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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Creating a Wildlife Habitat - Step #1: Food Sources

Gardens are more than just pretty flowers...they're also an environment that provides necessary food and habitat for wildlife. As I browse garden blogs all around the world, it's obvious that more and more gardeners are turning their gardens into wildlife habitats.

As we make our gardens more attractive to wildlife we provide our local fauna with the necessary elements for their survival as more and more of their habitat is destroyed by development. In return, we reap enormous  benefits by attracting a wide variety of butterflies, birds, insects, reptiles and other native animals to our gardens.

Sharing my garden with an abundance of beautiful creatures is personally rewarding to me and proof that we can make a difference in our little part of the world when we tweak our gardens with the intention of inviting a variety of wildlife in.

It's easy to adapt our yards to accomodate and attract wildlife. In the next 5 posts we'll look at simple steps you can take to make your garden more wildlife friendly.

The FIRST element necessary to attract wildlife is to provide a variety of food sources.

TO-DO: Add a variety of native and Florida-friendly plants that produce seeds, fruits, nuts, berries and nectar. Some of the most popular and easy to find items on the menu for central Florida wildlife are:

Seeds & Nuts: Amaranth Amaranthus spp., Zinnia Zinnia spp., Crape myrtles Lagerstroemia indica, Sunflowers Helianthus spp., Scarlet Sage Salvia spp., Cleome Cleome hasslerana, Cosmos Cosmos bipinnatus, Wax Myrtles Myrica cerifera, Live Oaks Quercus virginiana.

Fruit: Mulberries, blackberries, blueberries, Coral honeysuckle vine Lonicera sempervirens.

Berries: Simpson Stoppers Myrcianthes fragrans, dahoon holly Ilex cassine, holly shrubs Ilex spp., American beautyberry Callicarpa americana, Wild coffee Psychotria spp., Privet Ligustrum spp., Sabal palm Sabal palmetto, Firebush Hamelia patens.

Nectar: Bottlebrush Callistemon spp., Golden dewdrop Duranta repens, Firebush Hamelia patens, Louis Phillippe rose, Shrimp plant Justicia brandegeana, Lantanas, Firespike Odontonema strictum, Pentas Pentas lanceolata, Coral honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens, Trumpet vine Campsis radicans, Purple coneflower Echinacea coelestinum, Milkweed Asclepias spp., Agastache , Indian Blanket flower Gaillardia pulchella, Plumbago Plumbago auriculata, Asters (native), Sunflower Helianthus spp. Impatiens Impatiens wallerana, Zinnias Zinnia spp., Stokes' Aster Stokesia laevis, Salvia varieties, Florida petunia Ruellia caroliniensis, Bee balm Monarda spp., Kalanchoes Kalanchoe spp. Daylily Hemerocallis spp., Beach sunflower Helianthus debilis, Aloe Aloe vera.

NOTE: It's okay to supplement food sources with bird seed or nectar in hummingbird feeders but you'll find that you'll attract and maintain more birds in your garden if you provide a more diverse year-round diet of pertinent plants. Plus, you'll save a few dollars on bird seed.

I have a number of feeders throughout my garden because I enjoy watching the birds who visit, but I've noticed that they frequent their favorite plants more often than the feeders which is great since I sometimes get too busy to keep them full.

Wildlife Friendly Tip: 
Be a little less tidy in the garden by leaving seedheads on plants at the end of summer for the increased number of birds we enjoy in winter. I've noticed that titmice and wrens are busy all winter long eating seeds from my crepe myrtles, agastache and coneflowers.  

As you can see, getting started is easy.  As you add new plants to your garden include some of the ones mentioned above and you'll be on your way to creating your very own wildlife habitat.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

One of the Best Resources for Florida Gardeners

Gardening is very different in Florida than in other areas of the country. Fortunately, for us Florida Gardening magazine is the "go-to" resource for both the newbie and the experienced Florida gardener. They just celebrated their 100th issue (April/May 2012)...proof of how valuable it is.

Loaded with helpful information on growing plants suited to our climate from north to south Florida, as well as featured gardens.  Q&A from experts, local events and much more...this is an essential garden resource for me.

Wae and Kathy Nelson, originally ran a small mail-order seed business called Southern Seeds, when they realized that gardeners "needed information as much as they needed seeds." That and a job layoff were the catalyst to taking their leap a faith and bringing Florida Gardening to life.

Recently, Kathy graciously took the time to answer a few questions for me so that others could learn a little more about them and their magazine.

Q - When you first moved to Florida, what was the most frustrating part about gardening here?
A - "Well, Wae lived here as a boy and never had the "transition shock" that so many of us have suffered through. For me, almost everything was frustrating. My veggies were deformed by nematodes, my poinsettias and callas got eaten by caterpillars, my Norfolk Island pine and crotons froze. The only plants that thrived in my yard was a castor bean (poisonous and invasive) and a mock mulberry tree (invasive)...and finally, all of my grass died and it was like mowing a dust bowl.

I had no idea that growing things down here would be so different from Pennsylvania. People told me to use this poison or that fertilizer, but without building the soil and keeping it moist and cool, there was no way I was going to be a successful Florida gardener. And then suddenly there was a Wae -- and he shared the secrets with me and it led not just to success in the garden, but to Florida Gardening magazine.

Q - How do you and Wae split up garden chores the your yard?
A - I'm afraid the reality of publishing a magazine has put actual gardening on the back burner. I do grow lots of flowering plants, and every winter I try to put in at least a small vegetable garden, but we're like the shoemaker's kid who goes shoeless. We both putter around outside when we can, and somehow the basics get done. I do much of the daily maintenance -- weeding, pruning, transplanting and Wae gets stuck with the bigger things I can't handle -- chainsawing, digging holes for big trees, repairing hoses and pumps. Right now he and his cousin are working on fencing in our acreage to try and keep out wild hogs.

Q - Describe your garden style?
A - I'm not sure we have a "style," as such. We started off primarily growing edibles - veggies, herbs and tropical fruits - on our 6-acre mini-farm here in east-central Florida. At one time we grew over 20 varieties of bananas. Gradually we moved into growing mostly ornamentals. At first we planted for shade, because our acreage had few trees and full sun is almost impossible in Florida. Then after 20 plus years, we started to have too much shade. the hurricanes of 2004 and the wildfire of 2008 took care of that problem. Now we have a nice mix of shade and sun.

Q - What are your favorite 'no-fail' plants?
A - I don't know about the 'no-fail' part - zone 9b is a very challenging place to garden. I'm very fond of Hamelia patens (firebush), but sometimes it freezes to the ground. I love my native coral or Cherokee bean. Necklace pod - another native - is a great shrub, but I've been surprised to see how much it is spreading. We have a large number of crinums -- small ones in deep or pale pink and orange and my prized milk and wine lilies which come from Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings historic home in Cross Creek many years ago (we gave them roselle seeds in exchange for the bulbs).

I'm very fond of ornamental grasses -- especially muhly, vetiver and lemon. But I guess my favorite perennials are my heirloom roses. They take almost no care and reward me with lots of flowers through much of the year. I have a Louis Philippe or "cracker rose" that's almost as big as a house. Others are Duchesse de Brabant (pink), Mutabalis (multicolored), Mrs. Dudley Cross (almost thornless stems), and Sombreuil (white climber). My Knockout roses aren't heirlooms, but they are hard to beat for hardiness and blooms. Other favorites are crape mrytles, blue sage, golden dewdrop and of course hibiscus, bottlebrush, Walter's viburnum, begonias, jasmine cestrums, Louisiana iris, gingers, plectranthus, firecracker plants, periwinkles...I guess it's obvious that we have a big yard and I'm a plant-a-holic.

Q -What future topics can we look forward to this year?
A - Here's a sampling of what's coming up this year...bonsai made easy, wildflowers, hydroponic gardening, pomegranates, water gardening, invasives, using the color red in the garden, a potager garden, gourmet weeds, and lots about palms. Each issue usually features a place to visit...there's the Reflexology Path at the Medicinal Healing Garden at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, the garden at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg and Pans Garden, a native garden in Palm Beach, just to name a few.

Q - Is it possible to purchase past issues of your magazine?
A - It sure is. The index can be found on our website (www.floridagardening.com). Back issues are only $2.50 each, including shipping and handling. You might want to email or call us before ordering, as many of them are out of print.

It was fun getting to know more about Florida Gardening magazine and Kathy and Wae's garden. You can subscribe to Florida Gardening by visiting their website or you can keep up with them on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/floridagardeningmagazine.

Thanks Kathy for taking the time to answer my questions. Keep up the good work!