Friday, October 27, 2006

Planting in SW Florida

A guest writer today, Michael Spencer ASLA, MSA Design, Inc

Regarding plant material that works in SW Florida, there are several good sources of information. Don't ever buy materials from Home Depot/ Lowes unless you know the material; while I frequently buy new plants there, I am careful about the natural ranges. These stores buy in bulk for the Southern part of the state, and material that works in Orlando [Azaleas, for example] will not work in Naples.

The best thing by far is to develop a relationship with a knowledgeable local person. This can be a neighbor or even a sales person at Lowe's, if you find the right one.

There are also books at Barnes and Noble that can help. Look for books by Pamela Crawford, Robert Haehle, or Gil Nelson.

There is also daves
for some advice, but again screen the advice.

By far the most important thing is to understand your soil conditions and amend as needed. Really. Don't waste money on plants until you have tested the soil; this is free at the Extension offices in Collier, Lee, and every other county in the country. We have an alkaline soil, mostly, that is very low in organic matter. You should amend the soil to 18" deep in the areas around the pond where you want rich plantings. Don't skimp on this. Period.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that if it is native it just works. This is not true, especially in the kinds of visual gardens that we want around our homes and around our pools.

DO prepare a plan. You need this before you buy your materials. When you do your planting plan, you do NOT need to know the plants you want to use [yet]. You draw your plant and you indicate where you need bed lines, where you want a small plant with blue flowers, where you want a big juicy tropical plant, etc; in short, a conceptual plan helps you frame the design. Then you can look for specific materials that match your concepts. Perhaps you want to use Philodendron, or Alpinia, as your tropical accent, for example. Once you start naming plants, the choices for adjacent plants can be made in terms of size or color or textural contrast. It starts to fit together like a glove. After you know your materials you can shop for the best prices.

Do not think about planting without irrigation in southwest Florida. And do not think that an irrigation system is necessarily 'anti-xeric'; it is assuredly not. A properly design irrigation system will give you a rich garden with the minimum amount of water usage.

Be aware of micro-climates and sun patterns. Our sun here is brutal beyond belief so be sure you understand it.

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