Cracking the ‘code’ of South Florida gardens


Book information

“Florida: Getting Started Garden Guide” by Tom MacCubbin and Georgia B. Tasker (Cool Springs Press, $24.99 in paper)

For people who didn’t grow up in Miami — that’s most of us — gardening in South Florida is a mystery. The answers to dealing with limestone soil, summer downpours and strange bugs are like a secret code, and we have not been initiated into the society that knows the rules.

Many of us brought our gardening habits with us from the Northeast or the Midwest — plant our vegetable gardens and annual flowers in the spring, rip out the tomatoes and replace them with cool-weather vegetables in the fall. It’s hard to erase those instincts. Frustrated with the zinnias that die in early summer, it would never occur to us to plant them in the fall.

But that’s the solution for those of us who aren’t ready to replace our zinnias and marigolds with tropical gingers and heliconia, and the details are in a newly revised edition of a Florida gardening book.

Florida: Getting Started Garden Guide focuses on ornamentals rather than vegetable gardens. It covers the entire state, from the bluffs of the Appalachicola River to the stony dry reefs of the Florida Keys. The book was co-authored by Georgia B. Tasker, former gardening writer for the Miami Herald and now a writer at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and Tom MacCubbin, who writes a gardening column for the Orlando Sentinel and hosts a radio program on gardening.

The book recommends 175 plants, including flowers, shrubs, trees, vines and groundcovers, many of them Florida natives. It tells when to plant each of them, varieties best suited for Florida, what kind of soil and light each prefers, what their water and fertilizer needs are and what pests they attract. Most important, with South Florida’s upside-down growing seasons and conditions, it tells how to grow them in different parts of the state.

For someone like me, a Californian who misses her flower garden, the book offers hard-nosed practical advice. You’ll find me out shopping for snapdragons and geraniums.

Marjie Lambert is the editor of the Miami Herald’s Home & Design section and was Georgia Tasker’s editor at the Herald.

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