Good morning from sunny (and HOT!) Southeast Florida - zone 10a


Premium Member
Aug 7, 2022
Florida, USA Zone 10a
I'm not a new gardener, but I feel like one! In 2019 I moved from the NYC area (zone 6a with lush black gold for soil) down to the Southeastern coast of Florida (zone 10a with nothing but sand as an excuse for earth). For over 30 years, I could take a plant, stick it in the ground and watch it flourish. I used to call myself an herb gardener with nearly every kind of culinary herb that might grow in my old garden. We're talking Thyme and Oregano, Onions and Garlic, Rosemary, Bay, Citrus - 4 different kinds - Verbena, Lavender, Chives, Catnip, Sage - Common, Purple, Variegated, Golden and Pineapple... You name it, I probably had it. Those plants that had done so very well for me up north are really struggling down here in this heat. Here's a look at a small part of that old garden:

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Good morning from sunny (and HOT!) Southeast Florida - zone 10a

Good morning from sunny (and HOT!) Southeast Florida - zone 10a

Now? I struggle to get anything to grow! In 2020, I put in raised planter beds on the Northern and Western sides of the house. I filled the beds with many old favorites, like here was an attempt at growing ginger, a lemonade tree, a lemon verbena, some thyme, a tiny Allspice tree and a little bay tree. All except the Allspice and bay tree are now dead and gone. This is the Northern side and I wasn't sure if it was too little sun or something else, so I tried again on the Western side. The thyme did well for a while, as did the lemon verbena. Now both are gone along with most everything else shown here.
Good morning from sunny (and HOT!) Southeast Florida - zone 10a

The bay tree has been struggling since I put it in the planter, so I recently dug it up and re-potted it. Let's see if that helps.
Good morning from sunny (and HOT!) Southeast Florida - zone 10a
The Allspice Tree has gotten massive! It is definitely a success story for me, but, now I have to find it a new home in my garden because it's gotten TOO big. For now, I plan to put it up in a large pot until I can figure out where to put something that has the potential to grow to 35 feet! (~10.5 meters). I had no idea they got that big!

Good morning from sunny (and HOT!) Southeast Florida - zone 10a

There's also some newer Greek oregano and a very sickly-looking bunch of Garlic chives in there. Nobody but the Allspice is happy.

I have managed not to kill ~100 orchids and my Carolina Jessamine is trying on world domination for a hobby.
Good morning from sunny (and HOT!) Southeast Florida - zone 10a

I've also got two other jasmine vines taking over the garden, some herbs: Basil (Sweet, Lettuce leaf, Purple Opal, Lemon, and Lime), Stevia, Rosemary, and a couple of roses that aren't dying, but aren't doing their best either:
Good morning from sunny (and HOT!) Southeast Florida - zone 10a

The tomato is an experimental extra seedling I had. I want to see where they are the happiest. The east side only gets morning sun, from dawn until about 1pm. The western side gets sun from 1ish until 6pm or so. Very different in terms of temperature as the afternoon sun is very harsh. We'll see what happens.

Here's the two gigunda Crown of Thorns. Those two plants were cuttings taken in 2019 and each was about 6" tall. when I planted them there. I think they need some fertilizing so they'll bloom better.
Good morning from sunny (and HOT!) Southeast Florida - zone 10a

For reference, that window sill is 4 feet wide.

The mandevilla vine was transplanted from the South side of the house a few months ago when it started looking pretty sad. I'd tried it on a trellis and it simply refused to grow on it. Stuck it here next to a log from my neighbor's dead orange tree and it's finally starting to show some life! That's mostly sweet basil and a rosemary plant next to it. A couple of dianthus that give me flowers every now and then.
Good morning from sunny (and HOT!) Southeast Florida - zone 10a

My sickly-looking Arabica tree. It got hit with a dip in the temp's last winter and never really recovered. It's trying!
Good morning from sunny (and HOT!) Southeast Florida - zone 10a

And the sweet potato vine that has finally started its conquest of the world. Total domination is what I see ahead!
Good morning from sunny (and HOT!) Southeast Florida - zone 10a

On the eastern side (just morning sun) of the house, I've started a new planter bed this year with several varieties of tomatoes, both cherry and slicers, as well as a couple of volunteer pumpkins, purple tomatillos, some thyme, basil, and a pot of orange mint. We'll see how it goes!
Good morning from sunny (and HOT!) Southeast Florida - zone 10a

And that's enough wasting of your time. I look forward to sharing my adventures and battles in this annoying climate. If anyone wants to ask me anything, please feel free! Talk at you soon!

Your garden was beautiful!

I'm originally from the Netherlands (temperate), and gardening here in (sub-tropical) Australia is much different. Everything I though I knew I could basically throw away, as it's a bit different. I've allowed my mind to start fresh and learn from what my plants need. In this process I intentionally decided to start with a potted garden, as I could move them around and see that they thrive in (and what they don't, of course). I've killed many plants (especially early on) as I went with what I'd always seen my mother do. This might perhaps be an option for you as well, to keep an average of 2 to 3 pots of each plant, and subject them to different circumstances. Do they like being wet? Do they want full sun? Or perhaps more shade than what you initially thought.

I used to think they could hande full-sun, which initially turned bad as everything died; then I tried part-sun, and they did "okay". Then I tried full sun, but a whole lot more water, a little extra fertiliser and now they thrive. It's been a process, but now I feel like I can grow about anything. Maybe not quite as well as I want them to, but I'm still learning after all.

Just by eyesight, your soil looks like it might be lacking some nutrients. And if that's woodchip what I see, perhaps they are low on nitrogen as well.
Perhaps running a soil test could help wonders, so for example you know wether perhaps the PH is off.
Hopefully I'm not completely talking from my back-end though, haha. As it does sound like you got experience. And what's still growing does look like it's doing pretty good, so you're definitely doing something right. And I love that you do definitely try to make your plants thrive as you've been repotting and trying to figure out what they need. Props to that!

One of my biggest issues when I first started was simply bad soil. All the care and effort in the world wouldn't make those plants thrive. And after that I misjudged the amount/frequency of water that my plants needed.
First... :chuffed::yahoo: Thanks for the kind words. I like my little wanna-be jungle, as much of a mess as it is!

And... No, @mandy, you're not "talking from your back-end"!! :twothumbsup: You're spot on, both in terms of needing to re-learn everything I thought I knew about gardening, light and water requirements, placement... the works! And the nutrient deficiency.

It's totally different here! I have definitely tried the pots first, place it here... Good? No...? How about over here? Better? Still not quite right? Let's try over here, then... More water? More food? Let's have a go at... whatever! Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I just keep experimenting! It's really the only way!

Add to all of that, is the "soil" we have here. It's pure sand! Shells and all! So, any nutrients, or organic matter, will leach straight out and down so far that most plants can't access it. And nearly anything you'd try to use as a barrier? (Barring plastic, that is!) Will rot away in a matter of months, sometimes weeks! Heavy-duty cardboard lining the bottom of those planters? Think moving boxes, the heavy ones for appliances... GONE in less than 2 months. Just completely rotted away. I'd give almost anything for some good, water-retentive clay soil right about now! At least that I know how to work with! This??? It's a no-go. I have to build above and away from it, or it's an absolute certainty that very little will be able to survive.

Mulch is an absolute requirement, and I've learned that the hard way. Without it, I'd be watering every other hour! The wood chips you see are cedar, were placed about six months ago, have already started breaking down, and comprise about the top two inches or so of that bed. As far as I know, if I keep it above the soil the plants are in, there shouldn't be more than a 1-2% loss of nitrogen to the plants. I supplement them anyway with a high nitrogen feed - and they still look like they're starving. I've switched over now to alfalfa hay in hopes of helping with that... I just haven't gotten all the way round to the older planter beds just yet. All that remains of the cedar mulch will be going to a few other in-ground beds that I've got planned for next year. I'm hoping the wood will have broken down some more and can be helpful in weed control. (A whole other issue I won't go into here except to say... Bermuda Grass. Blech!!:thumbsdown:)

The thing you may not know about, and the thing I've recently found out about, is called a "root-knot nematode". Now, I'd heard about nematodes in the past, but, I'd never worried much about them before since they weren't much of a "thing" in my previous home. Here? They'll take over the yard, eat every nutrient out of the soil, and kill ALL your plants within six months' time. In case you don't know, they're microscopic worms that invade the roots of your plants and block the plant's ability to absorb water OR nutrients from the soil. They're an epidemic down here and target most vegetable crops, especially tomatoes and peppers, some ornamentals like roses, and several herbs, like thyme and oregano. I didn't take pics of the roots I found like that, but, I have a suspicion that a couple of those peppers may be infected. If so, I'll get a shot and show you.

I've found them on the roots of nearly every plant that's died in the last few months. And a few that are just not looking so hot. The only cure is, apparently, some other nematodes that I can only get online and they're rather expensive. I'm saving my pennies to give it a go. Meanwhile, I try to isolate the old plants from the new plants and add as much nitrogen fixing/containing, organic material as I can afford. And bone/blood meal, coffee grounds, etc. You know... all the old tricks! Whatever it takes to figure out what to do to get them thriving!

Here's to teaching this old dog some brandy-new tricks! Never stop trying, never stop learning, never stop fighting!!! :fighthey:

See ya! :cheers:
I'm already off to bed, but this kept bugging me, haha.
I hope to respond to this properly tomorrow if I can find the time, but I've been looking through websites and watching some videos regarding sandy soil.

Back when I lived in The Netherlands, a lot of our growing grounds were sandy, which is absolutely perfect for what they were trying to grow. They had great luck with tulips, potatoes, carrots, beets, and so on. I know there are many plants that will actually thrive in sandy soil.

I'll post some of the videos below, if you were interested.

One thing I was wondering; is the soil sandy all the way through or does it change after a certain depth?

I do think you are on the right track though; grow plants, slowly amend the soil, mulch and water. I think compost and manure are also going to be your best friend in the process of amending your sandy soil, creating something healthy and lush.
Thank you for the two videos. They were quite informative and led me down a rabbit hole that I quite enjoyed.:cool: You're right in that there are many plants that can grow in this "soil". The problem is that very few of those plants are vegetables that I (or my family) want to eat..! When I started doing my research into what I could grow here I was told to forget about tomatoes, spinach, any kind of brassica, radishes, cucumbers, most types of squash, corn, lettuce, peas, green beans... and the list goes on. They said I should grow true yams, kale, okra, perpetual spinach and long beans. The only thing on that short list that my family would consider a viable alternative to their favorites is the long beans!! And the more research I did, the more I started to think that there had to be a way to make it work. According to my eight tomato plants, I'm on to something! YAY!! :crazy::noevil:

The thing is, the soil here isn't sandy, it IS sand, and it's all the way through to the water table. The "soil" here is called "Myakka" a Native American word for "Big Water". It's a grey to white sand that is state-wide and is the native soil for about 90% of the state. This stuff is known for its inability to hold water or nutrients. It takes years of amending, planting pioneer plants and tilling them in, mulching, adding compost, etc. to have any real impact. You can't ever stop adding the amendments because the sand literally "eats" any organic matter very quickly. As I stated earlier, the cedar mulch I laid down less than two months ago is already breaking down at a rate I'd expect from a soft pine anywhere else. Pine mulch used here? Might last a few weeks. It's rather amazing when you think about it.

Between the torrential downpours, the tropical sun, the sand, and the pests? Gardening here is a defining challenge. That old adage of "it's either time or money" is very much at the forefront of my decision-making process. I'm too old to wait for the required five to ten years before the soil will be richer, so I look for shortcuts whenever I can afford them. It's a challenge, yes, but, I'm hopeful that my efforts will pay off in the end. Thus far, I've got flowers and some fruit on all of my tomatoes, Basil is happy, and a few other things are starting to show their "stuff". The keys seem to be raising the planting bed, choosing the right amount of sun, choosing the time of day to give them sun, choosing the right varieties for this area, and raising the water bill to astonishing levels. (I do collect rainwater to help with that last bit, but, it's never enough!) I'm starting most of my plants from seed so that I can minimize the impact on my budget, while still trying out many different varieties to see which ones do better here. Online nursery/seed shops are fast becoming my most frequent sites to visit! OH! That reminds me!

Elsewhere you'd mentioned that some of the more rare things were hard to find at your local nursery. I found this list of online nurseries/seed companies for pretty much anywhere in the world! I've got it bookmarked for future scouring of their inventories..!:cool:

Ok... enough rambling for the moment! I gots me a trellis to put up! Whoopee!!
If they're not quite vegetables you or your family enjoys, you can always dig them back into the soil, to help amend it.
In the time that you are amending the soil, you can always grow in pots. I've very successfully grown everything in pots as well... I'm currently a potted gardener (as you may have seen in my thread). This had been a first for me to actually grow some plants in the ground. This way you can continue to do something you love alongside a little struggle. There's gotta be reward after all.
Thankfully your tomato plants are doing good!

Sand all the way.. okay. Are there any other gardeners around from which you could ask tips?

Hmm, perhaps you could try lining your beds, that way things wouldn't drain too quickly and you can control how many "holes" you want to have to still have sufficient drainage. Depending on the material of your choice of course. I even considered once upon a time to make the bottom completely out of layered wood/planks. That way the soil would mostly rest on top. But in truth I have no idea if that actually works as well in practice as it does in my head.

That's great!
The issue I run into is that Australia is humongous. Back in the Netherlands it'd take 2 hours from "home" to go to Germany, and 2 to go to Belgium. 6 for Paris and so on. Now in Australia I could go 12 hours and I'm still nowhere near the border, haha.
There are a couple of nurseries supposedly, but only 1 that is close by (about half an hour). And it's also semi-nearby a Bunnings so that trip would be worth it a bit more. Also, my dog Bella is allowed at Bunnings (it's hilarious to see her in the shopping trolly).
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