The Dirt on Dirt: Making the Best of Your South Florida Soil

The Dirt on Dirt: Making the Best of Your South Florida Soil on

Tips for keeping your Florida garden in shape

Any gardener knows that in order to have a healthy garden, he or she must first have a strong foundation – namely, really good soil. Any gardener in South Florida, though, knows the soil here isn’t great. In fact, it can barely be considered soil at all.

According to the University of Florida IFAS, Florida soil is mostly gray sand, also known as Myakka (pronounced My-yakah), a Native American word for “big waters.” In fact, Myakka covers so much of the state that it’s Florida’s Official State Soil. (Yes, we have an official state soil.)

Nevertheless, Myakka shouldn’t deter anyone from getting outside and growing. With the help of soil amendments, Florida soil can be turned into a healthier growing medium.

The difference between healthy soil and, well, Florida soil

Healthy soil is the stuff of gardening dreams. It’s loose and can hold moisture, nutrients, and microorganisms. Florida soil really doesn’t allow for that. The good stuff usually washes right through the fine sand, although a lot can depend on where you live in the state.

Panhandle soil contains a lot of clay, while North and Central Florida soils tend to be very sandy. Moving down the peninsula, south of the Everglades, the soil is peat based and, as a result, is very fertile.

Then, there is the rest of South Florida. Soil is shallow and has a high pH because of limestone bedrock – and that is the challenge for South Florida gardeners and their gardens.

The history of South Florida limestone

In order to understand why there is so much limestone in South Florida soil, it’s necessary to travel back in time to when much of the area was beneath a shallow sea. According to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, as the seas receded, grains of sand and shells were coated with calcium carbonate. Eventually, the seabed was exposed and it baked in the subtropical sun, cementing the particles together – and giving gardeners of Miami limestone to work with.

Often mistaken for coral, Miami limestone (which only exists here and in the Bahamas) makes gardening a challenge. Because of its high pH (7.8-8.1) many plants struggle to be healthy. It also doesn’t help that the limestone doesn’t hold water or nutrients.

What’s a South Florida gardener to do?

To begin, South Florida gardeners may want to take a soil sample to their local extension office in order to get an accurate reading of the pH level. From there, gardeners can select plants best suited to their specific alkalinity.

There’s also the possibility of playing garden chemist, which involves manually changing the soil’s alkalinity with additives such as lime or sulfur. These measures, however, may be temporary since these additives can damage existing plants and be washed out of the soil with rain and watering.

A better option for South Florida gardeners

In order to improve both water/nutrient retention and drainage, it’s always a good idea to add organic matter, such as manure, compost, or worm castings, into the soil.

  • For new flower and vegetable beds, add the good stuff before planting. Break up any compacted soil – common in heavy foot traffic and new home construction areas – with a pitchfork or shovel and then mix in the composted material.
  • For established beds and plants, add a layer of composted material to the surface. This can be gently raked in, but be careful not to damage or disturb roots. Another method is to let organisms feed on the organic matter in the compost, and this life process will help your plants.

Now that your dirt is healthy, Platinum Mosquito Protection wants you to plant and play, enjoy and entertain. To help make your garden space even more inviting and gardener-friendly, you may want to consider installing an automatic misting system to control the mosquito population.

For more information or a free onsite consultation, contact us through our online form.

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