Saturday, March 08, 2014

Colorful Landscapes for Central Florida Snowbirds


One of the great benefits of living in the Sunshine State is that you can have something blooming in your yard 365 days out of the year. At a recent builder and home expo where I was promoting my gardening radio show, In Your Backyard, I met June, a lovely northern six-months-out-of-the-year resident who expressed her frustration that she “didn’t know what to plant and my landscape blooms after I leave.” She explained that ‘My husband and I only live here in the winter and we never get to enjoy the plants that bloom in my yard after we go back north.”  I felt her pain. Buying a beautiful winter home that has a landscape already selected for you helps from having to make more decisions, but for gardeners who don’t know anything about tropical plants, they soon realize that they don’t have what they want – a  colorful landscape that bursts with flowers while they are living in Florida.  She asked me to email her a list of flowering perennials and shrubs that bloom during the fall and winter that she could plant in her yard.  So as I was diligently writing to her, I thought to myself, this is an issue that I know concerns many other snowbirds, I mean seasonal residents, so here’s my ‘Welcome to La Florida – Place of Flowers’[1] tips on gardening in Central Florida.

There are five gardening zones in Florida, zones 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12.   The northern panhandle or LA (Lower Alabama as we long-timers refer to it) is zone 8. Currently, zone 8 goes from the Georgia state line and down as far as Gainesville.  This area could possibly have temperatures reach 10 degrees every year depending on the severity of the winter. Gardeners across Florida’s zone 8 will see between 400 to 700 chill hours each year.  
A chill hour is a measurement of time where the temperature stays between 45 to 32 degrees or colder. Zones 9a, 9b, and 10 are considered “subtropical” because this area has between 200 to 400 chill hours each winter.  Florida's subtropical area ranges from Ocala to Lake Okeechobee and from Daytona Beach to Tampa. Below Lake Okeechobee are zones 11 and 12 and considered to be South Florida with a tropical climate. Very rarely does South Florida get freezing temperatures, although in my lifetime, it’s snowed in Central Florida and has occasionally reached South Florida in 1977, 1986, 1996, 2003, 2008, and 2010.[2] 

With this realization that we do have winter here in Florida, it’s good for new residents to remember to watch the weather forecast at the beginning of the week to look for cold fronts coming across the country. If it reaches Florida, there will be storms, possibility of tornados, and rain. After the rain, temperatures will dip, possibly into the freezing range.  Despite this winter advisory, you can plant shrubs and trees nearly every day of the year. Although if there is a chance of freezing in your area within a few days when you want to plant, wait till the temperatures warm up…three days, usually doesn’t last longer. Remember, this is Florida.  And at least here in Florida, even when it’s cold, the sun still shines.

But on to planting colorful landscapes! One of the easiest tips that I can provide for northern gardeners is that ‘what you plant at home during the summer, will grow here easily in the winter.’  All your spring and summer annuals, like delphiniums, pansies, and geraniums, will grow nicely from November through April.  

You can bring annual seed packets down with you or buy them here in late fall, or look in the nurseries mid-October for 4” transplants to appear.  If we are having a warm fall, the timing may be delayed for a few weeks but should be in the stores by November.  These plants will last till the heat of the summer, and sometimes if you deadhead them, like alyssum, or pluck the spent flower buds of petunias, they will last several seasons.

Tropical flowering shrubs such as angel trumpets, hibiscus, Princess flower, can get zapped by a freeze, but if they have been established for a few years, they should come back.  Hardier shrubs like azaleas, camellias, roses, and White Candles, Whitfieldia elongata, handle the winter time bravely without any trouble at all.
Double peach hibiscus
Princess Flower, Tibouchina
When you see the list of flowering plants, you’ll notice that there are many choices of annuals. Buying a lot of annuals can be expensive to replace each year.  It’s less maintenance intensive and cheaper to have a good foundation of evergreen shrubs and perennials in your landscape and plant with a few annuals underneath your shrubs. Filling planters and pots with annuals at your mailbox, front door or around your patio will also add color.
Before you leave to go home in late spring, you should make sure the annuals are removed, replaced with summer annuals, or deadheaded. Trim the spent blooms of your perennials and shrubs and  remulch your garden beds. This will prevent weeds from taking hold and causing more work in the fall.
Because of the colder temperatures, drier weather, and slower growth patterns, problems that you can see in the landscape usually happen after you’ve gone back home. Here are a few things to consider:

1. Most winter and early spring-blooming shrubs won’t bloom properly if cut too frequently, don’t prune azaleas, loropetalums, or spring-blooming shrubs after the month of June.

2. In Central Florida the last freeze date is around March 15th. Try not to cut your  frost-damaged plants till the end of February. Pruning after a freeze will encourage new growth which will be more susceptible to freezes. During the warmer months, don't prune after October. This will allow plants to harden off before the first freeze of the year.

3. It can freeze as early as October, but usually we’ll see it in late November, first part of December. A general rule of thumb is that we can wear shorts on Christmas Day,[3] but either a week before or a week after, Florida will see a major freeze.

4. When temperatures are averaging 60 degrees or colder, which means temperatures in the 70’s during the daytime and 40’s at night, you only need to irrigate your turfgrass once every 7 – 10 days.

5. Fertilize flowering plants, shrubs, and young trees with slow-release fertilizer in the fall when you arrive and then  in late spring just before you leave to go back North.

6. It's so disappointing to come back in the fall to a dead or weedy landscape. Make sure your irrigation system is working correctly when you arrive and before you leave in the spring. Get a family member or neighbor to check on your irrigation system during the summer to make sure it's not watering the street and it's working correctly while you’re away. 

7. Fruit trees are a great way to have spring flowers. You can grow apples, peaches, pears, plums, nectarines, and many other varieties of fruits with low-chill hour varieties specifically grown for Florida’s winter. Check out the University of Florida’s list of fruit trees for Florida.

8. Citrus trees have been devastated by citrus greening disease. Up to 70% of Florida’s citrus are affected with Huanglongbing (HLB). [4] They are not recommended at this time for Florida landscapes.

You can have color in blooming annuals perennials, ornamental shrubs, spring-flowering trees, and variegated or rainbow-colored foliage.  My list of flowering plants below will start you on your way. But to ensure that your plants will survive in your landscape, assess your property for the sunlight conditions, soil moisture, and the pH of your garden beds before choosing your plants. If you’re new to Florida or a snowbird, a great tool to help you decide what plants will grow in your landscape is the St Johns River Water Management District’s Waterwise Landscape Database. The SJRWMD Waterwise Landscape Frequently Asked Questions will help you understand how to use it and provides more information on landscaping in Florida.

With all your choices of flowers and blooming shrubs and trees in Central Florida, your landscape can be as creative and colorful as you like.  Living in our lush subtropical climate doesn’t mean you will miss the trees’ fall foliage, the change of seasons, or that you can’t have a kaleidoscope of blossoms while you are enjoying our Florida weather.  Remember: while you love to dig in the dirt, you never have to shovel sunshine here. Welcome to beautiful La Florida.

Read my entire list of winter-flowering annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees for Central Florida.

Would you like more Florida gardening tips? Send me your email address and I'll send Teresa's 2014 Garden Reminders to you.

Teresa Watkins, a horticulturist, landscape designer, and environmental consultant, also hosts  the award-winning gardening radio show “In Your Backyard” heard on  every Tuesday at 1:00pm EST. 

Big thanks and H/T to Avalon Holding Group for allowing use of their Snowbird graphics.

[4]The Packer  

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

From Roots To Roofs
Orlando, FL – In Your Backyard, Central Florida’s award-winning  gardening radio show, hosted by Teresa Watkins, announced Tuesday, Sunniland Corporation as its new sponsor.

With the start of spring , Sunniland, a Florida-based company, is partnering with  In Your Backyard to  help educate and encourage Florida homeowners in growing healthy lawns and gardens while  protecting the environment.

In Your Backyard, started in 1998 and reaches listeners from Daytona Beach to Orlando and from Ocala and The Villages to Lakeland, as well as streaming  live on on the Internet.

Sunniland fertilizers  have been sold in Florida since 1884 and are formulated specifically for Florida’s sandy soils. Sunniland products RiteGreen, Turfgro, and Sunniland-brand fertilizers can be purchased at Lowe’s, Walmart, Ace Hardware, and Home Depot,

“It’s a great  show for Florida residents who don’t know how to take care of their landscapes or what to plant”  Teresa Watkins, gardening expert and environmental consultant said. “Retirees and gardeners who work on the weekends are able to call in and get landscaping advice during the middle of the week,  which makes In Your Backyard, one of the most popular shows on WLBE’s”

“We are proud to be the sponsor of In Your Backyard and the opportunities it brings to our company” said Larry Pressley, Sunniland Corporation’s Marketing Director.

In Your Backyard airs at 1pm to 2pm EST every Tuesday.

What's Blooming at the Polasek Museum

Looking for a wonderful day of sculpture, Russian icons, sunshine, and a beautiful lakefront garden? Visit the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden in Winter Park.

The Risen Christ, Resurrection of our Savior
1963, Albin Polasek
The museum is currently hosting The Holy Art of Imperial Russia, showcasing 17th - 19th century Russian icons and tryptchs. The artwork was impressive and inspiring, considering that nearly all Russian religious art were either voluntarily given up or taken physically and destroyed by the government during the 1917 Russian Revolution.

Despite coming out of winter, the day we visited sunshine and the museum gardens created a wonderful backdrop for Albin Polasek's bronze sculptures.  Here are some of my favorite annuals, flowers, ornamental shrubs, and succulents.


Abutilon 'Orange-Red'
Agave Angustafolia marginata

Bird of Paradise, Strelitzia reginae
Aechmea 'Burgandy'
Camellia japonica
Chinese Hat Plant,
 Holmskioldia sanguinea
Clerondendrum quadriloculare 'Starburst'
Crown of Thorns, Euphorbia milli
Crown of Thorns, Euphorbia milli
Prickly Cycad, Encephalartos ferox
Firecracker, Russelia equisetiformis
Camellia in background, firecracker in front
Fishtail Fern, Nephrolepsis biserrata
Dianella, Geranium, and Lobelia
Gerbera Daisies
Honeysuckle vine, Lonicera spp.
Iochroma cyaneum
Lakefront tuteur
Loropetalum chinense 'Ever Red'
Loropetalum chinense 'Ever Red'
Purple Firespikes,
Odontonema callistachyum
Snapdragons, annuals
Stromanthe sanguineas
Princess Flowers, Tibouchina grandiflora
Variegated ginger, Alpina zerumbet
Yellow rose
Polasek Museum landscape bed
Take time to go by and visit the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens.  The Holy Art of Imperial Russia will be available for viewing until April 13th.