Updated: Dec 17, 2020
The conversation always goes like this. “I would love to start a garden, but I have a brown thumb.”
What an odd saying. Is there another skill that has a pre-made expression for not knowing how to do it? It’s like saying “I’m sorry, I don’t know Mandarin Chinese, I have a brown thumb.” I know I don’t know Mandarin Chinese because I have never taken the time to learn it. I have never read up on the subject or studied the language, that is why I can't speak it.
Gardening is a skill, both learned and applied. A certain amount of knowledge needs to be learned and then a certain amount of effort needs to be applied to become proficient at it.
So if you believe you have a brown thumb and you want to have a greener one, where do you start? You study the subject. To get you started, I’m going to list some basic gardening tips for growing in Florida.
A huge key to a successful garden is plant selection
Selecting the right kinds of plants is very important. In the same way that a penguin will not be as happy living in Florida as an alligator will, a Northern plant will not do as well as one that originated from here or somewhere like here. Most box store varieties of plants and seeds are aimed toward the Northern and Midwestern climates. They don’t do well in this heat. That is why every year you go buy your starter plants, set everything up and then watch it all die. Those plants just didn’t belong here, their death was not your fault. Learn what grows in your region and when it grows. Learn about zones and find out which one you are in. (Central Florida is zone 9) Then select your varieties accordingly. They will do much better.
The next biggest issue is timing
Again, the box stores start putting out the starts in April. In Florida, April is too late. Your starts should go out mid-late February, or once the chance of freeze has passed. This will give your plants enough time to mature before the summer heat becomes too much to handle. An alternate plan is to put your starts out in mid-late October, again, once the weather begins to shift slightly. Your plants will get months of growing time. The cooler fall weather also means fewer bugs and disease, making your gardening much easier than in the spring. If you protect your plants from a freeze, you can even over winter them and continue your harvest until April or May.
You can complete your skill set by learning what pests are common to your climate and how to combat them.
Learn the basics of soil nutrition and fertilization and make sure your plants have all of the nutrients they need to thrive.
Learn proper irrigation methods and how to preserve moisture.
Start small. Once you master one thing, then you can begin to learn about something else. Season by season there will always be something new to try, some new plant to learn about. As with any hobby or skill, it is a process, and sometimes a very personal one.
One day you will find yourself surrounded by plants and experience. And then someone will say to you, “Boy, I wish I could grow plants like that, but I have a brown thumb.”