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Florida is a subtropical paradise with balmy beach breezes, abundant flowers, and long, sun drenched days. Relocated gardeners may be surprised to learn that this combination provides many challenges and may require some simple but important adjustments to ensure a healthy lawn and garden in Florida.

The gardener must understand the basic fact about the Florida climate. Some of Florida is a lush tropical world, but most of Florida is a pine forest on a sand bar surrounded by salt water. The pine forest causes the sandy soil to be acidic, and it drains poorly. The salty shores are more alkaline and have a high salt content, which is caustic to many plant varieties. To have a successful garden in Florida, you must improve the soil, find plant varieties that are native and hardy to the conditions, and use fertilizers and pesticides with caution.

The sandy soil throughout Florida benefits from the addition of organic material, such as compost and manure. Organic additives will provide nutrients, improve drainage and provide the "good" bacteria necessary to combat the microscopic pests prolific in Florida soil. Nematodes are the bacteria that can kill your plants and grass quickly, especially when your soil lacks organic components.

Fertilizers and pesticides can be useful, but if not used with caution, they can destroy your garden and contaminate your water supply. The key is a balance of the components. You must follow the manufacturer's instructions for the application of the product. Too much water and too much fertilizer will cause more problems than they will solve. Thatch is one conditon caused by too much fertilizer and water. Thick, gnarled patches of grass and root lead to dense, thick, brown patches that can only be cured by backbreaking work to break up the dense mass. Proper proportions of water and fertilizer will prevent these problems and keep you from having to mow the lawn every other day during the rainy season.

Your next step to achieve your Florida dream garden is to take a look around your neighborhood and see what plants are thriving. You will find that native plants provide a broad spectrum of color and landscape interest and require the least effort to maintain. Check labels carefully and ask at your local garden center for varieties that are hardy. You can save the challenging varieties for a year or two down the line when you have more experience in your Florida garden.

The basic guidelines to a succesful start in your Florida garden are to choose heat tolerant plant varieties, balance water and fertilizer, and improve the soil. You will achieve the lush garden paradise you dream about when you work with the climate and adapt to the unique conditions in Florida.