Spring in Florida is Like Fall Only Uglier

Some people will say that Florida is one big season that just gets hotter at times. But Florida does have a Spring. It’s when the leaves fall off the trees and pollen collects as a yellow film on everything day after day. Yes, Spring is like Fall / Autumn here, in a way. It’s a duller, more annoying, version of Fall.

Florida oaks with moss branching over a road
Live Oaks – Spring

There are no colorful leaves, or crisp air to breathe, like in a real Autumn. The trees turn a brighter green with the new growth and the oaks drop those long brown things all over the cars (that don’t fit inside garages because that is where everything is stored because there are no basements). Oak leaves are small here and not like the oak leaves where I come from.

That’s about it. Other than that, new growth will appear when bushes are trimmed, but that can happen at any time of year. No use looking for tulips, forsythia, daffodils, or anything that signals Spring in many places, because those flowers don’t grow here in the jungle.

Spring Trimming of The Shrubs

A seasoned Floridian knows when to trim the shrubs. Don’t trim in winter as it will promote new growth that will freeze if the temperatures drop, which they sometimes do. Don’t trim azaleas until after they bloom in March or April. Plant new perennials well before the summer heat arrives. (Not this year. The nurseries are all closed.)

Trimmed hedge
Trimmed hedge of little ficus?

I have decided this year to try and fix up the shrubs along the front by the garage. These are hardy little things that are slow growing, so they are perfect for this area. I’m not sure of what they are, maybe some sort of ficus. I imagine they were planted when the house was built. Unfortunately, the sprinkler system didn’t reach them, and they’ve been ignored since I moved in over three years ago. I’m so sorry, but you did well enough without my help.

new growth on the shrubs
New growth

Now it’s time I paid attention and helped them out. I just recently cut them back a lot. The leaves were looking bad, as you can see I’m my photo. The stems had become spindly and leafless. I’m hoping that this trim will help them to fill out.

new growth on green shrubs

Already there is lots of new growth on the stems. I’ve added topsoil, fertilizer and mulch to this section of garden. My son bought, and installed, a little sprinkler head that sprays this garden specifically. It shouldn’t be long before this hedge is looking thick and lush.

How to Find Truly Organic Fertilizers, Bags of Soil, and Amendments

USDA organic seal
The USDA organic seal on carrot seeds package.

When shopping for food I always look for the USDA organic seal, like the one on this package of carrot seeds. Food, and products like seeds used to grow food, will contain the green organic label, but the fertilizer used to grow them will not.

Apparently garden fertilizer and bags of soil require different symbols to identify which are truly organic. The word “organic” alone means nothing when it comes to buying products you need to grow your own food.

It seems odd to me that we can easily pick up USDA certified seeds to plant, but it is not nearly as simple to find certified organic soil and fertilizer used to grow them.

Why The Word “Organic” is Not Enough

As I was writing a previous post about building up the dirt in my raised bed, I went looking at my bags of fertilizer. Sometimes I link to products I have bought in case readers are looking for the same type of thing. The one I checked was my bag of Milorganite.

DO NOT BUY MILORGANITE, especially if you are an organic gardener! And personally I will never go near the stuff again.  Once you look closely at the bag you may feel the same way.

Although this bag (my photos) contains the wording “organic nitrogen” (at the top on the front) and “eco friendly” (little yellow sign), when you look at the bottom of the back there is a “warning” sign (that exclamation point). Most of the labeling on the back of the bag is a bit scary.   Such warnings are:  Do not breath it in, wash immediately after touching, and do not apply before a heavy rain or near water drains. Yikes… I didn’t want this stuff anywhere near my vegetable garden, or in my yard for that matter!

So why did I buy this stuff in the first place?  For one thing the word “organic” at the top fooled me.   Apparently only the nitrogen is organic.  I really have no idea what that means, but the product is only 5% nitrogen.  The packaging is enticing with all their good wording choices and big photos.  Someone knows how to market.

But, once I looked closer at the bag, I thought something was wrong. Organic is good and natural, so why a warning? Because companies can use good-looking wording like “organic” and “natural” and “eco friendly” which all may mean nothing.

This got me wondering (and worrying) about the other organic-labeled products I have been using in my yard.  Are they really organic?

Inspecting Labels on My Purchased “Organic” Products

Here’s what I found when I looked at the products I use in my garden. From the soil we choose, to the fertilizers and amendments, everything must be truly organic if we want our vegetables and fruits to be organic.

This post about Identifying Organic Fertilizers at the Organic Its Worth It site was an eye-opener for me.

organic fertilizer
Which organic fertilizer is really organic?

So I inspected my bags further, looking for the symbols telling me that my products were truly considered okay for organic gardening.

Dr. Earth and Miracle-Gro Pass the Organic Labeling Test

Fortunately the soil and fertilizer I have been using are real organic products.

YES!  The Dr. Earth fertilizer contains three seals. One is OMRI Listed, and the other two are CDFA and MycoApply. Those two are so tiny I could barely read them, but they mean good stuff. Unfortunately not enough people understand these terms. OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) is the big one to look for. OMRI is a place where products must be certified useable in organic gardening. Once a product is approved, they can use the OMRI seal. This is what we have to look for when choosing fertilizers, soil, and amendments for the yard and garden.


The Dr. Earth website explains what the CDFA and MycoApply labels mean on their products.   The company is working to create good fertilizers which help the earth.  I was impressed with the earth-friendly info at their site.  No phony advertising here.

YES!  Recently I bought eight bags of Nature’s Care (by Miracle Gro) garden soil ($7.97 a bag at Home Depot) and was pleased to see the OMRI label at the bottom of the bags. I also use their bone meal which has the same label.

Also the Miracle-Gro Organic Choice Blood Meal (shown in my photo, but used up before I checked the packaging) is listed as organic at the OMRI site.  Use the site to search for products you have or plan to buy.

The OMRI site explains (read the “what is organic?” section) that the word “organic” is not regulated for fertilizer and non-food items. This allows companies to use the word when it is not necessarily true.  As I mentioned above, why?  Does this make sense to anyone?

Although I will now read labels and look first for that OMRI seal, as the writer the Organic It’s Worth It site mentioned, other wording can take the place of that seal.  I suppose not every truly organic company contains the seal of approval – I don’t know.  Be sure to look for certain wording on the labels of products. If the company claims that the product “meets the requirements for organic production” the product should be fine.

For this reason, I suggest shopping local for such products.  Label reading is easier than buying online.  At Amazon, when I searched for OMRI certified fertilizer I only found a few with the label.  Even though I may link to products on the Amazon site, I would rather check locally for these types of products. Often local shops will sell for less. Also, you can more easily read labels and purchase exactly what you see.

If you choose to buy online, here are some OMRI listed organic fertilizers found at Amazon:

Nature’s Care Organic BONE Meal – Bone meal supplies phosphorus for strong roots.

Nature’s Care Organic BLOOD Meal – Blood meal supplies nitrogen for green foliage.

The Dr. Earth store at Amazon

Burpee Citrus Fruit Fertilizer

Peonies in July, But Not in My Yard

When I first moved to Florida back in 1979, one flowering shrub I missed was my favorite – the Peony. My grandmother had them in her Massachusetts garden around her old white farmhouse, and the huge blooms impressed me as a child. The fluffiness of the blooms were like none I’d seen, and the peony instantly became my favorite flower.

This page contains my photos of the peonies I planted and tended for the five years I lived in my New Hampshire house.  They bloomed in July, so I thought I’d treat myself to a trip back in time, when I could walk into my yard and see these beautiful blooms.  I wonder if the new homeowners are enjoying them today.


I live in Florida for 27 years, without growing any peonies in my landscape. I had everything else a southern gardener could grow including a white and yellow jasmine along my fence.

Camellias of all colors grew under the shade of the big live oaks in my 2.5 acre yard. I had a magnolia tree, orange tree, gardenias, hibiscus, crotons, and bougainvillea, lots of crepe myrtle, a stag horn fern, and more that I can’t remember now. ┬áBut peonies don’t grow in the deep south.

I really missed seeing peony flowers, and when I moved back to New England in 2005, I couldn’t wait to have some growing in my yard. Unfortunately, I ended up not having a yard of my own to plant them in until years later. But once I had my own home, I went out and bought a peony bush. I believe the Sarah Bernhardt (light pink flowering peony) was the first, and I can’t find a picture of that flower in my photos… but that one is my favorite.  (I’ll keep looking for a picture!)

I don’t recall the name of this white flowering Peony. I always kept the name of the plant in the soil beneath the shrub so I could recall the name. I no longer live there, and I’ve forgotten.

I know that the bright pink flower, with the yellow center is the Karl Rosenfeld. It’s not as fluffy as the other types I grew, but it was unique.

Peony flowers don’t last long.  I loved to photograph the buds too.  If I missed a day or two, and didn’t go outside (due to weather) I could miss the prime blooming time!

Most of my peonies – 3 plants – grew along an old wooden fence near the driveway.  The Karl Rosenfeld was planted out back.  The front gardens, near the house got too much sun for growing peonies, so I reserved that area for sun-loving shrubs.

Peonies are easy to grow, but some years they don’t get many flowers.  When they do bloom, ants can be found crawling all over the flowers.  Usually a cage or holder of some kind is needed to keep the stems upright once they flower.  It’s best to put the cage up and let the stems grow up through.

Viewing a sprouting peony in Spring, was just what I needed after a long cold winter!  Here they come….

peony in early spring
The Peony is growing!

How to Care For a Desert Rose Plant

desert rose pink flowers
Desert Rose in Garden

When I was given this flowering plant as a gift I was told it was a Plumeria. After seeing this same plant at the local Home Depot store, I discovered it was a Desert Rose. But before I knew what it was, I had taken it out of the original pot and put it into a sunny location in the backyard.

Sun is exactly what this flowering plant craves. But the word “desert” caused me to believe less water was better. The truth is that this plant did well with and without water.

Today I am watering it frequently, and it is thriving! So much for the “desert” title.

At the time I planted it, we were have a long dry spell here in Florida. The Desert Rose did well. I avoided watering it when I watered the hibiscus next to it, and the plant even sent out new buds, which you can see blooming at the bottom of the stalk.

Florida is a tropical place, but some areas are more tropical than others.  I am in the central part of the state and it can get very cold (below freezing) here overnight in winter.  I was afraid the Rose would die, so I ended up digging it up and putting it into a (bright orange) pot.

pink desert rose in orange pot
Dug up and potted

The Secret to Growing a Desert Rose in Florida

Sunlight is most important, with plenty of heat. The plant can deal with lack of water (I’ve tried that), but it also loves a daily spray with the hose.

These plants develop a very thick “stem” or caudex (see them in the photo below).  This is the part that holds in the water to keep the plant thriving in drought conditions.  But apparently it does not need to grow in a desert to thrive.

Keep it in a pot so it can come inside when temperatures drop – some sites say below 60 degrees and others say 40. Just bring it inside when it gets cold to be safe.

Pictures of My Desert Rose and How It Has Grown

As I mentioned above, this plant was a gift to me shortly after I moved into my house in 2016. I’ve had the plant for nearly 2 years now.

After a period of dormancy during the winter, suddenly lots of buds began to show up.  New little leaves began to grow from the base of the stem. This was about the time when aphids were appearing on all my plants outside. A daily check, and I would spray the buggers off with the hose. I let the lady bugs take care of most of the aphids in my garden, but the Rose is not near the vegetables.

desert rose
Blooming Desert Rose, after winter
desert rose plant in pot
Give it sunshine!  It is slow growing.

In the photo below, lots of greenery is showing on the plant, which has stopped blooming for now.  It will take this time to put effort into growing stems and leaves before it begins to flower again.
Right now I am not sure when that will be.  This plant flowers more than once a year, so I expect to see buds forming soon.

green leaves on desert rose
August 2018, glossy green leaves on my desert rose.  I spray it with the hose every day.

More Information About The Desert Rose

The Desert Rose is similar in appearance to the plumeria / frangipani tree and Oleander.  The unique aspect is the thick stems. The Oleander does grow in Florida, but I have not seen Plumeria trees. Maybe they will grow in the southern part of the state.  For more information about growing the desert rose elsewhere, read my friend’s article: Desert Rose Adenium Plant for Gardening and Bonsai.

Like the Oleander plant, the Rose contains poisonous sap.   It may not be a good choice as a houseplant for families with young kids for this reason.

The South Florida Plant Guide site has more info.