March Expectations In The South Florida Garden

February 28, 2024

This Month in the Garden-Filled With Expectations

The Late Winter Tropical Garden

March is for expectations. We anticipate the water. It’s been a dry season since autumn. Flowers are in full bloom, and herbs and vegetables are only a reach away. Holes for summer bulbs are everywhere, it’s time to do some heavy digging. It will get hotter next month! Even in this second strange, pandemic year, the town has snowbirds and tourists, outdoor dining has new significance as we continue to separate. We are swimming and outdoors all day; here along the Gulf coast.

How Right She Was!

“March is the month of expectation

The things we do not know…

Emily Dickinson

This is a favorite quotation of mine. It suggests a month of mystery, of surprise, of anything can happen. A year ago. I wrote my first ” It’s March in the South Florida Garden”. What silliness I wrote. “Our social season, and all that nonsense”!

Well, at least I had the surprise right! We thought we were seeing a short-term problem, like the flu, so we held off on reserving the big trip to Italy. The Veneto on our Anniversary, plenty of time, we’ll go a little later. We’re still waiting!

The New Popularity of Gardening. Will It Last?

This new pandemic era love for gardening, does it have roots under it? Seeds and garden tools are hard to find, everybody is in the garden and it’s a fine thing. But I read about people who adopted pets during the worst of the pandemic and are now returning them to the shelters. And my heart drops! Will all the new diggers forget the pleasures of the garden and junk the shovels?

Last year I noted that a garden is a living entity and things happen in the garden as well as in life. I thought It would be helpful to discuss the realities of weather and other demands on the garden. It might be useful for you so I’ll leave it in, for this March in the garden.

Gardening In The “Month Of Expectation”

My Notes From March 2020-Last Year’s Expectations

  • January is the coldest month in our warm climate. Normally we are considered a 365-day gardening environment. Our average low temperature is 53.1 degrees. We did have a few cold days this year and we felt some damage. A large Massaenda was damaged. This is a large plant wilt very showy bracts of flowers. They come in pink, peach, yellow and white. This one was large, pink, and really an asset to the garden. It lost all flowers but now the foliage is returning so we may get lucky.
  • There was also some other minor damage. A pretty vine, the Alice du Pont Mandevilla with large pink flowers was damaged. We thought it was dead, but cut it back and now some little green shoots are appearing.
  • Most of the orchids come inside on cold nights. Oddly, those orchids which we keep affixed in palm trees seem to be “bulletproof”! A group growing along the trunks of a multi-trunk Robellini Palm had no damage. (They also survived Hurricane Irma unscathed. You really never know.
  • On the good side, a shipment of 100 Caladium tubers has just arrived. I am planting them in several areas for warm-weather color. This group has large white leaves with green edges and red veins that bleed to pink. We are looking forward to them. They are easy to plant. I use a Hori Hori knife which makes quick work of them.

Back to The Expectations of March 2021

They also say that March is the month of wind and taxes. Here in South Florida, we can’t avoid the taxes but the winds are balmy. It is fully springtime. This year 2021 we had less cold damage than last year, but some wind damage to the tender tropicals.

The luscious, Musaenda, felt some blows across the pond this winter and some of the leaves are ragged. It is a Southeast Asian import, in the Rubiaceae family (like coffee, Ixora, and firebush). We’ll wait for the buds to open. (Open water gets windy, wherever you are.)

Gardening In The Tropical Dry Season

The dry season is getting a little old, but we don’t yet care. We are going to the beach. The water is mild, the picnics tasty, the variety of seabirds is still great. They haven’t gone home yet. We miss a lot of our snowbird neighbors, particularly Canadians. So many did not feel safe to travel to their winter homes.

It is the month of expectation, though. We can feel a little change in the air. We know that the rains will come and the humidity will rise, but we still don’t care. We work in the garden any time of day in perfect comfort then we go out for an alfresco dinner along one of our beautiful seaside streets.

Our Climate and Garden Conditions in March

Sunset on the Naples Gulf beach. More expectations for the month of March.

We live in the epicenter of Florida’s wet or dry, near-tropical climate. We are directly at sea level and adjacent to 10 miles of white sand beaches.

March has expectations for the garden and beyond!

When northern industrialists started coming down for the winter in the 19th century, this weather is what they came for. We visit Palm Cottage, built in 1895, one of their early winter cottages. Don’t miss its small but pretty coastal garden, if you visit.

It is now restored as a historic site. There are photos of people enjoying days of fishing, visiting the Everglades and holding dances on the town pier. We chuckle at pictures of the ‘turn of the century’ men in suits and ties. This, in a town where, today, men rarely wear long pants!

Garden Projects This Month

Refining The New Seating Area

This was a “pandemic project” one of those things we all did to maintain our sanity last summer. It paid off. Four comfortable wooden chairs and an enclosed fire pit. It overlooks the pollinator plants and the pond.

A place to read, talk, listen to music, and plot more projects. We’re running out of space!

our pandemicc project, a new seating area, more expectations of good things in March.

We are getting like our neighbor, Nancy, across the pond. We say when she finishes with the back yard “She’ll keep planting until her knees are wet”!

We added sturdy arbors at each entrance and now we are planting 4 big confederate jasmine, two at each arbor. (It is a wonderful twining vine with richly scented blossoms. It’s not a jasmine at all, it’s a trachelosperum, but it smells great. You can’t have a bad evening sitting near it.

Where To See Tropical Plants In Bloom

Try this, if you would like to enjoy some. Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden is the principal true tropical garden of North America. Located in Coral Gables, near Miami it is a treasure to visit. They publish a monthly, “what’s in bloom” list on their website. If you would like to delve into some exotica you can’t do better. Here it is.

If you get to Miami, here is my “Complete Guide To Visiting Fairchild Garden.” I hope it helps.

The Newest Project-An Elevated Edibles Garden-Inside The Pool Cage!

In a neighborhood like ours, with very small backyards, extremes of climate, and plenty of hungry wildlife, there is some good reason to plant inside the pool screen. No, it’s not just so you can swim up and pop a cherry tomato in your mouth! It is a valuable sunny space with some summer sun protection. The problems are obvious, pollination and dirt near the pool.

We are at the start of an interesting experiment and we plan to eat well. I’ll show you what works and doesn’t as soon as I can.

Temperature and Rainfall this Month

For Florida, in general, the average daytime temperature this month is 78, for us the range is 71 to 80. Our average rainfall this month is 1.8.”

We focus on our irrigation systems, watering from our ponds early in the morning and adding hand watering as needed. Early morning with a coffee cup in hand-not hard work, a chance to enjoy the garden in the quiet of the morning.

March is the Month to Plant Summer Bulbs

agapanthus in bloom

The summer bulb dealers started shipping the summer blooms this month, starting with our zone. We will take delivery of our bulbs this month and get them right in the ground.

Wherever you live, adding summer blooming bulbs to the garden gives color and interest to the garden with low effort. Go on the websites of any of the bulb dealers.

If you enter your plant hardiness zone or zip code they will give you a shipping date. Check the sites, many will take your order, reserving the colors and sizes you want, and charge your card when they ship. It is always wise to order early.

Here are Some Bulb Ideas You May Enjoy in Your Garden

This is information on how to plant these wherever you live. (Some bulbs will be annuals in northern planting zones -or you can lift them and save them over the winter for reuse. Summer Blooming Bulbs

What to Plant this Month

CategoryPlants to IncludeResources to Use
AnnualsWe now start heat-tolerant annuals, Crossandra, Gazania, Melampodium, New Guinea ImpatienceGardening with Annuals in Florida
BulbsAgapanthus, Calla Lily, Caladium, Canna Lily, GladiolusBulbs for Florida
HerbsBasil, Dill, Lemon Balm, Mint, Oregano, Rosemary, Tarragon, ThymeHerbs in the Florida Garden
Shrubs and TreesPlant throughout the yearThe Florida Friendly Landscape Guide to Plant Selection
VegetablesArugula, Beans, Cantaloupe, Endive, Okra, Radishes, Squash, Swiss Chard, Watermelon-This is the last month to plant them.Gardening Solutions: Vegetables
Ground CoversAsiatic Jasmine, Perennial Peanut. Powderpuff Mimosa, Dwarf Mondo GrassGardening Solutions: Groundcovers

What to do This Month

Do this MonthSteps to TakeResources to Use
SoilAmend any soil with organic material it will be hotter next month.Working in your Florida Soil
MulchAdd mulch to maintain water and discourage weeds. This will keep the soil temperature more even-helpful for bulbs.Florida Friendly Landscaping: Mulch
LawnsIf not fed in February fertilize now. Identify and treat any pestsFlorida Lawn Handbook
IrrigationBe conscious of irrigation needs- we should not expect warm weather rainfall until as late as June. Irrigation of the Home Garden
FertilizationFeed any shrubs and palms not fertilized in February. For vegetables add a balanced time-release fertilizer such as 8-8-8- or 15-15-15Fertilization/Fairchild Garden
Fruit TreesThis is a good time to add them. Monitor citrus for disease.Fruit Trees
Shrubs, Trees, and PalmsWhen new growth starts prune before the buds begin. As the flowers of winter-blooming plants fade prune them-do this before the next year’s flowers start to form.Low Maintenance Landscape Plants for South Florida

Garden Pests are Coming

This month starts our slow increase in garden pests. In this climate, we always have pests. They do, however, love the warm weather. It is time to increase our attentiveness to our plants and monitor for any increase in insect activity.

Aphids are a particularly active pest this month. When the weather is cool and suitable host plants are not in growth, the aphids can survive in the egg stage. Now as the plant hosts break dormancy, so do the opportunistic aphids. See Landscape Pest Management

What’s in Bloom in March

Some exotic plants are in view this month. Here are a few ideas you may not have thought about.

Firespike-Odintonema strictum,

A large shrub with long spikes of tubular flowers, it is endemic to Mexico, but now in Florida, the West Indies, Central and South America, and even some Pacific Islands. It is normally red, but we got our hands on one with brilliant magenta blooms. It is in full swing now and it is beloved of hummingbirds. It is a great pleasure to read at the new seating area and watch them conduct business.

This is the magenta variety of fire spike. The plants are 4-6′ of dense shiny green leaves with long spikes of vivid flowers. The new seating area is a perfect place to watch the hummingbirds feed.

The magenta bloom of the large firespike plant.

Vanilla Orchid-Vanilla planifolia

I see the beginning of buds forming. Last year saw the first blooms on an almost 4 year old plant, an exotic vine that grows up and down a palm tree. The blooms are a long chain of tubular pale green blossoms. A little like bells of Ireland. A real treat in the garden. Getting a vanilla pod is another matter.

Most of the world’s supply of vanilla is grown today in Madagascar. Florida, an agricultural state is trying to develop a commercial vanilla crop. It’s difficult though, like most of the world, we have no pollinators! Sombody has to hand pollinate each flower, and on the day it blooms!

Jade Vine-Strongylodon macrobotrys

Jade Vine- (Stronglodon macrobotrys) This exotic trailing vine has pale green foliage and turquoise-colored, claw-shaped flowers. It grows in the wild, near streams and comes from forest areas in the Philippines.

You will see this unusual plant in the New York Botanical Garden, in Florida at the Naples Botanical Garden, and a large specimen at the long pergola at the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Miami.

White Candle

White Candle-Whitfieldia elongata Shiny dark green leaves serve as the base for elongated white flowers. Two nice features of this plant are that it flowers in shade and the blooms are around from November to May.

Yesterday Today and Tomorrow

Yesterday Today and Tomorrow-Brunfelsia grandiflora. We are enjoying this one, with lush green foliage and color-changing flowers it provides enjoyment every day. The blooms appear violet the first day, become pale lavender the second, and white on the third day,

This plant originated in Brazil, it can be used in zones 9-11. It is comfortable in loamy soil that remains moist. It appreciates acid in the soil. Prune to keep its shape in spring and fall.

We have hibiscus, canna, begonia, in bloom. The delicate foliage of the caladium is just poking above the ground. They “like it hot”.

Enjoying the Garden this Month

We are Northeasterners, we are still surprised not to be shoveling asnow and reading the seed packets in March. Seasonal changes for us today do exist but they are subtle around here.

The grass, green year-round is brightening this month-when the wet summer comes it will reach it’s most vivid green. The nights are cool, the days warm, but not too warm to spend all day at the beach.

Flora and Fauna in March

Shrubs and trees have new growth, new flowers are in bloom. Some of the birds and butterflies are starting their spring migration north. We have hummingbirds in the garden year-round.

The difference now is that those who winter in South and Central America come breezing through. We plan trumpet-shaped blooms to entice them to break their journeys here.

The manatee spend the winter in warm water near landfall. Their big bodies and little heads still break the water-they will move out soon. We’ll miss seeing them but we will still have plenty of dolphins near the beach, though.

Remember what Cicero Said…

Cicero on gardening quote
Cicero on Gardening