From freezing temperatures in the north to hurricanes from coast to coast, Florida packs in plenty of weather -- and plenty of landscaping challenges for home gardeners. Here's a guide to understanding the basics of Florida landscaping.
North Florida is considered the part of the state that's north of Marion County, says Tom Wichman, statewide coordinator for the Florida Master Gardener program. There, the soil has lots of variation -- clay in the panhandle, sandy elsewhere -- making it paramount that homeowners learn what they will be working with before diving into Florida landscaping.
While elevation isn't an issue, temperature extremes are. "North Florida almost always gets a freeze -- at least one hard freeze if not several," Wichman says. Even so, North Florida still gets hot and humid; the farther inland you go and more removed from ocean breezes, the hotter it gets -- at least by a degree or two.
North Florida landscaping is also distinguished by fewer tropical and subtropical plants, says Erin Alvarez, a landscape instructor and Florida-Friendly Landscaping program faculty advisor for the Environmental Horticulture department at the Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology. "It really looks more like Georgia and Alabama, with tall hardwoods," Alvarez says. In addition, the more you progress from the coast inland, the more the landscape turns from flatwoods to uplands with hills, along with clay soil.
Central Florida extends roughly on the west side of the state to Tampa, straight across to Ocala. Here, the danger of frost damaging Florida landscaping is less pronounced, although temperatures may still dabble around the freezing mark, Alvarez says. "There's usually at least one freeze, and sometimes it gets into the 30s for temperature."
As in the rest of the state and the country, microclimates can make for varying Florida landscaping conditions, even in the same region. Central Florida has both sandy and clay areas, and even within counties the soil may be quite different, Wichman says.
The upland pine hill and sandhill ecology is also more prevalent in Central Florida, and new developments are often sited in old citrus groves, which can affect the quality and kind of soil. There's also slight elevation change in Central Florida, but none of the extremes found in mountainous states.
Another key factor that can change Florida landscaping in every region: hurricanes. Hurricanes can uproot trees and plants, change the soil, and flood a region.
The defining characteristic of the weather in the third region, South Florida, is heat. Freezes are rare, particularly the more south you get, and the soil changes too, Alvarez says. "It becomes very rocky with swampy areas, and the center of the state used to be Everglades, much of which is now developed."
Night temperatures don't drop as much as elsewhere in the state. That means what are houseplants in the rest of the country are year-round outdoor plants in South Florida. "There's a wide difference in plant material, even from North Florida," Alvarez says. "It's much more tropical."
No matter what region they're in, the coastal areas have their own Florida landscaping challenges due to salt spray and wind pressure. "There are still temperature variations from north to central to south, but landscapes should be more windproof, salt-proof and oftentimes, more hurricane-proof, too," Alvarez says.
Part of hurricane-proofing Florida landscaping -- inland and on the coasts -- includes keeping a landscape cleaned up, with pruned trees and good plant choices. On coastal areas, even irrigation water may have a higher saline content, making it partially salt water, so plants, trees, and shrubs should be adapted to these conditions.
With the country's second-longest coastline as well as its varied horticulture, the state has special conditions that make Florida landscaping choices even more important. Water conservation is paramount, as is plant selection, fertilization, and control over the never-ending pressure from invasives and weeds.
Statewide, the Florida-Friendly Landscaping program is intended to promote more sustainable landscaping, with a focus on appropriate plants and fertilization, mulching, pest management, recycling, and water management. "It is pretty comprehensive and looks at all parts of the landscape," Alvarez says. The program also has pattern books that provide homeowners with design guidelines and suggested plants for each region.
For more information, view fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/