South Florida Gardening Guide

South Florida Gardening Guide

Does gardening in South Florida have you confused? Check out our guide to gardening in this region. By Justin Hancock
By Justin Hancock

When I moved to South Florida from the Midwest, it took me a while to fully understand how different the subtropical climate here is from the continental climate where I grew up. South Florida sees a ton of sunny days, abundant summer moisture, and a year-round growing season. In fact, a lot of plants I grew up with as houseplants (including crotons and ti plants) are landscape plants here. If you’re trying to figure out South Florida, or are looking for tips to maximize your planting success, read on. I’ll share everything you need to know. 

South Florida Weather
South Florida boasts a tropical climate. This means we experience warm summers with abundant rainfall and humidity. Then we enjoy cooler, drier weather in fall and winter. The dry season typically starts in October and runs through April or so. It’s called the dry season because average rainfall may be only an inch or two each month. Temperatures, humidity levels, and average rainfall rise in the rainy season. 

Fun fact: Our tropical climate is similar to that seen in parts of the Philippines, Malaysia, Brazil, and Venezuela.

South Florida USDA Hardiness Zones
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) divides the country into zones. These hardiness zones are based on the average low temperature an area experiences. These zones are one guide for whether a perennial, tree, or shrub should survive the winter. Note: USDA hardiness zones don’t consider our summer heat, which can be as limiting to some plants as winter cold. Here are the USDA hardiness zones for some of South Florida’s largest cities. 
Fort Lauderdale: 10b
Fort Myers: 10a
Key Largo: 11a
Key West: 11b
Miami: 10b, 11a
Naples: 10a
West Palm Beach: 10a, 10b  
Don’t see your city? See more areas in Florida by USDA Hardiness Zone.  

South Florida Soil
Much of South Florida has soil high in sand, which is both a blessing and a curse. The high sand content allows quick drainage in summer after heavy rains, helping prevent plants from drowning. But in the dry season, it means the ground doesn’t hold moisture well when rain is scarce. This makes it necessary to water some plants to keep them going through the winter. Sandy soils also don’t tend to hold nutrients well, making fertilization helpful. 

If you struggle with sandy soil that dries out fast and leaves your plants looking hungry all the time, the best thing you can do is add organic matter, such as compost. Compost improves sandy soil by acting like a sponge. It helps hold moisture and slowly releases it as plants need it. Compost also gives the soil a better place to store nutrients, making them more available to your plants. And, compost encourages beneficial microorganisms in the soil that give your plants an important boost. 

Another great thing you can do is spread several inches of mulch over your soil. Mulch helps keep soil cooler and prevents water loss to evaporation. Plus, it keeps weeds at bay! 
Learn more about Florida soil.  

South Florida Monthly Gardening Tips
Ixora HedgeAdd Trees and Shrubs: 
Been thinking about planting a hedge for privacy, or adding shrubs or trees for structural interest? Now’s a great time to get them in the ground.
Plant annuals: This is the time of year we get to enjoy annuals that like it a little cooler. Some of my favorites are fragrant dianthus, colorful petunia, stately snapdragon, and easy-care zinnia. 
Improve Your Soil: It’s a great time, while temperatures are a bit cooler, to topdress planting beds with an inch or two of compost. 
Water When Necessary: Because this is the dry season, keep an eye on moisture levels. Water as necessary. Note: Save money on water by using a soaker hose and covering it with mulch. It delivers moisture directly to the zone where your plants’ roots are -- and you don’t lose water to evaporation.
Learn more about mulch.

Enjoy Winter Bloomers: 
Winter-blooming plants, such as Bolivian Sunset gloxinia; hibiscus; and yesterday, today, and tomorrow provide rich color to South Florida garden beds and borders, as well as landscapes.
Fertilize Landscape Plants: This month is a good time to fertilize perennials, trees, and shrubs in your landscape to give them a boost when they put on new growth.
Grow Your Own Food: Now’s a great time to plant cucumbers, peppers, sweet corn, and sweet potatoes. 
Prune Roses: Because roses don’t go dormant here like they do in the North, yearly pruning is a must to keep them from getting out of control. Now’s a good time to cut them back. Lush, new growth will emerge soon. 
Watch for Spider Mites: Spider mites are tiny pests that love warm, dry weather. If there’s an infestation on your plants, you may notice they grow more slowly or are stunted and the leaves have a stippled look. You may see tiny webbing (much smaller and finer than spiders’ webs) on the bottom of plant leaves. Spray plants with water or use an insecticidal soap (following instructions on the packaging) to keep them at bay. 

Globe AmaranthAttend Gardening Festivals: 
Look for plant shows and garden festivals in the region. They offer a way to connect with local experts and get more planting ideas. 
Give Your Lawn a Boost: If you need to fertilize your lawn to encourage it to fill in and crowd out weeds better, do so early this month.
Grow Heat-Tolerant Annuals: As temperatures rise and winter annuals fade, give your garden beds and borders a fresh look with more heat-tolerant varieties such as crossandra, gerbera daisy, globe amaranth, and New Guinea impatiens.
Prune Trees and Shrubs: Toward the end of the month, you can prune dormant trees and shrubs, as well as winter-flowering varieties. (Note: Prune winter-flowering varieties a month or so after their flowers fade. They begin making next year’s blooms after that -- so pruning too late can result in fewer flowers next year.)

Continue Replacing Annuals: 
We usually see South Florida temperatures really start to rise this month. Replace struggling annuals with others that like it hot -- including evolvulus, Mexican heather, and pentas. 
Divide Perennials: Some perennials, such as African iris, daylily, and Garvinea gerbera daisy, develop large clumps over time. Divide them to keep the plants doing their best. 
Plant Trees and Shrubs: You can continue to get new trees and shrubs in your yard this month before the real heat sets in. When thinking about what to add, consider plants that do double duty. For example, golden dewdrop and firebush both provide privacy and attract butterflies when grown as a tall hedge. 

Basil (Ocimum)Add Flavor to Your Yard: 
Though you don’t want to plant most vegetables this time of year, it’s a great time to bring in herbs that don’t mind the heat. Top picks to plant now include basil, lemongrass, and rosemary.
Bring in Heat-Tolerant Annuals: If you need to replace any annuals, go for tried-and-true types that take our summer weather. I love angelonia, pentas, purslane, and salvia. 
Keep an Eye out for Pests: Attacking pests or diseases when they first appear can prevent them from becoming big problems. Pruning diseased growth (dipping pruning tools in rubbing alcohol between cuts) can stop the problem from spreading throughout your yard. 
Prep for Summer Weather: Hurricane season officially starts this month. Prune any trees or shrubs that need it before rough weather arrives. Trees that show the best wind resistance include gumbo limbo (Bursera), buttonwood (Conocarpus), live oak (Quercus), pindo palm (Butia), and Canary Island date palm (Phoenix). 

Make Your Soil Better: 
Your garden and landscape plants will appreciate it if you topdress with soil with an inch or two of compost now. As compost breaks down, it improves your soil’s ability to hold nutrients. 
Plant Palms: Been thinking about adding a palm or two to your yard? It’s a great time to do it. Palms don’t mind the heat and the start of the rainy season should mean you don’t have to water as much to get your new palm established.
Replenish Mulch: If the mulch around your planting beds is becoming thin, add a fresh layer now. It will give your yard a crisp, clean look and you won’t believe how well it cuts down on weeds. 
Splash in Some Color: Brighten dull areas of your yard with easy-care, summer-loving annuals or perennials, such as annual vinca, heliconia, Mexican heather, plumbago, and salvia.
Think About Fall: If you want to grow your own pumpkins, now’s the time to plant so they have time to grow and produce in time for fall and Halloween.

Purple LantanaDeadhead Flowers: 
Remove spent blooms from your favorite flowers. This keeps many blooming longer and more profusely through the summer. Plus, it stops them from dropping seeds and acting weedy if you don’t have enough mulch down.
Grow Groundcovers: Warm-season lawns here in South Florida kick into high gear this time of year. If you don’t want to worry about mowing so much, replace sections with easy-care groundcovers. Top picks include Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum), evolvulus, liriope, perennial peanut (Arachis), and purple lantana (Lantana montevidensis).
Repot Container Plants: If you have any plants growing in pots, check to see if they’ve outgrown their digs. Rootbound plants need more frequent watering and may be stunted. 
Save Money on Water: If you have an irrigation system, invest in an override device. It will detect if your yard is moist enough and keep sprinklers from going off when they don’t need to. 

Colorize Your Yard: 
Need a burst of color? Add heat-loving annuals and perennials like angelonia, annual vinca, coleus, evolvulus, Mexican heather, and purslane to garden beds, borders, and containers. Remember, a few pots on your front porch or doorway is an easy, and inexpensive, way to add instant curb appeal.
Eat What You Grow: Late this month is the time to start thinking about and planting many traditional vegetables. This includes cantaloupe, carrot, eggplant, peppers, potatoes, summer squash, tomatoes, and watermelons. 
Plan the Future: Don’t want to go outside in the heat/humidity/rain/bugs? Pay attention to what windows you spend the most time looking out and plan to plant beds to beautify your view from the inside. This fall, when temperatures cool and gardening is easier, you can execute your plan.
Plant for Pollinators: Keep your yard full of colorful and happy pollinators by planting butterfly bush (Buddleia), firebush (Hamelia), firecracker plant (Russelia), firespike (Odontonema), milkweed (Asclepias), and passionflower (Passiflora).

Add Perennials: 
Enjoy perennials that keep going all year long (and for years, with good care). Not sure what plants to pick for South Florida? Try crossandra, daylily (Hemerocallis), Garvinea gerbera, and milkweed (Asclepias curassavica).
Decorate for Fall: Want to get the fall look in your yard? Add marigolds, mums, ornamental peppers, pumpkins, straw bales, and other seasonal décor
Get Your Tools in Shape: One simple way to make working in the garden easier is to sharpen blades and edges on your pruning shears and shovel. While a lot of us don’t think about shovels, having a sharp edge makes digging holes a lot easier.
Grow Your Own Food: It’s still perfect planting time for most of your favorite vegetables -- carrot, eggplant, pepper, potato, summer squash, tomato, and watermelon. 

Get Strawberries In: 
If you want to grow your own delicious strawberries next spring, now’s the time to plant. You can enjoy strawberries in the ground or in container gardens. Mulch well and water regularly.
Grow Herbs: This month is ideal for planting just about every herb, including basil, cilantro, mint, rosemary, and sage. 
Plant Cool-Season Vegetables: As temperatures (finally!) drop, plant vegetables that don’t like heat, including beets, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, lettuce, and spinach.
Stop Lawn Weeds: Keep lawn weeds at bay by using a pre-emergence herbicide. These products prevent seeds from sprouting.

RoseAdd Fresh Color: 
Now that it’s cooler, you can plant annuals that like cooler weather again, including petunia, strawflower, and viola. 
Continue with Cool-Season Veggies: If you didn’t plant vegetables last month, add vitamin-rich, cool-weather vegetables to your beds, borders, and planters. Tip: stagger plantings so you have a little to harvest each week instead of all at once.
Plant Your Heart Out: Cool temperatures mean it’s a great time to plant perennials, shrubs, and trees for year-round interest and structure in your landscape. 
Invest in Roses: If you want the romance and beauty of a rose, now’s a good time to plant. Because many roses don’t like our climate, do your research and select varieties like ‘Mutabalis’ or ‘Old Blush’ that are adapted to South Florida.

Decorate for the Holidays: 
Set out cone-shaped Eugenia topiaries, rosemary trees, and baskets of red and white New Guinea impatiens or SunPatiens for seasonal flair. 
Feed Hummingbirds: Plant hummingbird-friendly plants to feed these critters that have migrated to our area for the winter. Don’t have room to plant for them? Set up a hummingbird feeder. Get more tips 
Set Up Sprinklers: Now that we’re in the heart of the dry season, set up sprinklers if you don’t have an irrigation system to help keep your favorite plants well hydrated.

Best Plants for South Florida
Not sure what to plant? We’ve put together a collection we call Flowers for Florida. These plants were selected by our growers to thrive in Florida’s tough weather all year long and proven to perform in our Miami Trial Garden. Because different plants like various conditions, we switch up the plants to make sure the varieties in your local garden center are the best to plant for that particular time of year. Pick up different Flowers for Florida varieties throughout the year to ensure your yard has blooms all year long!