Sustainable South Florida Living with Natives, Fruits and Flowers



As published in the Miami Herald

Take a step outside your front door on most any day in South Florida and the climate will take you away. Welcome
to the
Caribbean! Indeed, sometimes with our
hectic pace of life here on the mainland we forget the simple fact that for
most of the year we are climatically-speaking the greater
We share much of our natural world, the plants and the animals, with our island
neighbors, and ignoring this fact invites many challenges in your home garden.

Like the Caribbean our
soils are thin and poor, our summer long and rainy, the winter and spring dry
and windy, and we have our share of tropical storms and hurricanes. Yet, with
the proper plant selection we can create a
paradise with a gracious bountiful of fruit throughout the year. For, make no
mistake about it, the
South Florida fruit
gardener is blessed. No where else in the world is it possible to purchase
quality fruit trees that meet your every whim and to grow them to fruition –
all without the need for dangerous chemicals. There are a few important points
however that the home gardener must remember. By following these guidelines
there is no excuse for a barren landscape of costly and
environmentally-unfriendly grass.

First you must select fruit trees that are well adapted to
our climate. The list of appropriate species is long and diverse. There are
fruit trees for every culture, taste, and season here in South
. Mango, avocado, sapodilla, mamey sapote, spanish lime,
jackfruit, caimito, abrico, white sapote, tamarind, jocote, persimmon, coconut,
canistel, macadamia, pineapple, passionfruit, Barbados cherry, dragon fruit and
citrus are just a few of your potential choices. Specialty bookstores at parks,
botanical gardens and your local extension office offer a few classic publications
on fruit trees for
South Florida, and there
are resources available on the internet. Take care to seek out information that
is specific to our area; avoid the generic offerings. Drive, ride your bike and
walk around the community to get an idea of what is possible.

The prudent gardener does not ignore the laws of nature. Caribbean fruit gardening means that one embraces the
monsoon, the pattern of rainfall that results in a cool and dry winter and
spring and warm, wet summer. Most of our fruit trees are well adapted to a
monsoon climate. Irrigation will only damage the tree’s overall health and
production and reduce quality. Reserve the irrigation for your lawn.

We must think in three dimensions in order to optimize space
and to provide for a truly wonderful garden. There are upper and lower canopy
fruit trees in the Caribbean
garden. The
mango, avocado, mamey sapote, sapodilla and Spanish lime form the upper canopy,
with the tamarind, jackfruit caimito, canistel pineapple and jocote below. A
vertical stratification of the canopy in this way will maximize space, provide
for a greater diversity in the home garden and also protect against losses due
to hurricanes. The
Caribbean fruit garden will
show a rapid recovery following a storm.

Pruning is essential to maintain the size and productivity
of the garden. Topping for size control and thinning of the canopies will aid
in maintaining proper yields and productivity. It will also keep the fruit
closer to the ground for your enjoyment, instead of the squirrels and birds.

A diverse fruit landscape will be more resistant to pests
and disease due to an increase in the predators and natural controls. The home
gardener will also learn a greater appreciation for tolerance within the home
landscape. When encountering an insect on your prized canistel you will
hopefully find yourself asking what type of an insect it is, and not just how
to kill it. Most insects and disease in the home landscape are best handled
through patience and care. There is no need for chemicals. This is a
fundamental change within ourselves that the diverse Caribbean

fruit garden may help to foster.

Sustainable production will also reach into the
horticultural care of the fruit garden. Commercial chemical fertilizers will be
used sparingly, favoring instead the use of mulches and composts to provide for
the fertilizer needs of the trees. When one changes over from chemical
fertilizers there is an immediate and positive impact on your wallet, on the
fruit quality and on the overall health and resilience of the Caribbean

fruit garden. Mulching will be a cornerstone of the Caribbean Fruit garden.
Given the poor nature of our soils here in
South Florida,
any addition of organic matter is welcome. Mulching will increase water
retention, suppress weeds and increase the overall health of the trees. 

Welcome back to the Caribbean,
even if you have not physically moved. It is easy to get swept up in the hustle
and bustle of our lives in
South Florida, but
within our home landscape the
Caribbean fruit
garden can give us perspective. The monsoon-adapted fruit trees will gently
rock you into an appreciation for the seasons, marked by the bloom and the
harvest. You will not need a calendar to mark the season; it will be the mango
and the tamarind that cycle to the wet and the dry by means of the bloom and
their sweet reward. Good growing!