Expert Tips For Successful Gardening In Florida's USDA Planting Zones

How Florida planting zones impact your landscape and plant choices.

florida gardening


A beautiful Florida landscape might bring to mind visions of heart-shaped Caladium leaves, oak trees draped in Spanish moss, and colorful dahlias—all well-suited to the Sunshine State’s unique subtropical climate and sandy soil conditions. How can you ensure success in your Florida garden? 

To answer that question, we turned to gardening expert Betty Morrell and asked her to share her best advice for gardening success in Florida. Hint: It all starts with Florida's planting zones! The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designated four planting zones (zones 8-11) in the state, and this is what you need to know about growing and planting in each.

Betty Morrell is a gardening expert and spokesperson for the Southern Living Plant Collection.

Identifying The USDA Zones In Florida 

The USDA Zones provide a valuable tool for helping gardeners know where plants will be cold hardy based on the average yearly low temperatures your area experiences. Each zone represents a range of your area’s coldest temperatures annually, calculated based on a 30-year average. For example, if you live in Zone 9b (Orlando, Florida), your average lowest temperatures are 25 to 30 °F.

Florida has four USDA Zones, 8a to 11b, broken down as follows:

  • Zones 8a and 8b (10 to 20 °F) include much of the Panhandle, including Destin, Tallahassee, and parts of Panama City. 
  • Zones 9a and 9b (20 to 30 °F) include the coastal Panhandle cities of Pensacola and the rest of Panama City. It also encompasses much of the top two-thirds of the state, including Jacksonville, Kissimmee, Lakeland, Gainesville, Orlando, and Ocala. 
  • Zone 10 (30 to 40 °F) includes many of Florida’s coastal gems, such as Tampa, Clearwater, most of Sarasota, Naples, Vero Beach, West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, and parts of Miami. 
  • Zone 11 (40 to 50 °F) includes the rest of Miami and the Florida Keys. 
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Why Florida Gardeners Should Care About USDA Zones

Florida is famous for its lush landscapes! Plants in other states merely dream of growing thrive in Florida’ warm, humid climate. However, a cold snap or unanticipated freeze can wreak havoc if Florida gardeners plant without heeding their USDA Zone. 

The good news? Awareness of your zone—plus a few simple care tips—can allow your plants to thrive throughout the year, even if they’re only marginally cold-hardy in your area, explains Morrell. If you desire a plant that prefers a warmer climate than the one you live in, a few simple steps (such as bringing the plant indoors or giving it a winter cover during the coldest months) will allow you to grow plants that are just beyond your hardiness zone.

Also, it surprises some new gardeners to learn that microclimates can exist, even within the space of a single property. The presence or absence of trees, walls that block the wind or absorb heat, and the elevation of your property within your town or city can all impact the high and low temperatures that your plants experience. Accordingly, you may be unrestricted by your USDA Zone in that location. On the other hand, the microclimates may allow you to grow plants from slightly cooler or warmer zones than your region typically allows. One of the easiest ways to understand the microclimates in your yard (as many lifelong gardeners will attest) is simple trial and error. Still, if you’re looking for a more accurate gauge, a soil thermometer can help you measure the in-ground temperature of your intended growing area.

How To Use the Florida Growing Zones Map 

Once you’ve located your property on the Florida Growing Zones map, your USDA Zone will assist in your growing success. However, your observation skills play a crucial role, too. Pay attention to how the sun travels across your yard each season, and watch where rain collects in light rain and heavy storms. Speak with your neighbors about the plants that thrive and fail in their yards. Reach out to your local extension agency for any questions about pests or diseases you may note in your yard. Take advantage of your local public gardens for design inspiration and educational classes.

florida garden


Best Tips For Planting In Your Zone

When selecting plants for your landscape, the plant’s tag provides helpful information. On it, you’ll see the USDA Zones the plant is hardy in and the recommended sun exposure and water needs.

Florida experiences temperate weather, but summers can be sweltering. Planting in autumn or early spring allows the plant to get established before the brutal summer heat sets in.

The planting zones offer a practical, reliable tool for selecting appropriate plants. But realize that, despite sharing the same USDA Zone, someone living near Florida’s coast may experience different climate conditions than someone living a few hours inland, says Morrell. In addition, coastal living comes with more salt in the air and groundwater, so you must select plants with strong salt tolerance. Many nurseries and plant companies will cite “salt tolerance” or “coastal friendly” on the plant tag. As a good starting place, bougainvillea, Clean Sweep™ Snowbank™ Indian Hawthorne, Twist of Pink™ Oleander, and Beach Ball™ Pittosporum or Mojo® Pittosporum are beautiful and salt-tolerant landscape staples.

It’s also important to consider the quality of your soil as it relates to your zone. Living in a lush, year-round temperate USDA Zone like 8 or 9 means an extensive palette of plants thrives in your climate. However, if you lack rich, loamy soil, the success of certain plants may be limited, as nutrients drain quickly through this type of soil. Thankfully, plenty of tools exist for identifying the type(s) of soil on your property, selecting appropriate plants, and amending it if desired. Florida’s Extension Agency offers soil testing services, with instructions on how to take samples from your yard and submit them to determine your soil pH, composition, and other key pieces of information that will boost your gardening success. Once you know the type of soil(s) present in your yard, you can select plants, fertilize, and amend as needed to support the plant palette you want.

Finally, container plantings offer a versatile way to showcase the range of plants that thrive in Florida’s warm growing zones. If you struggle with sandy soil, a container planting filled with high-quality potting soil can avoid the added challenge your in-ground plantings would otherwise face. A poolside patio planting provides one terrific way to showcase fantastic foliage and florals in a tropical palette. Opt for heat-friendly, water-wise selections like Skyscraper® Senecio, Pot of Gold Little Lucky™ Lantana, or Ever Midnight™ Agapanthus. For year-round color, select a container planting with multi-hued foliage rather than flowers, such as the new Royal Hawaiian® ‘Waikiki’ Colocasia with its eye-catching pink veining.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best way to find your USDA zone?

    To find your USDA Zone, this interactive map provides a high level of specificity. The University of Florida’s UF/IFAS Extension serves as a tremendous home gardening resource, offering programs like Master Gardener and Master Naturalist programs, the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide, and free and low-cost gardening classes and workshops. Many county offices offer these resources, providing a convenient way to connect with experts in your local area.

  • Where can Florida gardeners look for inspiration?

    Florida is home to many internationally acclaimed botanical gardens, such as Miami’s Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, Jacksonville’s Cummer Museum and Gardens, Sarasota’s Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, and Lake Wales’ Bok Tower Gardens. These gardens serve as a source of landscape design, inspiration, and educational opportunities for learners of all ages.

  • Where is the best place to buy plants that will thrive in your zone?

    Morrell suggests visiting local garden stores and nurseries, who are experts in what plants will and will not thrive in the zone they're in. When shopping for plants online, companies like Southern Living Plant Collection and PlantsByMail allow you to search or filter by your USDA Zone or Zip Code, showing only hardy plants in your area. This helps ensure your chosen plant will thrive when it reaches your doorstep.

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