Florida Gardening forum: Newbie Gardner: Need help! Dead dried up flower bed, What to do?

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Name: Heather Blevins
New Port Richey, FL (Zone 9b)
Dog Lover
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heather2662
Jul 22, 2014 3:19 PM CST
Hello Everybody :)

I am completely new to gardening and a little overwhelmed by all the info online and need advice on where to start.

My husband and I spent most of our lives in Illinois and just moved to Florida in 2013. So FL plants, grasses, and bugs have been a learning experience ;) We are renting a house in New Port Richey, FL (just outside Tampa) that needs a landscape make-over. Our first step and focus is a flower bed in front of the picture window. It's approximately 2.5ft x 8ft. It has been neglected for years and was full of dead plants, dead leaves, a few overgrown plants, old mulch, a couple puffball fungus and a small amount of stray rocks. It appears to be filled with the standard sand/dirt mix and not a premium soil mix. I started by clearing out as much plant and debris as I could. But that's where I'm stuck because I know it's not as simple as throwing down some flower seeds and water and waiting for it to grow.

What I'm looking for is some guidance on where to start. Of course I had A LOT of questions, but one step at a time, right?

My goal is to create a proper foundation where my plants and flowers can thrive successfully. I would eventually like to plant some simple landscaping of flowers and plants. I'm leaning in the direction of native and drought resistant varieties that do well in shaded areas.

Let's start with the dirt:
What are the first steps? How do I know if the existing dirt is healthy or has a rot/fungus/mold problem? Do I need to dig out the existing dirt and fill it with something like Miracle-Gro Garden Soil? Can a quality soil be put down and treated with a Miracle-Gro fertilizer?

Any help or being pointed in the right direction would be appreciated!
Thank you :D


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Name: Hetty
Sunny Naples, Florida (Zone 10a)
Plumerias Photo Contest Winner: 2015 Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Database Moderator
Forum moderator Region: Florida Cat Lover Garden Sages Cactus and Succulents Tropicals
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Dutchlady1
Jul 22, 2014 3:41 PM CST
Welcome! heather!

You will soon find that it's more about stopping things from growing than trying to make them grow here in Florida!

My first suggestion is to take a walk, or bike ride through your new neighborhood and see what thrives in other people's yards, and what appeals to you. And visit a good local Garden center!

Depending on the sun exposure and how much time you are willing to spend on your yard, I have several recommendations I could make for that bed. I'm sure others will be happy to chime in here too.
Name: Michele Roth
N.E. Indiana - Zone 5b
I'm always on my way out the door..
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Forum moderator Garden Sages Garden Ideas: Master Level Dog Lover Cottage Gardener
Native Plants and Wildflowers Plant Identifier Organic Gardener Keeps Horses Hummingbirder Hosted a Not-A-Raffle-Raffle
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chelle
Jul 22, 2014 3:50 PM CST
Hi Heather. Welcome! to ATP.

I think that soil looks pretty good for just starting out. Smiling I'd just add some compost, mix it in a bit, and plant as you wish. Purchased potting soil isn't really the best thing for in-ground plants; it's formulated for a different situation. You'll probably want to add more compost around your plants periodically as well. The higher the heat and the wetter the conditions, the more you may need to replenish with additional compost and possibly other nutrients.
Cottage Gardening

Newest Interest: Rock Gardens


Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
The one constant in life is change
Cat Lover Master Gardener: Florida Tropicals Multi-Region Gardener Vegetable Grower Region: Florida
Herbs Orchids Birds Garden Ideas: Level 2 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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dyzzypyxxy
Jul 22, 2014 4:38 PM CST
Welcome! to Florida, and to ATP, Heather. I agree on the compost, there's nothing that will improve your soil more than adding lots of good compost. It does indeed break down fast here in the heat and humidity, though. A good idea to resolve to just top dress the beds each year with some compost to keep the fiber component in the soil up. Our soil is mostly sand here. As far as mold, fungus and other natural stuff, an outdoor bed in your Florida garden will have all that stuff in it, and it is healthy soil if it does. We have every mold and fungus spore known to man floating around in our lovely warm, moist air so . . . it's like the bugs, you just have to get used to having them around. It's Nature here - all that stuff lives here for the same reason we do, if you think about it.

First question I have is, what direction does that side of your house face? The amount of sun the bed gets will be the first determining factor as to what you'll be able to plant and grow well there.

Next question, is there an overhang over top of the bed all the way along? If so, it won't get much rain and you are faced with putting in some sort of irrigation, or hand watering the bed forever. Rolling my eyes.

Good first instinct to go with native plants, but since that bed is right in front of your window, you will want to have something colorful and nice to look at all year 'round. Most natives go dormant in the winter here, (yes, we do have 'winter' - as far as the plants are concerned, when the nights get into the 50's they start to slow down.) Natives are in their glory now, in summer and through fall. You might plan a basic native flower bed there, and augment it with some annuals in winter for color.

For future reference, IF you end up buying a home of your own, it's not a great idea to have a flower bed that will need watering right up next to the wall of the house. Since this is a rental, there's nothing you can do about it so may as well enjoy it. If you buy, keep plantings at least 2ft. to 3ft away from the house. The dryer you can keep the soil next to the house, the less problems you will have with insects and mold getting into your walls.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Heather Blevins
New Port Richey, FL (Zone 9b)
Dog Lover
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heather2662
Jul 22, 2014 4:43 PM CST
Dutchlady1: The area seems to be in the shade throughout the day. The front of the home faces North and the bed is inset under an eave creating a covered area that it sits in. I would like to create something that is not high maintenance. I don't mind periodically weeding and pruning, but don't want something that will be a full time job caring for. Being new to gardening, I don't want anything that requires a lot of knowledge of specialized upkeep. I'm don't need prize roses or exotic plants, lol. Just something with low to medium maintenance that will look nice and add some color.
Name: Heather Blevins
New Port Richey, FL (Zone 9b)
Dog Lover
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heather2662
Jul 22, 2014 4:49 PM CST
I have seen adds for "free compost" on Craigslist from horse farms in the area. Is that a good source for compost? If so, once mixed in the dirt will it smell like horse manure or break down quickly?
Name: Michele Roth
N.E. Indiana - Zone 5b
I'm always on my way out the door..
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Forum moderator Garden Sages Garden Ideas: Master Level Dog Lover Cottage Gardener
Native Plants and Wildflowers Plant Identifier Organic Gardener Keeps Horses Hummingbirder Hosted a Not-A-Raffle-Raffle
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chelle
Jul 22, 2014 4:59 PM CST
Many types of coleus would probably do well there, Heather, and they're very colorful.

If you're concerned about the smell of horse manure you can get bags of finished compost at a garden supply center. I don't smell mine after a few days even if it's fresh, but then again, since I clean the stall daily I'm probably not all that sensitive to it. Smiling
Cottage Gardening

Newest Interest: Rock Gardens


Name: Hetty
Sunny Naples, Florida (Zone 10a)
Plumerias Photo Contest Winner: 2015 Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Database Moderator
Forum moderator Region: Florida Cat Lover Garden Sages Cactus and Succulents Tropicals
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Dutchlady1
Jul 22, 2014 6:37 PM CST
For a north facing bed next to the house you could plant some spectacular shade loving Bromeliads that require very little maintenance; just be sure to keep them watered. Peace Lilies, Begonias, Caladiums etc. are all a good option for a shady bed too.
If you don't want to fuss with watering you may opt for some succulents.
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
The one constant in life is change
Cat Lover Master Gardener: Florida Tropicals Multi-Region Gardener Vegetable Grower Region: Florida
Herbs Orchids Birds Garden Ideas: Level 2 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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dyzzypyxxy
Jul 22, 2014 8:08 PM CST
Heather, be careful of the 'free compost' from horse farms. Horse manure can be very strong, both in smell and in nitrogen content that releases very quickly and can burn plants. If it's composted enough, usually at least a year, then it doesn't smell much and is excellent soil amendment. But most likely what you get "free" from Craig's List isn't going to have been composted properly at all.

Here in Sarasota County, our landfill makes excellent compost that is also free. You just have to go get it. (you'd have to go get it from the horse farms, too, I imagine) So check with your local landfill and see if they have a composting program.

That being said, for a north facing bed where you'll have low-maintenance things growing, you don't need fabulous soil. Bromeliads would be my first choice for that spot, and they come in a dazzling array of shapes and colors. Check out the Bromeliads thread in the Tropicals forum to see some great pictures. They are a very carefree plant, too.

As chellie mentioned, Coleus are another carefree type of shade lovers that would suit your flower bed very well. They require a little more water than the bromeliads but not much. I think we have a whole forum dedicated to Coleus, so you should have a look at the pictures over there, too.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Heather Blevins
New Port Richey, FL (Zone 9b)
Dog Lover
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heather2662
Jul 24, 2014 10:39 AM CST
Thank you everyone! Great information. Thank You!
Name: Michele Roth
N.E. Indiana - Zone 5b
I'm always on my way out the door..
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Forum moderator Garden Sages Garden Ideas: Master Level Dog Lover Cottage Gardener
Native Plants and Wildflowers Plant Identifier Organic Gardener Keeps Horses Hummingbirder Hosted a Not-A-Raffle-Raffle
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chelle
Jul 24, 2014 11:31 AM CST
Best to you, Heather, and have fun with it! Thumbs up

If you can, post some pictures when you're done. We love project pictures! Lovey dubby
Cottage Gardening

Newest Interest: Rock Gardens


Name: mj
Central Florida
Butterflies Hummingbirder Keeps Horses Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Plant and/or Seed Trader Region: Florida
Garden Ideas: Level 1
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mjsponies
Jul 25, 2014 8:59 AM CST
It looks like there might be irrigation in that bed already ?? I see some pipes and what looks like a sprinkler head. ? I think for that size bed I'd just opt for grabbing a few bags of compost from the store. And depending on what you plant, the soil they come in will "generally" help also. Just make sure you loosen the soil ball when you take your plants out of the pots to plant them.
God gave us wings. He just called them horses
Name: Jean
Fleming Island, FL (Zone 9a)
Native Plants and Wildflowers Composter
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qwilter
Jul 26, 2014 4:49 AM CST
Heather - welcome. I'm a PA & MD transplant. I've been down here for 2 1/2 years. One of the 1st things I was told was "forget everything you knew about gardening up north". You really don't need to forget everything, but FL gardening is a learning experience. The basics of having good soil never changes.

FL native plants are always a good place to start. Once established they require less "care" than plants you are forcing to be happy. Mine thrive in the un-amended sandy soil & only get watered when it rains (which has been very seldom over here this year).

I know there is a County Extension Office over there. I'd definitely get in contact with their Master Gardeners & get some area specific info from them. And look for the good nurseries & talk to the folks that work there. Some Ace hardware stores also have really nice garden centers and sell local plants.

Good luck & happy gardening.....................
Blessed are the Quilters for they are the Piecemakers.
Name: David Paul
(Zone 9b)
Cat Lover Hibiscus Seed Starter Native Plants and Wildflowers Vegetable Grower Region: Florida
Miniature Gardening Keeper of Poultry Herbs Foliage Fan Farmer Dragonflies
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DavidofDeLand
Jul 27, 2014 9:48 AM CST
Welcome! Heather!

I agree with all the above great advice.

If green growth and a tropical look is what you are up for with little to no maintainace in that area,.........Sansevieria, Aloes, and Wandering Jews can be with you forever. As a start of course and give you a great look.

Once you are more comfortable with gardening your beds will change and you will have many new diehard plants to move around from your earlier gardening beginnings;.....or to share with those neighbors who you find that have nothing much growing in front of their house! Thumbs up
Name: Ron
Naples, Florida (Zone 10a)
Region: Florida Hummingbirder Butterflies Bromeliad Tropicals Foliage Fan
Plant and/or Seed Trader Xeriscape Seed Starter The WITWIT Badge Garden Ideas: Level 1 Plant Identifier
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rattlebox
Jul 30, 2014 9:08 PM CST
You might also consider Crotons. These shrubs are colorful year round, grow slow, need minimal supplemental irrigation and don't require particularly rich soil. Many prefer bright shade to full sun, many others do well either way but colors may develop differently in shade. Some look even better. I see sunlight on the sidewalk right in front of the bed, so there should be plenty of light for any of them.

Those with really large leaves may try to develop into more robust shrubs, but a once a year trimming would keep even them in line.

Bromeliads have been mentioned a couple times and are a good choice.

Also consider Pleomele, Ti (Cordyline), Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily), Aglaonema and Crossandra.
[He] decided that if a few quiet beers wouldn't allow him to see things in a different light, then a few more probably would. - Terry Pratchett
Name: Ann ~Heat zn 9, Sunset
North Fl. (Zone 8b)
Garden Sages Native Plants and Wildflowers Xeriscape Organic Gardener I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level
Butterflies Charter ATP Member Plant Identifier Region: Florida Dog Lover Birds
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flaflwrgrl
Aug 2, 2014 6:06 PM CST
Good advice from everyone Heather! Welcome to Florida; you're going to learn to be a sand gardener. Hilarious!

First lesson:
Nothing lasts long in sand. Not water, nor nutrients, nor compost.....nothing.

Lesson 2:
We can add nutrients year round here. We can, with few exceptions, prune anytime of year, we can plant anytime of year. We have to water 12 months of the year.

Lesson 3:
Natives are THE way to go here unless you like banging your head against a brick wall. You already stated you would like to stick with them so that's great thinking on your part. I will say, there are xeric plants that are non native & non invasive that will do great here too but that will take some time to learn.

Lesson 4:
Many annuals that you are used to being summer plants up north are winter plants here. You kind of have to turn your thinking upside down.

It's great that you will get to learn in a rental & a small space. This way you're not trying to do an entire yard & spending lots of money to do the trial & error thing.

We're glad to have you here! Welcome! Welcome!
I am a strong believer in the simple fact is that what matters in this life is how we treat others. I think that's what living is all about. Not what I've done in my life but how I've treated others.
~~ Sharon Brown ~~



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