Mostly there are four soil types in Polk County: sand, muck, reclaimed phosphate land, and urban fill. Much of Polk is highland sand. It is acidic(pH below 7.0), usually high in phosphorus, has good drainage, and poor fertility. Lots of plants grow well on this soil, but they need fertilizer and water. The second major soil is muck. It is high in organic matter, holds water well, is high in nitrogen, but low in other nutrients (Potassium, Phosphorous, Iron, Zinc, Manganese, Copper, etc.). Usually, it is old bog, river delta or lake bed. The third kind of soil is reclaimed phosphate land. It is land once mined and then reclaimed for either agricultural or residential use. The fourth kind of soil is urban fill. This occurs where a builder has brought in soil as filler. It could be anything. Sometimes it will have chunks of cement or other junk mixed in. It can vary greatly throughout a property. Often the soil will be basic (have pH above 7.0) from the residue of construction. What does this mean for the gardener?
You should have your soil tested both for the pH and for nutrients. One of the volunteer Master Gardeners will be glad to test the pH of your soil at the County Extension Office. They will also compare your soils pH with the pH required by the plants you want to grow. The cost is $3.00. For $7.00 the University of Florida will test for the Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium content of your soil. If you give the crop (type of plant) you will be growing they will recommend the proper fertilizer will need to use to grow the plant well.
- You will need to fertilize turf, bedding plants and most shrubs and trees. Trees normally do not need to be fertilized after they are established.
- Don't bother to over water or deep water (as some northern gardeners do), the sand is like a sieve; water will just run through it. ¾ inch of water will provide sufficient water for the root zone of most plants. Watering more than that just washes nutrients and insecticides below the area where the plant roots can use it.
- Use plants that want good drainage and are "water wise". These are plants that do not require much water to grow.
- You may be able to use a fertilizer low in phosphate.
- You also need to fertilize but with emphasis on Phosphorous, Potassium and the micronutrients.
- Watering will not be as important for you because the muck holds water.
- Use plants that do not require good drainage.
- The most important thing you can do are to have your soil tested. Since your yard may not have the same soil everywhere, when you have your soil tested you may need to take multiple soil samples.
- In some cases you might just find sand, in other cases this land can be very hard when the weather is hot and dry. You will struggle just to dig the hole for planting a tree or shrub. Your plants will struggle to put down roots.
- You will need to experiment to see what plants grow well for you.
- The two most important things you can do are to have your soil tested and check for junk left in the yard. Since your yard may not have the same soil everywhere, when you have your soil tested you may need to take multiple soil samples.
- If you are lucky after you have removed the junk you will have good soil. In that case the ideas above will work for you.
- If you are not so lucky, you will have a challenge to grow plants. You will need to experiment to see what plants grows will for you.
Florida is hot and humid in the summer, warm and clear in the winter. Someone once said that Florida is a desert where it rains a lot in the summer. It has also been said that Florida has four seasons: almost summer, summer, post summer and Christmas. We do not have the daily or annual extremes in temperature here that you are accustomed to "Up North". However, we do have extremes once in a while - hurricanes, tornadoes, very heavy thundershowers, severe freezes, and extreme droughts. We are not in the temperate zone, neither are we in the tropics. Instead, we are in the middle, between the two. Depending on the year (and outside factors), our climate can be more like the tropical climate of southern Florida or more temperate like the climate "Up North". It may seem strange, but north Florida, central Florida and south Florida, have different climate. North Florida is similar to the southern Appalachian regions; south Florida is tropical, while central Florida has characteristics of the two. Plants that will do well in north Florida will not grow or do poorly in central Florida. South Florida can grow many tropical plants. In Central Florida we can grow some tropical plants and some northern plants. We also have some unique plants of our own. For the gardener all this means simply this?
- Forget what you know about gardening "Up North", or for that matter, down south.
- We have a greater variety of plants. Many tropical plants and many temperate plants can be grown with little care.
- Fungus can be a serious problem, as it grows well in our hot, humid weather.
- Some plants you grew "Up North" in full sun, grow better in part shade here. For example, most varieties of coleus do better in the shade because of the intensity of the summer sun.
- Many plants you are familiar with and have always planted in the spring are planted here in the fall to bloom all winter. Petunias, pansies, and snapdragons are examples.
In the summer in central Florida it is not unusual to have thundershowers every afternoon. On the other hand, it might not rain for two weeks straight. Daily temperatures range from the high 70s at night to the 90s during the day. Humidity is usually very high. Full sun is very intense. What does this mean for the gardener?
- Be careful of the full sun requirements of plants. Full sun Up North may mean part shade here in central Florida.
- Watch the amount of water your plants are getting. It may rain almost every day, but the amount of water may not be enough for your plants.
- Many plants will wilt then they need water. That is the time to water them. Some plants do not wilt, it is harder to know when to water them.
- Fungus can be a problem when plants get too much water. If plants are pruned to be open so the air can circulate thru them, this will be less of a problem. But, even then fungus can be a problem
Winter or when it is not summer
Some winters we have freezes, other winters we don't. Freezes usually occur at night when the temperature drops to the high 20s for a few hours . Very occasionally the nighttime temperature will drop to the low 20s for a day or two. The lowest temperature recorded in Orlando in January was 19 degrees F. The average high is around 75 degrees F, while the average low is close to 50 degrees F. In a good winter you can grow many tropical plants with no problems from the weather, but in a really bad winter, you could lose everything from a freeze. What does this mean for the gardener?
- You can protect yourself from most frosts and freezes. Usually the weather forecast will predict frost. Check our "Frequently Asked Questions" for what you can do to protect your plants.
- This is a great time of year to garden.
- Enjoy some really beautiful plants.