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, 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.