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“Nothing grows in Florida”

I’ve heard that statement so many times it’s become almost cliché. Cliché, but false. I mean, seriously, look out of a window. It doesn’t look like a desert to me. Plenty of greenery to behold!
So, I guess what folks really mean is, “I have not been successful trying to grow the plants I loved up north in Florida.”
Maybe they mean, “I have not been successful growing tropical plants in Central Florida.”
Perhaps they mean, “I bought a lot of plants, and spent a lot of money at area big box stores and they all died.”
I’m not saying there aren’t hurdles to a successful landscape in our area of the world. Many of us move into new, or semi-new homes, certainly much newer than is the norm “up north.” So let’s review what has happened to your plot of land in recent years:

• The land is cleared of vegetation. Perhaps some trees are saved, or “left standing” as a colleague of mine likes say. Their roots are subjected to compaction, removal, etc.
• Unfertile fill dirt, dug out of the earth way lower than the top soil level, possibly foreign to that area, is applied and leveled and compacted.
• Contractors descend and put lime-leaching blocks on your land. Their equipment and trucks compact the soil. They may or may not bury some construction debris in the fill dirt. Your land is exposed to chemicals from building materials and house construction, that it’s never dealt with before.
• When it’s all done and over with, stock shrubbery, a tropical palm and thousands of square feet of sod are installed over this traumatized canvas that is to be your yard. You are told to water it, a lot.

Does this sound like a familiar scenario? Don’t worry, these hurdles can be overcome with a little bit of work and a little bit more knowledge. The first principle of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ is “Right Plant-Right Place.” When I moved into my current home 11 years ago, I pulled out a small tropical palm that was too close to the house and would have ended up freezing anyway. I also removed an invasive species the contractor planted (that project actually involved four years of pulling) and I moved the 16 “small” shrubs in front of my house that I knew would not remain small shrubs for long.

My community generally sells half acre lots, and leaves the back ¼ acre in their natural state. That has been a blessing to me, in that it allowed me to transplant native American Beauty Berry as shrubs, as well as planting beds of Purple Love Grass in places where the sod refused to grow. Knock-Out roses from a big box store provided nice color in front and behind my house for a good decade. I bought quite a bit from the Hernando County Master Gardener Nursery, such as Beach Sunflower ground cover, which has graced the front of my house for many years, and Fakahatchee grass in the back yard. A colorful crepe myrtle stands in the spot that tropical palm once stood. I have had success in big box stores with native dwarf yaupon holly bushes which I planted in the back yard. Muhley grass from big box stores as well as the Master Gardener Nursery grace my yard in various places. Cedar trees from the Master Gardener nursery and from friends have grown huge. A couple live Christmas trees, one Cedar, one Arizona Cypress, are still thriving in the yard. Loropetulum shrubs grow happily in the western sun.

Dune Sunflower in bloom
Have I lost plants? Oooh yeah! But you know, composting is a great component to a Florida-Friendly yard! Do I use chemicals? Rarely, and only for spot-treating fire ants. Do I add supplemental water? Nope, except for new transplants. Does my Bahiagrass lawn look perfect? Nope. Do I have a lot of weeds? Yep. Do I care? Nope.
Things grow in Florida. Lots of things. Ponce De Leon thought so, or he wouldn’t have named us “Land of Flowers.” A lot has changed since Juan reached our shores, but a little knowledge of “Right Plant-Right Place” and a lot of patience will reward us with a paradise found.

For more information about Florida-Friendly Landscaping click on the following links:

https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/
https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/FYN_Plant_Selection_Guide_2015.pdf
https://www.hernandocounty.us/departments/departments-n-z/utilities-department/florida-friendly-landscaping
www.facebook.com/HernandoFFLProgram

Lilly Browning is the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program Coordinator, Hernando County Utilities Department, Water Conservation