Going South: Part 1

When Rhode Island Master Gardener, Paula Bartnick, announced that she and her husband were moving to Florida, I asked her to let me know what the gardening was like there, and how she was adapting to her new and MUCH warmer USDA zone.

Here’s her first installment:

We all took the Master Gardener course because we wanted to learn how to better our gardens, and because we love to play in the dirt. It did little to prepare me for my move to Florida. The first thing I was told was to forget everything that I learned up north. So I find myself starting fresh, a rather scary place to be.

The house and garden as we found them

I was not prepared for the mess I would find on this property. The former owner, Bill, was an avid gardener. He lovingly cared for this property and the neighbors recount how it was park-like in nature. They say his citrus crops were second to none. Now, there are vines growing on everything, and the saw palmetto has overtaken most of the yard. Bill passed away 4 years ago, his wife a year later. This land has had no attention in four years.

The first chore was to hire an arborist to help us with the huge oak trees that were hanging over the house. Many of them were diseased and had to be cut down. Once that was done, it was quick work to lighten up the remaining trees and trim off dead branches. The difference was astounding. More sunlight, but still ample shade. A host of plants that had been starved for sunlight came to life. Liriope, oxalis, canna, and scores of other plants sprang to life. Spiderwort and wild poinsettias made their appearance, but they are considered weeds here! Imagine!

Up north, we did battle with poison ivy and bittersweet, the “vine from hell.”.Here in Florida, there is poison ivy, but add to that Virginia creeper, American wisteria, campsis vine, muscadine grape, and kudzu, and in four years’ time you have a jungle, literally. I’m sure that we will be busy for many months just trying to uncover some of these trees.

The most disheartening thing was watching the internet installer dig a post hole for the satellite dish. The sand he was digging up he called “sugar sand”, and it quite literally looks like sugar! How do you grow anything in that? Amend, amend, amend and amend again is what I’m told. The recommendation is six inches of compost/humus twice per year. I’ll be needing a bigger compost bin! I’m glad I brought my worms with me, I’ll be needing them!

Recently, I started the Master Gardener course at the Marion County Cooperative Extension in conjunction with the University of Florida. I was fortunate enough to get into the class, since they only take 22 students per year. There were 34 of us wanting to get in. They interviewed each and every one of us and decided who would make the best students.

In addition to a four inch binder, we have a 3 volume handbook that is approximately 8 inches thick. The course is held on Wednesdays from 9 AM until 4 PM. Upon completion, we are expected to give back 85 hours per year. That will be easy. However, the first year, they have a specified amount of hours for different volunteer tasks. There is the greenhouse, the gardens, propagation, education, and the telephone service. They want to be sure that we try everything. After the first year we are free to put in our hours any way we choose.

Each week, we are required to hand in an assignment of 8-10 “plant IDs,” sheets on which we document everything about a plant from common name to seed production to soil and light requirements of  the assigned plants for the week. We are also given a written assignment( this week’s assignment was signs and symptoms of macro/micronutrient deficiency). All that and reading 10-12 articles in our handbooks. 12 hours it took me to complete my work for the week. I’m not complaining. I need all the help I can get.

There are two growing seasons here, the cool season (October through April) and the warm season (May through September). I won’t get into pruning schedules, I don’t know enough about it yet. Suffice to say that I don’t touch anything until I research it.

A few of the citrus trees

We have been gifted with many citrus trees, all lush with fruit that was set in the spring and won’t be ready until November or December. It boggles the mind. That’s also when the camellias bloom. How wonderful to have flowers all year long! How wonderful to be able to work in the yard 12 months out of the year instead of 6 or 7. It is just too dangerously hot to work outside much after 11 AM during the summer months.

I hope I haven’t bored you too much. I will stop here and write more as my experience progresses!


About dirtynailz

Writer for a daily newspaper, gardener, tree hugger, orchid-grower, photographer, animal lover, hiker, wilderness seeker. Proponent of clover in the lawn and a dog on the bed.
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2 Responses to Going South: Part 1

  1. gardenpest says:

    Fascinating, I’m going to re-read this post when I have more time to absorb every tidbit. Interesting about the FL MG requirements, sounds well organized and focused – a zone and culture change, again, interesting.

    Also thought-provoking on their structure and expectations about “assigned hort reports” – I like the thought of assignments from time to time, despite the time required. It’s a fair method of ensuring that MG-dom is a life long learning process. No matter how much I read or experience, I find that there is so much to know.

    Look forward to your next post. Thanks!


    • dirtynailz says:

      Thanks, GP. I also thought it was interesting how the program differed in its requirements. Sounds like a lot more work, doesn’t it?


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