It’s October in the South Florida Garden

March 21, 2024

What To Plant-What To Do!

(Including Some Tropical Ideas For The Northern Gardener)

It’s October in the South Florida Garden. What’s in bloom? The lush summer tropicals are making room for more familiar temperate climate plants. What to plant? A different set of options entirely. What to do? Not the big fall cleanup you northerners are in the middle of, and growing coolness is making our work easier. We can still get up, at first light like the old Yankee farmers who settled this coast, but we don’t have to anymore!

It’s Florida’s Spare Springtime!

“Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment.”

-Ellis Peters

Spring is spring. All the cliches are accurate, it’s new, it’s bright, fresh, it’s everything you hoped for and perfect. And it happens every year. It’s the real start of the year, green things appear and we know we’ll all eat for another twelve months!

Subtropical Springtime

Spring in a sub-tropical climate is a split offering. We get the end of dormancy and the start of growth early in the year, like everyone else, but then the wet heat comes. In summer, we grow lush tropical blossoms along with sweet potatoes and hard-to-recognize fruits. We love summer salad but can’t produce our own lettuce! Our residents console themselves with equatorial blossoms so richly complex that they contain other blossoms and exotic scents-but no beefsteak tomatoes! They won’t survive the humidity.

Fall, Our Extra Vernal Season

We plant our most diverse set of vegetables in the fall and we do it even as we prepare the turf for dormancy! We have long since pruned our flowering shrubs. That’s because our flowering shrubs now bloom in early winter when in northern climates, they used to be dormant. Our seasons are mild and comfortable, and our environment is lush. But we do think twice about how to define spring.

So, as a transplanted northerner, I have learned to parse my ambitions. Not quite the old days; so blossoms in April and green beans in October. I plant some summer annuals in October and duplicate some of my New England mother’s color garden, once planted in May!

What’s In Bloom Now?

Look For Mussaenda, richly Compound Gingers, and Philippine Violet In Our Borders

Native yellow, Canna Flaccida, lily-like, rises at the pond edge. The garden is in transition. Some lush, tropicals bloom in summer and we still see dense flowers from Mussaenda, a plant with rich clumping, hydrangea-like blossoms. its 100 or so species come from Asia and Africa. The Philippine Violet, a broadleaf perennial with beautiful lavender blossoms, is a cool-season bloomer and is now just beginning to flower.

Some of the luxuriant gingers are in bloom today, some have finished earlier in the summer.

Mona Lavender

This fairly new hybrid is from the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in South Africa. It, like the Phillippine Violet, is a cool-season bloomer, green all summer. Cold-hardy in zones 9b-10 you can also grow Mona Lavender indoors. It’s a charmer, bright green leaves, with purple undersides, and long spikes of lavender flowers, that are remarkably like tubular orchids.

An Idea To Try This Fall-Purple

If you love to decorate for fall; Halloween, and Thanksgiving but you are moving away from using orange everywhere, try purple! It gives you a sense of autumn but it feels new. It also allows you to blend in the pink shades if that is your inclination but is accented brilliantly by orange too!

As I look around town, our most inventive gardeners are adding purple shades to the garden. Mona Lavender, Persian Shield (to the left), purple Salvia, and for the pollinators, purple Penta.

It gives an air of fresh brightness to our green spaces. Try it in your garden.

A Tropical To Grow Indoors

croton plant

For a tropical version of fall shades with vivid golds, plant some Croton. Northern garden centers are showing it as a fall decoration for pots on the front porch. You can bring it indoors as a colorful house plant in the winter.

In The Herb Garden

We are adding to the garden for fall and winter meals. A Florida advantage is the fact that we grow herbs outdoors all year round. See the chart, below for seasonal notes on Florida herbs. For more information on growing and cooking with herbs, no matter where you are. try this article Culinary Herbs. It will describe herb gardens and link you to detailed information on specific herbs.

Your Temperate Climate Herb Garden

For information on the end-of-season herb garden and ideas for bringing fresh herb plants indoors to grow for winter use, you might like this article. What to do with the herb garden in fall.

What To Plant In October

AnnualsIt is time to begin to add the “winter annuals.” These are often the same plants we northern transplants called the “summer annuals” in our northern gardens. Look for impatiens, alyssum, and, dianthus. (The links will take you to more details on these plants).

BulbsAgapanthus and Rain Lily, planted now will bloom next year. Bulbs For Florida, from UF
HerbsThis month we will replace both annual herbs and any perennials that did not survive our sloppy summers. In our garden, dill, fennel, and cilantro seem to have the most trouble in our climate.
VegetablesBroccoli, beans, carrots, lettuce, peppers, radishes, also spinach, and tomato.
Impatiens-Summer Or Winter-Depends On Your Location

NB: I make these charts using primarily recommendations from our University of Florida research. It is our land grant agricultural university, and we Master Gardeners are trained to use it. I also add recommendations from Florida-based gardeners and garden writers I admire.

This is true of all visitors to Florida. You leave your home airport on a cold, snowy day. As you land at your Florida destination, wherever it is, the Palm trees appear through the plane’s window, and everyone cheers!

If you own some palms, see the chart above and the referenced article for fertilizer information.


What’s fall, like around here? In the north, we anticipated autumn for the coolness, the increased moisture, and the beautiful golden light, But we mentally steeled ourselves for the cold to come.

In South Florida we certainly revel in the cool mornings (while finishing up our garden sessions in the pool) we are getting less moisture, which makes us happy right now. In a few months, we will be happy to see a little rain.

The light is a little softer, not the rich golden aura of a northern latitude but a subtle note. Our homes here are in a coastal community, but near to an important agricultural belt. The good, local tomatoes will be here soon! Fall is not so much a season for us; maybe a whisper.