Plant More, Sweat Less

Welcome Amanda Streets to Learning to Grow in Florida! I was introduced to Amanda through our passion to compost. It’s an unique basis for a meeting, but sometimes that’s all you need. Amanda runs Pinellas Community Compost Coalition and Living Roots Eco Design. She and I are collaborating to teach composting to the general public in a workshop designed by Grow Permaculture. Please join us along with the other gardening workshops. Enjoy Amanda’s article on the importance of growing your shade!

Unfortunately, I just had to have a gigantic oak tree removed from the south side of my yard. Before removal, we happily gardened and lounged barefoot in the backyard all day long – in the shade of said tree. Now, the ground burns our feet and the sun scorches our skin. My hammock, once graced for an afternoon cat nap daily, is now in my laundry room. Hot, hot, hot. I can’t wait for my small but fast growing fruit tree to cast enough shade to sit beneath.

The increase in sunlight wasn’t a surprise. I understand the basic physics of sunshine and shade. What shocked me was the increased temperature. I couldn’t imagine in my wildest dreams that the thermometer would soar to almost 20 degrees hotter.

How Do Trees Keep the Cool?

A tree is a living organism. It has the same basic needs as a human – air, water, food, and shelter. It just meets these needs a bit differently. Instead of breathing with lungs, a tree transpires. Water vapor is released into the atmosphere from their leaves. As a result, the surrounding air is cooled. Shade below, water vapor above… it’s an air cooling double whammy!

This cooled air is wonderful over a hammock or playground, but what about over the roads? The pavement gets hot enough to cook an egg! And it stays hot. I dread having to wrestle my toddler in and out of the car seat in a hot parking lot. It’s no wonder that I pray for a big oak tree to park under. A shaded surface can be 20-45*F cooler than an unshaded surface. That’s a huge difference!

Want to Lower Your AC Bill?

Trees should be planted on the south, west and east sides of your home for maximum cooling. Unless you have a tree or structure, you won’t ever have shade on the south side of your house. The sun’s rays are strongest in the afternoon from the west, and the east morning sun streams into your windows to heat the house up early.  You want to plant your trees near enough to your home to shade the house, patio and yard, but far enough away to avoid roots damaging the foundation. Consider the location of underground utility lines, too.  Leave a few feet of space between your home and shrubs to allow for airflow. Larger trees will cast more shade, smaller trees and large shrubs will cast less. Bamboo is also an option, but please buy it from a reputable vendor to avoid the bane of running bamboo. The clumping variety is preferred so it doesn’t take over the neighborhood.

In addition to trees, vines on trellises or pergolas will grow quickly and cast shade.  In Florida, you shouldn’t allow vines to grow on your house; it can damage the exterior and lead to other problems down the road.  Low growing groundcover plants rather than rock or concrete can cool the ground up to 10 degrees.  I have a small concrete patio with rocks next to it and have noticed this area is super toasty. I think I’ll swap the rocks out for a native groundcover that doesn’t need to be mown and put a tall potted plant nearby to shade the patio.  Between the two, I’m sure to see a temperature drop.

Make a Game Plan

With a thoughtful arrangement of trees, shrubs and groundcovers, you can really lower the temperature of your yard, home and surroundings.  Imagine if all of your neighbors did the same – cooler street, cooler breezes! It’d be an oasis in this subtropical sauna of a Florida summer we’ve been having.


20180205_104017About Amanda

I have always had a passion for gardening and growing my own vegetables. As a child, my family grew most of our vegetables in our garden and picked wild berries and fruit, canning or freezing the excess, and sharing with friends and family. I didn’t appreciate the sense of community at the time; I was a child. But I always loved the plants. Now, I see the problems our communities face with food being grown in unhealthy ways, being shipped from one side of the world to the other, and processed with so many chemicals. I’d like to offer families a way out of this wasteful cycle and a chance to reconnect with nature. Using regenerative permaculture techniques, fruits and vegetables can be grown easily in your own yards. We live in an area with the capacity to produce such bounty. Let’s grow together!

Florida Gardening in May


It’s soggy here. Very, very soggy. It’s been raining and raining and raining. I’m not going to complain too much about the rain, but with rain comes flooding and mosquitoes. And right now my house has both.

Hurricane season is supposed to begin in June, but Tropical Storm Alberto wanted to get this summer started off with raging waves. So here we are another cloudy day with rain. (Though on a completely non-gardening note: wicked waves equal good surfing – too much for me today as a beginner surfer, but it’s still fun to watch all the more talented surfers rolling with the waves.)

Living in Florida does mean at some point your chances of experiencing a hurricane are pretty good, so we’re going to talk about how to hurricane prepare your garden as the season kicks off.

Hurricane preparation in the garden/yard:

Most people are aware you need to prepare your home for a hurricane, but many people neglect their outdoor area. This is an area that could hold potential hazards in high winds. If winds are high enough you will experience downed trees. If you’re in a coastal are, like I am, you’re going to experience some heavy flooding, so first be prepared to lose some plants.

Other preparations, include:

  • moving potted plants in a more sheltered area (either inside your home or protected by a outdoor structure and fence)
  • move in outdoor furniture or garden decorations
  • move fountains in a sheltered area (I lost a ceramic bowl during Hurricane Irma.)
  • prune dead tree branches
  • tie down newly planted trees
  • be sure to clean drainage areas to allow water to flow


May Gardening:

Like I said, it’s been raining, so I’ve been playing inside with garden designs and reading on edible weeds. I’m also designing gardening workshops for my new business, Pineapple Acres. Pineapple Acres is a holistic healing center with educational workshops meant to connect my clients to the healing power of nature. At the moment, I’m also a traveling community garden designer. It works for now, though I’m looking into purchasing my own piece of land eventually. Lots of planning and paperwork this month, but it’s okay…the rain is keeping the gardens happy.

What to plant in the vegetable garden:

We are reaching that time of year when I begin to shut down my annual vegetable garden. It just gets too hot or too wet for most plants. There are still a few hot-weather survivors.

  • cherry tomatoes
  • peppers
  • okras
  • sweet potatoes
  • dasheens
  • yautias
  • calabazas
  • Chayote

What is flowering:

  • Jamaican strawberry tree (I’m getting so many cherries on this tree!)
  • plumeria
  • lantana
  • oleander
  • periwinkle
  • perennial peanut
  • jasmine
  • bouganvallia
  • desert rose
  • marigolds
  • African ginger
  • hibiscus
  • squashes
  • watermelon
  • milkweed


Maccubbin, Tom. Month-By-Month Gardening Florida: What to Do Each Month to Have a Beautiful Garden All Year. Minneapolis, MN: Cool Springs Press, 2014.

Growing in the Garden

Plant More, Sweat Less

Learning to Cook with All that Food in the Garden

Learning to Grow in Long, Hot Summers!

Experiencing Permaculture

Learning to Design Shade Gardens

Dear Mr. Repairman

Learning About Permaculture

School Garden Project

Pretty Poinsettias for the Holidays

Holiday Shopping for Gardeners

Garden Therapy

Fly Away with the Butterflies

Meet Aya the Papaya

Control Mosquitoes Naturally-Plant Repelling Garden

Composting Conscious Consumer

Don’t Throw that Away! Compost it!

Let’s Get Dirty and Talk Soil

Learning to Grow in Long, Hot Summers! (notes from Austin, Texas)

Happy May! Many learning experiences include input from others. In the first week of every month, I’d like begin to introduce everyone to gardeners, permaculturists, teachers, spiritual mentors and friends who have inspired and supported my journey. If you are interested in contributing, contact me directly at Thank you!

As the first guest writer, I would like to welcome E. Ray Gard! E. Ray is a gardener, educator and designer in Austin, Texas. He writes his own blog, called Enjoy his article! And thank you, E. Ray!

Learning to grow in long, hot summers! (notes from Austin, Texas)

Hi there, our growing season here in Austin and the rest of surrounding Central Texas is a bit of a head scratcher to most people in the Northern parts of the United States. You see, we’re not quite tropical, thanks to those occasionally cold, albeit short, winter freezes that we get, but we’re not quite temperate, because our seasons are most accurately described as Summer and Fall/Winter?…well, maybe Summer and Not Summer?

Anyway, just like anyone with an unusual shoe size or uncommon first name can tell you, when you are outside of the norm, a perfect fit can be hard to come by, whether it’s shoes or good gardening advice.

So, while the rest of the United States is shuttering their garden sheds for the winter, we find ourselves filling up our greenhouses with seed trays full of kale, cabbages and spinach, getting ready to grow as many greens as we possibly can over the mild winter.

The tricky part (and this is where Florida might recognize the tune) comes in the middle of summer, while our friends to the north are rolling in verdant hills of delicate strawberry plants covered in glossy red fruit, we are staring at wilted fields of explosive, but exhausted squash, okra and tomatoes. By the middle of August, with the hot days followed by hot nights with low or high humidity, a Texas summer can kill or stunt most any vegetable.

On that note:

Tips for Gardening in Long, Hot Summers!

  1. Plants like rest!
    When the long hot days are followed by long hot nights, your plants, even if they’re well-watered, are constantly having to use energy (sugar) and other nutrients to cool themselves and maintain normal function. With this in mind, get to know your plants natural light requirements and be ready to plant some in partial shade because it might mean they can be slower to mature, but maintain productivity throughout the summer and be awesome fall producers once the temperatures start to lower.
  2. Keep your soil safe and hydrated!
    Too much rain can compact bare soils as well as wash nutrients like phosphorous, calcium, magnesium and sodium away, which makes them more acidic. Here in Central Texas, we have a lot of limestone in our soils, so low pH (acid) soils aren’t that common, but the rain can still be a powerful frenemy depending on how much and how often it comes to visit. If you are getting daily rains, be sure that your plants are located away from excessive runoff or pooling, unless they are adapted for that kind of pond living. Lots of water on a regular basis can wash away the smaller components of your soil (like humus and compost), which can actually reduce your soil’s ability to hold water when it’s not raining as well as rob your plants of necessary nutrients.
  3. Plants love great soils!
    This one might seem like a no-brainer, but to the point above about washing too much of the good stuff out of your soils, not only do those plants need water to survive the heat, they need tons of rich soil to pull a wide variety of nutrients out of. In people, this is like thinking that all you need after a run on a hot day is water, no food, no electrolytes, just water. Now imagine that you are running every single day, only drinking water to recover. I think you get my point, you have to feed your soil so your plants can have access to everything they need to run that race every single hot day of the summer.

I hope you found something helpful for learning to grow in Florida in these tips from a fellow gardener a few states to the West in Texas! I write about my own gardening experience and journey into permaculture and regenerative agriculture over on my blog at, so feel free to stop by and take a look for more useful information.


E. Ray Gard is a cowboy way down deep. He loves to experience other cultures and has lived and worked in France, Italy, Ecuador, Honduras and Syria, but currently calls Austin, Texas home. When he’s not covered in dirt and bits of vegetables, he’s learning to play the fiddle, training capoeira or BJJ, or working on his scifi novel. He grew up on a ranch and farm in rural New Mexico and has stayed in agriculture his whole life. He started teaching gardening as a bright-eyed Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador after college and has been sharing agriculture as a way to help people improve their health, environment and quality of life ever since. Since then, he’s studied permaculture, holistic management and more recently the Regrarian’s design platform as paths to be a better student of and partner with the land. E.Ray is passionate about healing the problems of the world in a garden. He believes deeply that nurturing a piece of land makes us better dreamers, warriors, lovers and human beings in general.

Meet the Teachers

20180426_203601Katrina is a stay-at-home mom with two children, ages 4 and 6. She got her AA in Environmental Science Technology and has a fascination with Florida Ecology. She is involved in Anchor Home School with her son Landon and the PTA at her daughter’s elementary school. She started a small garden a few years ago, found out how easy it is to grow edibles in your landscape, and has been adding on to her garden ever since. She loves to see her kids eat raw fruits and veggies right in the garden. Katrina is helping with a beautification project in Sun City and hopes to be involved in educating the community on how unique Florida is and how we can make small changes to keep you doing less work in your yard and more time enjoying it with your kids.

Stephanie is a mom of four children, ages 2, 4, 6, and 8. She has been gardening since she was pulling weeds in her mom’s large vegetable garden. Over the years, she’s moved from vegetables to flowers and now has a variety of perennials, vegetables, fruit trees, orchids, tillandsia and palms. Her favorite gardens are butterfly gardens, which attract many species of caterpillars, butterflies and hummingbirds. Stephanie recently has shared her love of plants with the Ruskin Elementary School in a beautification project on the campus. This included raised vegetable beds that can provide educational opportunities for the science teachers. This blog is where she documents her experiments in her own garden. She is also certified in permaculture design.

Learning to Design Shade Gardens

This past month, I was asked to design two small shade gardens, so I grabbed my books and went to the Internet to see what did well in Florida. Shade gardens can be limited by the colors used because blooms tend to need more sun, but I feel like these gardens still have a variety of color textures, creating its own foliage beauty. Here is what I came up with:

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (Brunfelsia):

This shrub is the centerpiece for this small garden. The blooms are purple, lavender, and white. But that isn’t the best part. The fragrance is AMAZING! These shrubs aren’t picky for soil or light and are easy to care for. Be sure to keep soil moist during dry spells and fertilize in spring. This shrub will grow from 7 to 10 feet tall and up to 12 feet wide. ¹

Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora):

The Autmn Fern or Japanese shield fern is a perennial fern that grows well in Florida. Its foliage can reach up to 2 feet tall. The foliage is a bronze-copper color in spring when the plant is young, then matures to a dark green. The cultivar Brilliance has more reddish to coppery coloring than other species and holds the coloration when it becomes mature. Keep the soil evenly moist. ²

*Cost: $98, mulch included. Plants purchased at Crowley’s Nursery and Gardens. Mulch purchased at Home Depot.





Hostas are a good shade-garden plant and were a favorite of mine when I lived in Illinois. I did read mixed reviews on hostas in Florida, so perhaps this is an experiment. They may not handle the heat well. This particular garden spot doesn’t get any direct sunlight, so I hope the hostas have a fighting chance to survive.

Aztec Grass:

This ground-cover grass is another plant that works well in shade and moist soil. This grass can be trimmed one a year. ¹

Tri-Color Ginger:

I chose this Brazilian-native ginger because of the color variety. This ginger does well in humidity and filtered light. It can grow from 2 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide. You can fertilize this plant up to every 2 weeks, though I would suggest adding compost and mulch to add more natural fertilizers. ²

Variegated Ginger

This ginger can be used as a substitute for ginger spice. This plant can grow from 5 to 8 feet tall. It needs to be in moist soil. If the soil is sandy, be sure to add compost and mulch to help remedy the soil. ³

*$68, mulch included. Note: Some of the other plants pictured were already apart of the garden. Plants and mulch were purchased at Lowe’s.








Dear Mr. Repairman:

Nothing is ever wasted in nature. Every dead corpse is recycled as food for life; everything has its place and contributes to a very sophisticated balance in the system. ~ Giovanni Dienstmann

Photo provided by Pexels

Dear Mr. Repairman,

You ruined my garden. I appreciate all you’ve done in replacing my water heater for a more energy efficient water heater. This will save me money. This will help save the planet. Still, you killed my plant.

How did you not see the beautiful purple shrub I had planted? I feel as if I lost a precious treasure. I grieve for the new blooms that will not be, the roots that may still move underground, but have no branches to forge new leaves. There is an empty space where there was once life. The plant will live on as compost creating nutrients for it’s fellow neighbors, but that had not been it’s intentions. It was supposed to inspire beauty through it’s own soulful blooms. Yet, that can not be.

I do not ask you to replace my shrub. I merely ask that next time you look where your big boots step before installing a water heater because you could be squashing the soul of a poor defenseless plant that can not even scurry out of the way.

With a heavy heart,

A Mournful Gardener