February 20, 2008

Gardening in Florida

A typical frontyard garden with large areas of grass

A drought tolerant garden suitable for the conditions

I'm not in a ritzy upscale area in the Tampa Bay area but it is interesting to observe the different gardening styles on my daily walks about the neighborhood.

Despite the lack of adequate rainfall and watering restrictions it seems that large expanses of lawns are the rule around here. The grass used for the lawns looks like quake grass that we pull out for weeds in Chicago and it takes a lot of water and maintenance to survive.

I've only come across one or two gardens that have no grass and use all drought resistant plants and other tropicals that can endure the intense Florida summers.

I am amazed that huge trees such as the live oaks are planted so close to houses, given the danger of hurricanes and tornadoes. The soil is almost pure sand here and the trees are easily uprooted during a storm.

I am also puzzled at how Azaleas thrive in this sand that lacks the acidity that they love and am amused at how houseplants in northern climes are plopped in the ground and grown as garden plants.


  1. I love the non-grass gardens and I fully intend to do so with what grass we have left !
    The quandry I am in is I love that "southwestern"? look of cacti and succulents .. which is impossible for me .. Canadian eh ? LOL .. but what a garden they make!

  2. Hi and welcome to Sweet Home and Garden Chicago. I've gotten rid of all the grass in my back garden and replaced it with a cedar deck that's covered with a pergola. Much nicer than grass.

    I have very little grass growing in my front garden as well. I just keep that area for my little dog to play on.

  3. We have almost succeeded in eradicating the grass in our lawn as well. As for the live oaks, please let me get a word in for them. The live oaks are native to Florida--many houses are built around and under them. Live oaks are hurricane-resistant, their roots interlace (in natural conditions), making them very unlikely to be damaged by high winds. The problem occurs when their roots are damaged by too close construction or the tree itself is pruned viciously.

  4. Hi Becca,

    Don't get me wrong, I love the live oaks ! They are a symbol of strength for the South. Folks in this neighborhood told me that several were downed by the hurricane and smashed into their houses.

    I'm glad to hear that their roots interlace and make them hurricane-resistant.

  5. You found a really neat garden there. I didn't get much chance to look at the gardens this year because I came down with a ferocious cold my 2d day & spent most of my time in a cabana on the beach. I hope your trip was better.

  6. Hey MMD,

    Sorry to hear that you came down with a nasty cold. My trip was great, we had good weather all the way up to Tennessee which was rainy, albiet ,not too bad.

  7. I am like you and love seating areas around the garden. I have to sit down with my tea and see what has changed, or what has a surprise for me. I'm growing lots of grass right now. I'm planning big beds too---so I'm dirt poor. It cost me a fortune to have all that dirt brought in. Next year I hope to compost enough leaves to get my potting soil.

  8. I live in the middle of 7.5 acres (not in FL, but still drought land.) Most of my grass is native Bermuda. It manages the heat and drought with aplomb. I keep digging up parts of it though. I wonder if more FL gardeners will comment and tell us if their grass is easy to keep.~~Dee

  9. Hi Dee,

    May this is Bermuda grass that I'm looking at? It's very rough looking. My friends that live in Florida said that grass is high maintenance in the intense heat here , especially with watering bans in effect and that are strictly enforced.

  10. Hey there carolyn,

    I'm sorry, I wasn't meaning you didn't like the live oaks. I have heard the argument many times that the oaks are bad in a hurricane. What I meant to say is that they are inherently resistant, it's just too much construction and poor pruning that make these giants among the first to topple in strong winds.

  11. That's okay, becca, I unestood what ou meant. I was just going by hearsay in the neighborhood here.

  12. Hi Carolyn: I've been in and out of internet service for the past few days and somehow missed this post. Trying to catch up now.
    Like the bench and bromeliads in your garden area. I'm not a fan of the rocks in lieu of grass although I know that is a common sight near the beaches.

    Most of the grass used here is either Bermuda which goes semi-dormant in the winter. It can handle the drought pretty well greening up quickly with irrigation. St. Augustine is the other variety used most often. It is beautiful & lush when healthy but a bit of a high maintenance grass. Needs water and the water restrictions have been a challenge over the last few years.

    I actually have wonderful soil but it is due to years of amending it with oak leaves and grass clippings. But generally you are right that the Florida soil is known for being sandy - especially the closer you get to the coastal areas.

  13. Carolyn: I meant to say Bahia when I said Bermuda. Sorry. Bahia is very drought tolerant. Bermuda is much like St. Augustine - the way you can identify it will be the runners it produces and it has a wider blade than Bahia. Bahia is what you see growing along the roadsides/interstates in Florida.

    In North Florida they grow the variety Centipede grass for most lawns. More info than you needed I'm sure.

  14. Thanks, Meems. I'm not familiar with all the different types of grass in Florida so thanks for identifying them.

    I love a nice lush expanse of lawn in some instances but rocks really appeal to me as more natural, especially in hot, dry areas.

    They dug trenches for running cable around here the other day and I was amazed to see it was pure sand and perhaps limestone mixed in.

    I'd rather have sand any day than clay. It's much easier to amend . I thought I'd left the Alabama red clay behind when I moved to Chicago but someone had over amended my plot with sludge that turned into clay.


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