Planning a Small Backyard Garden in My Florida Yard

It’s January and now that the weather here in Florida is cooler, working in the yard has become a priority.

Yesterday I began to tear out vines from the back corner to see what type of trees and shrubs could be saved. The vines are everywhere and they grow up into the trees covering branches and bending small trees down.

Overgrown mess to clean up
Overgrown and neglected area of the yard

This little area of our small yard has been used to toss palm fronds and yard debris ever since we moved in. I never really knew for sure where our actual lot line was. Piles of dead branches and palm leaves can become a haven for small animals so I’ll have to be careful when cleaning up.

Backyard
Backyard lot line with neighbor’s white fence and travel trailer just beyond our hedges.

When the people behind us did some landscaping to move a big travel trailer behind their house, they tore out all the vegetation (on their side) which divides our properties. It opened up the view a lot, but they also put up a fence which required a survey and finding the lot lines.

New garde spot in my yard
Location of new garden area

Now that I can see the markers back here for our property line, I can better decide what to do with this area of the yard. First thing is to clean up the unwanted vines which are entwined all up in the trees.

Florida vines in the trees
Vines strangle the trees

Within my property line there is a large oak, tall palmetto, and another tall tree I can’t identify – it is red now, in January so maybe a red maple??? There are also smaller trees growing beneath a ton of vines. Many ferns act as ground cover in the area. I want to leave it as natural as possible while making it neater.

Overgrown mess in the yard
Yard cleanup

Yesterday I began pulling out the vines and tall grasses to uncover some growth. I don’t really know my Florida trees, so I’ll have to do a bit of investigating to identify what’s back there. I’ve begun a page listing photos of the trees, vines and shrubs to identify.

UF Florida Tree Species List

The University of Florida site also has lists of shrubs, and other ways to enhance a Florida yard for wildlife. I want this new garden area to be bird, butterfly and bee friendly. I will plant Florida native plants that attract our native wildlife.

Florida tree with dark green leaves
Unknown bush / tree – what i this???

I filled my two trash barrels with yard debris that won’t be picked up until Wednesday. Then, I will fill them again. I now have two additional piles of vines to drag down to the road.

I used to be very nervous working in my Florida yard – the yard from long ago. Back then, there were loads of snakes – some poisonous – but now most wild animals have lost their wilderness and I never see that type of thing these days. In the 4 plus years I’ve lived in this neighborhood I’ve seen three snakes. I rarely see a green lizard, and a turtle shows up now and then – not a gopher tortoise, but a water type turtle.

The worst thing I might encounter these days is fire ants hidden down in the tall grass.

I don’t like where I live, but I’ve decided to make the best of it. Cleaning up a little section of the yard will be a nice thing.

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.

Plant Shrubs in Winter, Readying the Garden Beds

weed fabric
The black fabric beneath the mulch has to go!

Today I did something that I have waited a long time to do.  I began work on my flower garden beds.  I am finally in my new home!   The big move began way back in January, and has taken the whole year.    There is still more to move from storage, and all the boxes need to be unpacked, but having a chance to work in MY yard again is a wonderful feeling.

We have merged two households, and I went from a three story house (including the basement) to a single story, no basement and small attic. So finding space for everyone’s stuff is challenging. There is a GoodWill nearby which I will be visiting often in the months to come.

Last night we bought garden dirt – 4 bags – and this morning I added it to two gardens. These are gardens which already have plants in them and I plan to add flowering shrubs to brighten the landscape.  The raised vegetable gardens are coming soon (fingers crossed).

All three planting beds have black fabric in the bottom, which I hate, and have removed from two beds. I don’t mind pulling weeds, and if a garden is done correctly, the weeds shouldn’t be a huge problem. So first thing I did was pull up the plastic fabric that is used for weed control.

garden bed prep
Front Garden

The garden bed near the front door has one overgrown shrub – which I am pretty sure I used to know the name of – and it needs to be cut way back. If it wasn’t already so large, I would probably take it out completely.  The bushy perennial blocks the breeze from entering my front windows, not to mention it mostly blocks the view out the front!

Since I am still busy with the house, my focus will be on the gardens already in place. Amending the soil and adding nutrients was my focus this morning. I pulled the old mulch out of the way to put the bagged dirt down, then mixed in some blood meal.

azalea shrub
This Azalea needs some help.

I did the same thing to the little area containing a raggedy looking azalea bush. I may cut this thing back and see if it will fill in more.
My plan is to fill in these gardens as I find plants for them. I can’t dig through the black fabric, so it had to go. Since this yard is new to me, I have to watch it for sunny and shady spots and buy plants accordingly. The azalea needs light shade and usually does well under the trees. It also likes acidic soil, which also happens to create blue flowering hydrangeas! I may be able to add some blue-flowering hydrangeas to this garden area, which is an exciting prospect.
While reading my gardening book, I discovered this about Florida planting: *Plant SHRUBS in winter AND *Plant TREES and PALMS in summer. Now (almost November) is the time to begin planning my perennial gardens. After that, it’s on to building the raised vegetable garden beds.

Now It’s Time to Rest

empty lawn chairs
Time to Rest

This past year has been one of the worst ever for me. That is mostly due to lack of finances and unexpected big bills. After a busy season, now it’s time to rest. My fingers are crossed for a restful and productive (business-wise) winter.

All summer I worked in the yard, planting and digging and enjoying the crops. My tomatoes were a huge disappointment, but everything else did quite well. I kept very busy working online all morning, and working in the yard for a few hours in the afternoon. We had a wonderful summer, and beautiful fall here in the northeast so the weather was usually cooperative.

We were graced with a spectacularly warm and sunny day just this week – in mid November! It was in the 60’s and I was raking leaves in a t-shirt! I didn’t work online that day, but spent all of it outdoors. I didn’t want to miss a moment of it. Even though my back was telling me I had done enough, I still had gutters to clean out and mulching to do, so I pushed myself more than I should have.

I dug up some parsley and mint to bring inside for the winter because they both still looked so darn good. I used the blower and rake and wheelbarrow to remove the masses of leaves that were everywhere, even though I had raked numerous times already. I paid for it with lots of aches the next day, but I was satisfied with my efforts.
Bring on the snow!

I took pictures on that bizarre summer-like day and will be using them as soon as I get the chance to load them to the photo library. My single blue hydrangea flower is beginning to dry out.  It never turned purple like last year.   All the limelight blooms are gone by, but they would make a nice dried bouquet for indoors, if I didn’t have a cat that would “play” with them.  I will trim up those plants soon so the snow won’t break the stems.

I’m ready for that rest.