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The First Rule of Florida Gardening for Northern Transplants

Since a lot of people move down here in the spring and summer, thought I'd clue you in.

FLORIDA GARDENING RULE #1: Forget everything you know about gardening up north.

Honestly, just forget it. You have entered a totally different world. I moved here from SC with a degree in horticulture, and I had to relearn everything.

Soil Woes

First off, our soil SUCKS. It is either sand or marl. You can read on this blog about How to Plant in Sand and How to Plant in Marl. In some areas of the state you may find clay or even soil full of limestone rocks, but by and large, these are the main two soils.

Northern Plants That Won't Grow Here

This may not apply in the panhandle, Z8b, but by and large -- Forget about
  • lilacs
  • most spring flowering bulbs
  • cherry trees
  • hostas (they have come out with a couple for FL, but they aren't nearly as nice)
  • peonies (I miss these)
  • zoysia and centipede grass 

Florida Vegetable Gardening

We grow our "summer" veggies in the fall, winter and early spring. Forget summer vegetable gardens unless you happen to love
  • southern peas
  • okra
  • hot peppers
  • cherry tomatoes
  • eggplant

General Florida Gardening and Critters

Learn to love tropical plants and flowers, tropical fruits, tropical vegetables (for summer planting) and stuff you have never heard of before that is not sold in any supermarket, anywhere, anytime.

Learn to adjust to a multitude of animals, lizards and huge insects you thought only existed in science experiments.

ALMOST EVERYTHING grows out of control and most things can become invasive or at least peskily rampant. Get used to pruning. If you hate pruning, don't plant shrubs. Don't go into a garden center asking for something that only gets 3 feet tall and blooms all year. There is no such plant, and they will laugh at you behind your back when you leave. I know this from experience.

Organic Gardening in Florida

Organic gardening is harder down here, because of the insects that aren't killed off in the winter, the lousy soil, and because it really is the HUMIDITY, not the heat. Humidity causes fungus and mildew and all sorts of horrid diseases that you will fight constantly.

Growing Roses in Florida

Roses are labor-intensive down here. They have to be planted on special rootstocks, and many of your favorites will not grow down here no matter what you do, such as Lady Banks rose (which I also miss). Weekly spraying for insects and fungus is a must. Roses die off after a few years just because they never go dormant and grow themselves to death. There are not a lot, or maybe not any, 100 year old rose bushes in FL, except maybe in extreme N. FL. Here is some info on growing roses:

Growing Roses in Florida:  Choosing a Rose Rootstock  

Florida Gardening 101:  Planting Grafted Roses

Sun and Shade 

Full sun in the garden can be your enemy and shade is your best friend. Lots of the most beautiful and easy-to-grow tropicals require shade, such as most gingers, orchids and bromeliads, so if your first inclination is to chop down all those beautiful shade trees, you may want to think twice.

It's a lot to learn. I've been gardening here for over 20 years, and just moved from the south of FL to the north of FL; now I have to learn it all over again. May take me another 20 years.

Take it slowly and find a good local garden center that can advise you. Get in touch with your local extension service. Read, read, read on sites like Floridata and Florida Gardener.  Scour the University of FL IFAS pages, especially the Solutions for Your Life Lawn and Garden site and the Vegetable Gardening Guide. Go to the Florida Gardening forum on Gardenweb  or any number of forums on social media and ask a lot of questions. People there love to help.

And subscribe to this blog in the sidebar by email or RSS if you like. I try to post as often as possible, and feel free to ask questions. I'm also on Gardenweb.

Florida gardening is not as scary as it seems, but it is very different, so be prepared to study and learn and have failures and successes.

Happy Gardening!