Skip to main content

Down to Earth

The Dirt on Dirt

No matter where you live in Gulf County, soil composition can be a problem. The northern half is often very acid due to pine/pulpwood cultivation, and the southern end is alkaline because most of the soil is sand. The best way to determine what you have and how to amend your garden or yard is with a soil sample test. Materials and instructions for testing your soil are available from the County Extension Offices. Each sample is $7.00 plus the cost of mailing the sample to the University of Florida. Results are sent back very quickly, and the County Agent or Master Gardeners can help interpret the results. For more information, contact us at 850-639-3200 or use the Master Gardener e-mail

Holes in My Leaves Make Me Happy

I’ve always liked native plants; the major advantage was that if you selected a plant that fit the soil and site (wet or dry, shaded or sunny, acid or alkaline) you could expect a native plant to do well with little additional care once it was established. But that is no longer the main reason I choose native plants.

I learned that we have lost 50% of the population of many of our bird species over the past 50 years. And I learned that 96% of terrestrial bird species in North America rely on insects to feed their young, even if they eat seeds as adults. There are many similar statistics about other wildlife.

Plants are the organisms at the base of the food web. Not surprisingly, it turns out that native insects have evolved to eat native plants. And that lovely ornamental or vast green lawn that is rarely bothered by pests also doesn’t support the caterpillars that produce our butterflies or feed our birds, lizards and the whole web of wildlife. So if I see that some of the leaves of my plants are getting eaten, I see that as success for the local wildlife, not my failure as a gardener.

The greatest success story in my garden last year was my aquatic or swamp milkweed (Asclepias perennis). All season long I saw the butterflies come to them. Then late in the season, after they had produced seedpods they were almost entirely stripped of leaves. And on each plant was a monarch butterfly larva. My milkweeds will come back up next year, and hopefully the butterflies or wildlife that ate the larvae will be back too.

Library Demonstration Garden Underway


Gulf County’s newest Master Gardeners got off to a great start by tackling garden renovation work at the Gulf County Library in Port St. Joe. The goal is to create a community demonstration garden around the Library grounds.

Phase I began in October with the two front gardens. Many roots were removed and mushroom compost added before the first plants were installed. Next step is to add more plants and fill the large planter. Raised beds will be added on the side, and possibly a rain barrel to assure water within easy reach.

Stay tuned to see what happens next as these Demonstration Gardens progress!

Get Ready to Plant Raised Beds are a Great Solution

Gardening using raised beds is a sure way to overcome the sandy and growth-limiting soil conditions along the coast. It is not a new invention but has become more popular with the today’s trends toward consuming more fresh produce and growing food at home. Raised beds are simply containers to hold nutrient rich soil. They can be built up in all shapes and sizes from wood, stone and vinyl construction or be objects rescued from scrap materials found behind sheds and at the curb. Found items may include barrels, storage bins, tubs and stock tanks. Nutrient rich soil is important to success of a raised bed. For example, filling a 4 by 8 ft bed with 10 inch side walls requires about 22 cu ft of soil. This  can be mixed from 11 bags (2 cu ft each) of branded potting soil and mushroom compost available from the garden centers at home improvement stores. Truck delivery is also available from other sources. So get started now and you will have a great place to plant your garden as soon as it’s warm enough to get plants in the ground.

Growing Things in Florida Is Impossible!

As a recent transplant I have heard this phrase over and over again. I thought my Georgia gardening skills would work here and even brought plants to transplant. I was really surprised when they died!

Gardening here can be difficult, but there is help for both novices and experienced gardeners. The nine principles of Florida Friendly Landscaping (FFL), can help us create beautiful landscapes as well as improve the environment.

Florida soil is different, and my yard is pure sand in some places, a mix of sand and soil in others, and I even have a low area or “bog”, all on less than an acre. Different approaches are needed for each, and the end results may look different from the standard green lawn and camellias. FFL gives me ways to garden in each area.

We will be helping you learn about FFL over the next few newsletters. In the meantime, if you would like to learn more, contact the Gulf County Extension Office or check out this website:,






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *