Florida has seven U.S. Department of Agriculture growing zones, from 8a through 11, so ideas for Florida gardens can be different for each zone. Although most of South Florida is subtropical, Northern and Central Florida are more temperate, with freezing temperatures for several months out of the year. Some things hold true for all zones in Florida, and these are the things that a gardener must keep in mind when planning a garden. Temperature, soil, pests, and diseases all are important considerations in Florida gardening.
Choose Plants for Your USDA Zone
Visiting a locally owned garden center is a must when looking for gardening ideas for your growing zone. Transplanted Northern gardeners should not assume that the plants they love will grow in Florida, as many won't. Gardeners also should not assume that tropical plants will grow well in the more temperate zones in Northern and Central Florida. By planting what grows well in your particular area, you will be assured of success and saved from disappointment.
Use Native Plants
Florida has some beautiful native plants that make nice additions to a landscape. Native plants require minimum amounts of fertilizer, water and pesticides, making them environmentally friendly. Florida natives are also more disease resistant. As an added bonus, many native plants are larval or nectar plants for butterflies.
Include a Palm Tree
There are dozens of palm varieties with many cold-hardy types that are suitable in the more temperate zones, such as the Florida state tree, sabal palm. Palms are low maintenance, hurricane resistant and add a tropical feel to your garden. There is nothing like the sound of palm fronds rustling in the wind to let you know you are in Florida.
Plant in Raised Beds
Nematodes are a problem in all Florida soils, and native Florida sand is not conducive to growing much other than native plants. Raised beds built with landscape timbers, stone, or even brick can add beauty to a garden as well as providing a better environment for plant growth.
Add a Fruit Tree to the Landscape
While tropical fruits might not be a good choice for Northern and Central zones, there are dozens of other fruits to choose from. In tropical zones, low chill fruits are available to satisfy a gardener's need to grow familiar fruits such as apples and stone fruits. Tropical fruits such as mango and avocado can be grown in the southernmost areas. Of course, citrus is a popular choice in warmer areas with little chance of freezing temperatures.
Plant a Butterfly Garden
Butterflies of all shapes, sizes and colors abound in Florida and tend to stick close to where they can find their larval plants. By learning about which butterflies are native to your area, and which plants they breed and draw nectar from, you can build a beautiful and useful environment for them. Keep in mind that butterfly larvae will strip plants of all foliage, and plants will be unsightly for a while, but they will come back. You might want to plant larval plants in a less-prominent section of the garden.
Use Ground Covers Instead of Grass
Lawns are a time-consuming and expensive investment in Florida. Sunshine Mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), perennial peanut (Arachis glabrata, Benth), and wedelia (Wedelia trilobata) are all popular ground covers for replacing a traditional grass lawn. Ground covers are lower maintenance, require less mowing and little fertilizer once established, but the best part is the flowers. Imagine having a lawn covered with tiny yellow or pink flowers, instead of plain green.
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