things. Adopting the practice of sustainable gardening is a way for people to make a difference. To change the status quo . . . to build up . . . to nourish . . . to improve. Something positive we can actually do in a world of many negatives. 

So, now that we've defined it . . . how does one begin the practice of sustainable gardening?

We begin by taking it one step at a time. It's a process of thought that involves questioning the way we've always done things, and then choosing new alternative ways of managing our yards in the future. The following are some ideas to incorporate into the maintenance of your landscape. The list of changes we can make is only limited by our imaginations, and I would love to hear the ideas that other gardeners have put into effect in their yards.  

Compost & Improve the Soil - Instead of hauling plastic trash bags or cans of yard debris to the curb every week, work towards composting the plant and tree waste that your yard generates. The compost will in turn enrich your soil. 

Reduce turf grass to a minimum. This will reduce the use of pesticides, fertilizers, water and loud gas powered equipment. Plant low maintenance ground covers or plants.

Reduce your use of water on the landscape by planting native and Florida Friendly plants. At the same time, you'll be providing a habitat for a wide variety of wildlife.

Grow some of your own food. Not only will you be sustaining your land, but you'll be sustaining yourself and your family, reducing your grocery costs, and having much healthier food to eat. Save seeds for use in the future.

 Harvest rainwater. It's free and everything grows better with rainwater. Use rainbarrels, and cisterns to collect water for vegetables and container plants.

Retain rainwater on your property by installing rain gardens where runoff is the greatest. The water will then have a chance to slowly soak into your ground. Redirect the gutter water off your driveway and into your vegetable gardens.

Manually operate sprinkler systems or install drip irrigation systems for minimal use of water.

Eliminate Pesticides & Chemicals - Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) or use organic pest control. A healthy yard will sustain the necessary natural predators that eliminate many pests. Only treat infested areas of turf grass for Chinch bugs instead of the entire yard.

    Design your yard before planting. Plant deciduous trees on the east and west sides of your home to cool it in the summer and warm it in the winter. Provide a high, medium and low canopy of trees and plants to provide shelter for wildlife. Create pathways with natural materials that allow water to percolate into the soil. Group plants with the same water needs together for easier watering.

Mulch to retain moisture, reduce weeds and cool the soil - Use natural sources first from your yard such as leaves, small twigs, pine needles, etc. as mulch. Local communities frequently offer free mulch, and so do tree trimmers. Purchase Melaluca mulch or renewable pine bark mulch, but never cypress which is a very slow growing tree.

  Repurpose items instead of throwing them out - Find a use for tree branches and twigs by building fences or lining garden beds. You can even repurpose items from inside the home such as egg cartons to start seeds in, large chlorine containers to grow vegetables in, newspaper and cardboard as a weed block, etc. The ideas are endless . . . it only takes a little thought and creativity.

Did you notice that most of the above changes, generally provide several positive results?
i.e. composting our yard debris = compost to improve our soil + money saved in not having to buy fertilizer and plastic bags +  a reduction in material (both plant and plastic bags) that goes to the landfill. And, so it goes with sustainable gardening. 

As you can see, becoming a sustainable gardener will also turn you into a sustainable homeowner, as well. You'll find yourself looking for ways to reduce your overall footprint on the environment.

Start by taking small steps and continually build upon them. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day and you won't become a sustainable gardener overnight either. But, step by step, we can change our vision of what a landscaped yard should look like, and we can make changes that will preserve our natural resources and impact the health of the planet. 

As we make simple but impactful changes, we not only nurture our garden but we nurture ourselves as well. Life becomes a little less stressful, as we worry less about a few weeds in the turf. We have time for fun things instead of trimming, mowing, edging and fertilizing. In time, we build a symbiotic relationship with the earth. As we sustain the land, it sustains us.  

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Green Gardening Matters by Ginny Stibolt is a great resource for more information on sustainable gardening in Florida. 

This article is by no means comprehensive of all the changes you can make toward sustainable gardening. It's merely a starting point, and I would like to invite everyone who reads this article to share their "sustainable gardening tips" with the rest of us by leaving a comment. Thank you for sharing!









Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Struthers Nursery & Garden Center

It was a warm sunny day at the end of September, when I visited Struthers Nursery & Garden Center located on 27041 C.R. 561 in Tavares in Lake County (352-343-1430).

It's hard to find the old-timey, genuine mom & pop nurseries these days, but what a feast for the eyes this immaculately kept, well-stocked nursery is.





Look at this beautiful long entrance into the nursery. I knew instantly I was going to enjoy my visit. The owners are extremely pleasant and eager to help answer questions. They don't mind spending time with you, and I ended up hanging around chatting for quite a while.

You can find just about any landscape plant, and some pleasant surprises on their sprawling acreage of land. The plants are in excellent shape and the prices are lower than the local box stores, and generally larger, too. 

They've created "garden spaces" to display their plants and give you ideas. On the day I visited their were tons of butterflies drifting throughout the nursery. 

Wouldn't you just love to have their garden shed in your backyard? I know I definitely would!

There's a shade house filled with shade-loving tropical plants. And, as I sat on that bench in the photo waiting for my sister and daughter to arrive, birds and butterflies were all around me. I jokingly told the owner that I was coming back tomorrow with my lunch to sit here. He smiled and told me that he has folks come out just to stroll through the garden and plants.  

It's well worth the drive for folks who live near the Tavares/Astatula area, or if you happen to be in the area.  


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Butterfly Basics


Creating butterfly gardens is one of the most popular forms of gardening these days. Seeing beautiful butterflies drifting among the blooms in my own garden is very rewarding.

Luckily, creating a butterfly habitat is quite simple. With the right plants and a little know-how, it's easy to attract these flying beauties to your garden.



To attract butterflies to your garden you'll need . . .

~~ Nectar Sources ~~

Choosing a mix of nectar-rich blooming plants (both native and non-native) for the butterflies to feed on is essential. And, if you've ever spent any time watching butterflies in a garden, you'll notice that they prefer certain blooms over others. Add a good variety of of the following nectar-rich plants around your garden to ensure a plentiful supply of food year-round.

Annuals - Ageratum (Ageratum houstonianum), Asters*, Spider flower (Cleome hasslerana), Gazanias (Gazania spp.), Indian Blanket flower* (Gaillardia pulchella), Pentas (Pentas lanceolata), French marigold (Tagetes patula), Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia), Zinnias (Zinnia spp.).

Perennials - Fernleaf Yarrow (Achillea filipendula), Milkweed (Asclepias spp.)*, Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Beach Sunflower (Helianthus debilis), Swamp Sunflower* (Helianthus simulans), Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.), Kalanchoes (Kalanchoe spp.), Lantana (Lantana camara), Stoke's Aster* (Stokesia laevis), Salvia* (Salvia spp.)

Shrubs - Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora), Powerpuff (Calliandra haematocephala), Firebush* (Hamelia patens), Hibiscus (Hibiscus spp.), Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.), Barbados Cherry *(Malpighia glabra), Plumbago (Plumabo auriculata), Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus).

To keep the butterflies in your garden add a mix of . . .

~~Host Plants~~

To have a more dramatic increase in butterflies you'll want to add host plants (both native and non-native) for the butterflies to lay their eggs on, so that the caterpillars will have a food source when they hatch. By having host plants for future generations there won't be any need for the butterfly to leave your garden, so you'll be assured of future generations. Caterpillars have a voracious appetite, so don't skimp on host plants. And, by adding as many varieties as possible you'll attract more butterfly varieties.

Annuals - Dill (Anethum graveolens), Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus), Mustard family (Brassica spp.), Calendula (Calendula officinalis), Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Parsley (Petroseliman crispum), Rue (Ruta graveolens).

Perennials - Milkweed*(Asclepias spp.), Aster* (Aster dumosus), Beach Verbena (Verbena maritima), Golden canna* (Canna flaccida), Beach sunflower* (Helianthus debilis), Florida native petunia* (Ruellia spp.).

Vines - Passionflower (Passiflora spp.), Corky-Stemmed Passionflower* (Passiflora suberosa), Pipe vine* (Aristolochia spp.)

Shrubs - Paw Paw (Asimina obovata)*, Cassia (Cassia spp,), Golden Dewdrop (Duranta repens)*, Firebush (Hamelia patens)*, Hibiscus (Hibiscus spp.), Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens), Wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera)*, Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata), Viburnum (Viburnum spp.), Spanish bayonet (Yucca spp.), Coontie* (Zamia floridana).

Trees - Redbud* (Cercis canadensis), Citrus (Citrus spp.), Sweet Bay* (Magnolia virginiana), Red bay* (Persea spp.), Laurel oak* (Quercus laurifolia), Live oak *(Quercus virginiana), Hackberry or Sugarberry* (Celtis laevigata), Wild lime* (Zanthoxylum fagara).

Important Note -- These plants are food sources so expect to see leaf damage as the caterpillars need a lot of food to grow. Also, avoid using pesticides or chemicals on their food source!  

~~Other Welcome Ammenities~~ 

Create what's called a "puddling area." This is basically an unmulched area of dirt where butterflies can extract minerals from the ground when it's wet.

 Add a rock in the middle of a birdbath so that butterflies have a landing spot from which to drink water.

Plant additional shrubbery around your nectar and host plants for increased shelter from weather and predators.

Many experts think that grouping plants together by color (red, yellow, blue)  is beneficial in attracting more butterflies. Give it a try and let us know if it works for you.

 Tales from the Butterfly Garden - Lepcurious blog is a great resource to learn more about the butterflies that call Central Florida home and how to attract them.

Attracting butterflies is super easy and loads of fun! So, head on out to your local nursery with this plant list, and get started on creating your very own butterfly haven.

* Indicates native plant. You can buy native plants from local native nurseries, plant sales - especially local Master Gardener sales, plant swaps, seeds or cuttings from neighbors.