Spring Gardening Tip: Plant Things That Won’t Die

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By Bryon White

While springtime in Florida is an ephemeral transition phase, to me it’s also a time of gardening transgression. Spring is when the most Florida gardening atrocities are committed, and it’s time to put an end to it.

Gardening in Florida doesn’t have to be a challenge, but we make it so much harder than it needs to be. We put plants in the ground which have no chance of making it here. This is a harsh place where the soil is garbage and the sun roasts everything to ashes. It’s too hot for northerly owers and too cold for ultra tropicals. Anything near the beach is fried by the salt air. So, the answer is simple – don’t plant stuff that can’t live here.

Stray away from exotic tropical species. The occasional hibiscus or bird of paradise are alright, but tender tropical plants are going to be toast when the weather turns cold again. If you live near the ocean, plant salt-tolerant species. Natives like dune daisy and sea grape are excellent choices.

Because our sandy soils drain quickly in most places, water-loving plants will die of thirst. Plant hardy species instead. For that exalted tropical appearance, plant saw palmetto, coontie and native paurotis. Queen palms offer a desirable feathered look while still being cold tolerant (although they like water). Society garlic and bulbine can add color, but are also low maintenance. Saving water and keeping a light workload are key in the sunshine state, and for that, natives and hardy perennials are a sure bet.

There are other unspeakable spring crimes we carry out in the garden, and the one that most comes to mind is the “hat racking” of crape myrtles. This is the act of cutting the trees back into weird and misshapen little hobbits. This has no benefit for the tree, and can actually cause harm.

Another act of injustice is known as “muhly murder” in which native sedges (grasses) are sawed in half for basically no reason. Both of these species are low maintenance and don’t need or thrive on this kind of attention. Leave them alone, and they will perform as good or better than they would if you gave them the Benihana treatment.

If you need guidance for your Florida garden, reach out your ag extension agent for Volusia County at UF/IFAS. Every county in Florida has one, and they are there to help you develop your green thumb.

Happy planting!

Volusia County Extension/Ag Center

3100 E New York Ave, DeLand, FL 32724 (386) 822-5778
Plant clinic listings on Volusia.org

Plant Faire – April 7 @ 8:30 AM – 12 PM

Hundreds of plants will be offered for sale at the 20th annual Master Gardener Plant and Vendor Faire from 8:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 7. The event will be held at the Volusia County Agricultural Center, 3100 E. New York Ave., DeLand.

Master gardeners have been sowing and growing all year to assemble plants ideal for growing in Central Florida. Bring a wagon and choose from a variety of butterfly and hummingbird plants, herbs and edibles, native plants, perennials, and trees. Plant and garden vendors also will be on site.

Admission and parking are free. Pets are not allowed, but service dogs will be admitted.

For a sneak peek of the plants, check out the Plant Faire Preview from 9 a.m. to noon Friday, April 6, at the Agricultural Center. Plants will not be sold during the preview, but master gardeners will answer questions and discuss the landscape potential of the available plants.

Proceeds will support the county’s Master Gardener Program. Master gardeners receive horticultural training from the University of Florida/Volusia County Extension and volunteer their time to answer questions and teach residents about gardening and landscaping. To learn more about the Master Gardener Program, visit www.volusia.org/master-gardener.


Bryon White is a writer, public servant, triathlete, and social entrepreneur. He is a graduate of New Smyrna Beach High School, the University of Central Florida, and Loyola University New Orleans. He resides in New Smyrna Beach with his wife, Megan, a teacher. His articles are featured monthly, and focus on life, art and culture.

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