Each of the 25 display gardens at Mounts Botanical is a living exhibit, with plants chosen specifically to tell a story about home gardening in a challenging subtropical climate. The gardens illustrate what Palm Beach County residents can emulate in their own spaces, large or small. This series spotlights key elements of gardening in South Florida.
Click on any of the bold terms to learn more about some of our favorite gardening resources.
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Growing a Garden in South Florida
Growing plants in South Florida presents a series of unique challenges. A simple internet search can feel like an overwhelming maze, as you stumble upon a solution to your problem only to realize the summer storms or brutal heat require a different solution than the internet suggests. But with the right resources and key search phrases, you can support your green thumb with the information you need to become a master of South Florida gardening.
Plant Hardiness Zones
Regardless of where you live, you should become familiar with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Plant Hardiness Zones. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is a standard by which gardeners can determine which plants are most likely to thrive. The country is broken down into zones based on the average annual minimum winter temperature. Mounts Botanical Garden finds itself in Zone 10b, 35 to 40°F. A quick internet search of any plant with the term “zone” will help you discover if it may be a good addition to your garden or not worth your time. The plant hardiness zones are a guide, and not exact.
Contributing Environmental Factors
There are many contributing environmental factors to the success of a plant in addition to temperature range. Wind, soil type and moisture, humidity, pollution, seasonal sunshine can all greatly affect the survival of your plants. And that does not begin to cover their place in the landscape, how they are planted (transferred at what season or size? from seed or cutting?), and health which also all influence their chance of survival and ability to thrive.
The variation in display gardens at Mounts Botanical is a great example of the possibilities achievable within the same climate. The Mediterranean and Cottage Gardens specifically suggest ways that sub-tropical plants can be used to recreate a specific aesthetic that is a-typical of the environmental conditions found in Palm Beach County.
Resources for Gardeners
With so many contributing factors to a garden’s success, it can be overwhelming for even the experienced gardener to diagnose a problem, never mind for those new to the area or to gardening. Luckily, there are plenty of great resources. The University of Florida has a plethora of information and programs to support the Florida gardener. UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions is an easily searchable and browsable collection of information from plants, pests, design, care, and more. As you get into specifics, you may be directed to EDIS, or the Electronic Data Information Source of UF/IFAS. EDIS is used to publish and communicate current research directly from the University. A great EDIS reference to bookmark is the South Florida Gardening Calendar, which details planting and maintenance plans by month.
Support local, and not just for your produce. By sourcing plants for your garden from local nurseries, you don’t just get a hardy Florida plant but also years of experience and expertise. Local nursery owners and staff want to see their plants do well in your yard, and are usually happy to answer questions you may have. The Mounts Botanical Nursery staff are always happy to help you select the right plant and troubleshoot why things may not be growing as they should. Find yourself getting really into cycads? Baffled by roses? Palm Beach County is home to a variety of plant societies and many typically meet in the Mounts Auditorium. The plant societies are fantastic local resources and a great way to get more involved. A list of the societies is available at https://www.mounts.org/societies-and-clubs/ and most of them can be found online or on social media.
When growing a garden, the relationship between the environment and your plants goes both ways. Gardeners need to make sure they are working with South Florida’s environmental conditions for a healthy, successful garden. But it is just as important for their plant selection and gardening techniques to support the native environment. Being Florida-Friendly means making smart choices to save yourself time, energy, and money while protecting the future of Florida’s natural resources.
The University of Florida’s IFAS Extension created the Florida-Friendly Landscaping program which outlines nine principles to help gardeners create a beautiful landscape that is more sustainable. The principles are:
- Right Plant, Right Place
- Water Efficiently
- Fertilize Appropriately
- Attract Wildlife
- Manage Yard Pests Responsibly
- Reduce Storm Water Runoff
- Protect the Waterfront
Multiple principles surround the ideas of selecting the right plants and appropriately caring for them. The Plant Database can help generate a list of plants that are appropriate for the region, light range, soil, and salt in the area you are looking to plant. Selecting the right plant for the right place is not just about allowing the plant to thrive, but also about maximizing your natural conditions.
Our yards and landscaping are not closed systems, and the use of native plants in landscapes is Florida-Friendly and helps preserve the state’s natural resources. Increasingly, our native birds, butterflies and wildlife rely on gardeners to replace natural habitat lost to development. Native plants provide the food, cover and nesting sites these species so vitally need.
The courtyard of Mounts Botanical’s Florida Natives Garden won the 2008 Award of Honor from the Florida Native Plant Society for Institutional Native Plant Display and may provide some ideas on how to incorporate native species into your home landscape. This garden is anchored by four pigeon plums (Coccoloba diversifolia), a medium-size tree that is a great shade provider for South Florida yards. Pigeon plum trees have a high drought tolerance and high salt tolerance. Their shade is well worth the mess they create by dropping their berries in the winter. The courtyard features an interesting display of trees, palms, shrubs, groundcovers and vines. Firebush (Hamelia patens) is a favorite nectar plant of zebra longwing butterflies, this shrub produces bright red flowers from late spring until winter. It can be used in home gardens as a hedge or a stand-alone shrub while providing a food source for native butterflies and hummingbirds. Be wary of what you purchase for your yard, as a marketed variety of dwarf firebush (H. patens var. glabra), which is shorter and produces lighter colored flowers, is a non-native.
For more information on the Florida-Friendly Landscaping program specifically related to Palm Beach County, connect with Palm Beach County Extension. The principles are not limited to homeowners with a private yard. Extension provides a toolkit for community and homeowner associations to work with landscaping companies, laws, and ordinances.
Join us for our next Summer Spotlight, where we will explore water use in the garden!
If you have any comments or suggestions for future articles, we would love to hear from you by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
For gardening questions and advice, reach out to Palm Beach County Cooperative Extension’s Help Desk by calling 561-233-1750 or by emailing email@example.com
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