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, November 16, 2015

Mulch is Essential

You've been working hard on creating a low-maintenance, Florida-friendly landscape that you can enjoy year round. Your soil has been amended with lots of rich compost, you've planted the right plants in the right places, the right trees in the right places to help conserve energy. What's next?

Mulch, Mulch and more Mulch!!!

Pine Bark
The last step in creating that low-maintenance, sustainable landscape is mulch! There are many wonderful benefits of mulch:

1) Reduced weed growth. For extended protection place 2 to 3 layers of newspaper around plants prior to mulching. The newspaper will breakdown slowly reducing the amount of weed seeds that are able to germinate.

2) Reduced amount of water needed to sustain plants. A 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch will protect soil from the sun's drying rays, thereby retaining moisture in the soil for a longer period of time, which equates to a savings in water useage.

3) Cools the roots of plants in the heat of summer. Plants will be less stressed if their root system can remain cool especially those who are planted in full sun.

4) Provides nutrition to the plant as it breaks down - depending on what type of mulch you use.

Oak Leaves
Mulch Options

1) Bark or wood chips - provide good coverage and last the longest. Pine bark (a renewable resource), melaleuca and eucalyptus varieties are easily found in Florida. Cypress is also readily available but is NOT a wise choice. It is an important wetlands tree that is slow growing. Currently, very old stands of cypress are being cut down to provide mulch and the growth rate of new cypress cannot keep up with the demand. Click here to read more about Cypress mulch. It is better to use a mulch such as melaleuca which is an invasive tree in the state.

2) Pine needles are another great option especially if you have pine trees growing in your yard. Many local nurseries currently offer pine needle mulch.

3) Oak leaves are another great option for mulch and for adding nutrients to the soil. Plant oaks in flower beds and those beds will self-mulch when the trees drop their leaves. Free mulch and very little work to get the beds mulched.

4) Grass clippings make for a good mulch if they do not contain a lot of chemicals. They do breakdown quickly and need to be replenished often.

5) Gravel is an option but does not provide much of a block to weeds, nor any plant nutrition.

6) Rubber mulches are not the best as they do not provide any nutritional benefit to the soil and may even leach chemicals.

Mulching takes time and is an added expense, but applying a nice thick layer of it to your garden beds is essential, and well worth the extra effort in the long run.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

A Miami Gardener's Transition to Native Plants

If you garden with "natives" or for "wildlife" or are just thinking about making some changes in this direction in your own garden, then you will definitely enjoy reading Mary Ann Gibbs article 'Our Beautiful Subtropical Garden' on the Florida Native Plant Society blog.

Her garden looks like a beautiful oasis in the midst of a large city, and it is full of inspiration and the names of the many native plants they have included in their garden. Some of these plants may not be the best choices for those of us who garden here in the central part of the state but there are plenty that will survive and thrive here. She will inspire us to make the transition to more natives that benefit our local wildlife.

Source: Florida Native Plant Society blog (www.fnps.blogspot.com)

Click here to read: Our Beautiful Subtropical Garden

If you garden for wildlife or have included native plants in your garden, please contact me with your story. I would love to share it with others here.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Will California's Problem Some Day Become our Problem, too?

Native Gaillardia and Rosemary -
 Two extremely drought tolerant plants
Last week I was talking on the telephone with a friend from California. One of the things we talked about was the drought problem and their new water restrictions which allow them to water two days each week for a maximum of 5 minutes each time. (Yikes! 5 minutes of water twice a week!) She then said, "needless to say, we are tearing out our yard and replacing it with desertscape." Sounds like a smart move on their part.

Even though our sub-tropical climate receives more rainfall than California, there most likely will come a day when we are no longer able to water our yards either. With continuing population growth, poor water management by authorities and less rainfall than in the past, we are already restricted to a maximum of 2 days a week or less in most parts of Florida. Many counties also have restrictions against fertilizing turf grass in the summer months.

When that day comes will your yard be self-sustaining? Or will we, like Californians today, be tearing out our lawns and replacing it with drought resistant plants and groundcover? That's a good question and one that we all should start to ponder. Even if that day never comes - - who wants to spend their hard -earned money on a large water bill every month?

Instead of having to make a big conversion someday, we can begin to make small changes today by enlarging flower beds to reduce turf area and replacing plants that die with native or drought tolerant plants. Another, easy move to make now is to plant a tree or two to provide a bit more shade. A partly shaded garden or lawn will require less water than one in full sunlight all day, especially in summer,

Don't know where to start? Check out the following resources by the University of Florida extension and others for plenty of ideas for drought tolerant plants best suited for our central Florida area:

Ten Plants that Beat the Heat

Top 5 Drought Resistant Trees

Top 5 Drought Resistant Perennials

Native Plants for your Area

10 Drought Tolerant Native Plants for the South

Plant Real Florida

So, next time you go to the nursery - think ahead - and begin the transition of your yard to one that can sustain itself on the normal rainfall we receive. Your wallet will thank you, and you'll be amazed at how easy your garden will be to take care of.

Leave a comment and share the solutions you have incorporated into your yard to reduce water usage.

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.