flowering croton

Getting Ready to Fill The Yard with Flowering Plants

February is the time to begin thinking about planting here in Central Florida. Not only vegetables, but replenishing the yard after the winter freeze. I’m still getting used to gardening in this weird climate.

In New Hampshire

I had gardening down pat in the north.  I had a yard full of wonderful flowers.  It took me a few years to get them going, but once the Monarda (Bee Balm) and Cone Flowers (Echinacea) began to grow, I counted on them bringing birds and beneficial bugs to my yard.  And they did.

Besides those perennials, I had wild blackberries and raspberries, lots of dandelions, some Queen Anne’s Lace, and other “weeds” which flowered as well.  And then there were the hydrangeas, lilacs, daisies and peonies that kept the yard pretty throughout the season.  If you live in a climate that supports these types of plants, put them in your yard!

nasturtiums in glass pot
Nasturtiums in pot – my photo

I knew what I could plant in my yard. I dug in the rich New England dirt, added some bone meal and fertilizer and the plants were happy. In winter they went to sleep and appeared again in Spring. They grew bigger each year.

Florida Growing is Not Easier

Now my growing knowledge is turned upside down.  I don’t know what to plant.  I live in a place without winter, but we do get freezing temperatures. We also get months of extreme heat which some flowering plants can’t handle. Nothing hibernates here. I think I’ve lost my beautiful croton this winter.  Yes, it’s in a big pot – and that makes a difference, but this one I can’t move indoors.

dead croton in a barrel
This was a beautiful croton and hibiscus

See how pretty this was on this page. Makes me want to give up on planting altogether.

I have to learn what to plant and what will live in 100 degrees and also in 20 degrees. I covered my outside plants this winter, and they died anyway. These tropical plants do best when they can be brought indoors overnight if temps will be dropping.

I don’t want a yard full of pots that I have to lug back and forth… I want a pretty flower garden. I’m not so sure it’s possible, but I will give it a try.

Since the “dirt” here is simply worthless sand, any time I think about growing something, I know I will have to build my own dirt.

At the present time my plan is to fill up some of my grow bags with a mixture of good garden dirt (from my raised bed) and bone meal or blood meal and plant something that flowers.

bird bath with cardinal
Female Cardinal in Bird Bath

For the birds, I already have a birdbath which I view birds using every day. In fact they sometimes fight each other over the water, to drink and bathe in.  Next I will add a tray feeder.  Because I live next to a lot that has not been cleared, there are plenty of trees and bushes where the birds can land and hide. They especially love the Dahoon Holly tree which is not in my yard, but close.

challenge perseverance trials

Life Has Taught This: Always Be Ready For a Challenge

I will not get into the series of unfortunate events that have been my life thus far, but I have learned to always be ready for a challenge. Challenging times come more regularly for some of us and I am currently under the impression that we are either born lucky, or unlucky.

The unlucky ones face adversity often in whatever form it takes. Non-quitters will face the challenge and do their best to overcome. We persevere until we get it right, or acknowledge that we simply don’t have what it takes to do so.

And move on.

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Gardening is in my blood. Like so many people who simply enjoy digging in the dirt, planting and watching the miracle of plant growth happen, I can’t stay away.  Making a dull yard come to life with plantings is exciting.  It is also a lot of work and costs money.

My current yard is the biggest gardening challenge I have faced. This is one of the only places I have ever lived where I don’t want to go outside and see what is going on in my yard. This makes it hard to plan, and plant, and grow things.

I can picture a nice backyard in my mind. In involves a fence, pool, patio, potted citrus trees and other Florida native species enclosed in my little oasis. In my younger years I would have gladly taken on this challenge. It could have happened a little at a time. I’m not so sure these days.

peaceful tranquil sea view
Backyard Paradise

Trying to be positive in a bad situation means putting on blinders. Be blind to what I don’t like. Focus on what is good. Eat that elephant one bite at a time. Story of my life. The thing is that life runs out. Time runs out. Will I still be trying to get to where I want to be on my dying day?

No matter. The first bite I take will entail garden soil readiness. In March I can plant tomatoes, zucchini (in a fabric bag because of it’s size), beans, peppers and cucumbers. First I need more soil added to the raised bed, and for the fabric pots.

Being prepared for planting is necessary if I want to attempt to grow vegetables.  I’m not thinking about the vegetable stealing raccoons (except to write it here).  They will be a future challenge.

Once that first bite is swallowed, on to the second. This is a good way to face a challenge. Circumstances can seem too overwhelming to move forward unless changes happen a little at a time. Making progress is what keeps us going.

backyard garden scene
My Backyard Garden – 2014 (NH)

Gardeners always face challenges.  I’ve found that yard difficulties are easy to deal with than life difficulties but every problem can be faced the same way.  And it teaches patience.  One year I had a ton of beautiful tomatoes growing in my New Hampshire backyard.  Then blight struck.  I ended up with NONE!  After months of waiting and wondering what I would do with all those beautiful, fresh tomatoes, they rotted before they could be picked.

Often we have no choice but to go with the flow and make the best of it.  Learn from our mistakes and say, “Maybe next year”.   It is disheartening, but we get over it.  Dwelling is not a good thing.  It changes nothing and saps our energy for overcoming the next challenge.  And they keep coming…. stay strong.

(Thanks to the artists and photographers at Pixabay for the images on this post.)

dead croton in a barrel

Lots of Brown Plants After Florida Freeze

A week or go ago here in central Florida we had about three nights in a row where temperatures got into the twenties. Tropical plants do not like a Florida freeze.
They can handle a short stretch of cold, but not the constant, ongoing cold. One day I went out to dump out the ice in the bird bath and filled it with new water – which froze over again. That is unusual. Daytime brings warmer temperatures, but not that day. It was too much for plants which love sun and heat.
The saddest example of death in the yard is my beautiful croton. I have a few “baby plants” started from it and they have survived the cold. If I have to I can replant.

dead croton in a barrel
This was a beautiful croton and hibiscus

These banana trees sprung up at the edge of my yard and I’ve watched them grow for the past year. I think the house behind me threw some old banana trees over into the woods and they simply grew. They were getting tall and looking good and then the hurricane hit. The wind shredded the long leaves on the banana tree. Now we’ve had cold which has turned all the shredded leaves brown. Poor thing doesn’t look too good now.

dying banana trees after freeze
Banana Trees

The New Guinea impatiens that have been growing in the front garden – and survived throughout last winter – are brown and wilted.

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My hibiscus is planted right next to the house, which usually helps when cold temps set in. I also covered it on two of the really cold nights. That didn’t keep the entire front part of it from turning brown.

Hibiscus front part dead
Front part of hibiscus is brown and dead

The bougainvillea which had just recently begun to grow larger is now a spindly brown vine.
dead plant due to freeze
First my eggplant died along the top. I covered it, and that didn’t seem to do much good. After the second night of low temps the rest of the plant turned brown. I’m not too sad because it has given me only one eggplant.  That’s it in the background of the picture below.

dead eggplant leaves after freeze
Eggplant is dead, but pepper lives on for now

I always believed that pepper plants loved heat, but this bell pepper plant is still nice and green when everything else has mostly died. I don’t know if it will continue to grow, but I hope so. I had been getting small green peppers from it fairly regularly.

I took a walk around my neighborhood the other morning and got this photo of an oak tree with a huge vine crawling up through the branches. I’d seen it before, but noticed this time that many of the big tropical leaves were brown.

big leaves in oak tree turned brown
Vine of big leaves growing up an oak tree

It is possible that these plants will come back. If the roots have not been killed, green will show up once again. The eggplant already has some little green leaves sprouting at the base of the plant.

I found a “Cold Hardy Plant List” for central Florida on the Central Florida Gardener site. I’ll have to look into it further when I decide to upgrade my landscape.

ice in birdbath

Ice In Florida is Not So Common

We have had some cold weather here in Florida recently and I guess it’s so we don’t feel left out this winter.  With temps in the minus 20’s back in New England, I won’t get any pity for the cold I deal with in Florida.  But for us here in the south, ice is not so common.

It felt like 22 degrees overnight for three nights in a row and that has done some damage to plantings.

My eggplant stalks are now dead at the top and it looks like the poinsettia is totally dead.  I could have gone out and covered the plants each night, but I just didn’t care enough to do so.

frozen eggplant plant
Frozen top of eggplant

This plant has grown like mad but given me only one eggplant to eat. I am not so sure I want this plant taking over my tiny garden area without giving me any vegetables to eat.

Winter is only beginning and if I want to save my outdoor plants they will have to be covered every time the temps drop below freezing. I have sheets and towels ready to use for covering, but I don’t have anything that important to save. Only my lime tree is worth the trouble and I can bring it indoors on cold nights, which I did.
The birdbath iced over for three nights and my cat, Skittle, was confused as to why she couldn’t drink from it.  I took a short video with my iPhone which you can see below.