With the intense Florida heat and sandy soil, landscaping can pose a challenge to homeowners in the Sunshine State. Having lived here for more than 20 years, I understand the struggle of trying to maintain a lawn, nurture a flower bed, or grow a vegetable garden. Luckily, residents can turn to resources developed by University of Florida/IFAS Extension for tips on designing a garden, irrigating, fertilizing, composting, and more. If you're looking to spruce up your Southern yard, follow these basic principles to create a sustainable, beautiful outdoor space.
Trying to grow a shade-loving hosta in my Florida yard proved impossible, so these days, I opt for native Florida plants. Not only do they adapt more easily to the area's climate and sandy soil conditions, they typically require lower maintenance, which means less weeding, watering, and fertilizing. In addition to referring to the UF/IFAS website, you can also search for native plants at Florida Native Plant Society and find bird-friendly options via Audubon Society's searchable database .
Group Plants with Similar Needs
Make your gardening life easier by considering the light, soil, and water requirements of plants, and then grouping them with other plants of similar needs. For example, place a cluster of black-eyed Susans along with other drought-tolerant plants , such as lantana, in a sunny, well-drained location. Not only does this make watering and fertilizing your garden easier, but clustering colorful flowers also draws butterflies, birds, and other critters better than single plants.
Plant for the Birds and the Bees
When you garden with wildlife in mind, you're helping to provide a balanced and healthy ecosystem. The payoff? Your garden will benefit from the insect-eating birds, bees, and dragonflies drawn to your yard. This helps control plant damage from harmful pests. Plus, many of these critters aid in the pollination process, helping them to reproduce. Aim for a diverse mix of vines, flowers ground covers, shrubs, trees, and palms. Different plants provide food (think nectar, seeds, or berries), water, and shelter for wildlife. For instance, milkweed attracts butterflies, and the American beauty berry shrub bursts with clusters of purple berries—a perfect snack for cardinals and sparrows.
Florida has a dry season (November through April) and a wet season (May through October), with scorching temperatures in the summer. To preserve soil moisture that occurs as a result of rainfall and irrigation, top off gardens with a thick layer of mulch. This also helps deter weeds. Also, consider replacing hard surfaces like concrete sidewalks with porous materials, like brick or gravel, so that rain can trickle into the soil.
Don't Forget to Compost
Florida's sandy soil could use a nutrient boost. One easy way to do that is adding compost , which you can make yourself. Think of it as natural recycling. Instead of throwing away yard waste and kitchen scraps like banana peels and wilted lettuce, toss them into a compost pile. I use a compost bin that I can easily rotate to help add oxygen to the decomposition process. After several weeks, it produces "black gold"—a soil amendment chock-full of essential nutrients. Either add it to your garden before planting or mix into the soil for established plants.
Florida may have different rules for making the most of your landscape game, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of fun to be had. Follow these principles and you'll love the yard you create.