Florida is different from the rest of the United States. Weather changes are extreme: Zones 10 and 11 mean high heat and rain during the summer (May through September) and almost desert dryness in the winter (October through April).
When most gardeners worry about the first frost, I plant tomatoes (setting them in peat moss to provide adequate moisture in our sandy soil). As northern gardeners put their beds to sleep, I clean out flowerbeds, mix in compost, and plant annuals. Winter days are shorter, cooler, and drier, so I move my orchids from shade into the sun. I trim and shape my mahogany trees and crotons after their frenzied growth during the hot, wet summer. And I mulch beds, not to ward off freezing and thawing, but to prevent water loss through the dry season ahead.
About Memorial Day, when other gardeners enjoy the feel of newly turned earth, I'm shutting down. I pick the last of the tomatoes and pull out the annuals--very few can withstand a South Florida summer. Days are longer, hotter, and wetter, so I move all my orchids out of the sun and into a cool, shady spot. While northern gardeners excitedly plant new varieties, I trim back, clean beds, and fertilize so I won't have to go outdoors much in the heat to tend the yard. I trim trees for hurricane season and clear a spot in the house to bring in potted plants during hurricane warnings.
Not only are the seasons reversed, many perennial plants are different, too. Epiphytic plants (plants that don't need to grow with their roots in the ground) do well in South Florida because they rarely get waterlogged. And they can pull adequate moisture from the air during the winter months, so they don't need constant watering. One of the most interesting and well-adapted native epiphytes is the resurrection fern (Polypodium polypodioides). It looks dry and crisp most of the time, but with a little rain the fronds uncurl and become bright green.
In our subtropical climate, you can hang orchids, bromeliads, and epiphytic ferns in your trees, feed them once a month, and call yourself a gardener! Among my orchids, cattleyas, lady of the night (Brassavola nodosa), moth orchids, and the lovely native butterfly orchid (Encyclia tampensis) bloom happily hanging on my fence or in my schefflera tree. Bromeliads such as urn plant (Aechmea fasciata), Guzmania spp., Neoregelia spp., and Vriesea spp. grow around the base of the tree, interspersed with whisk ferns (Psilotum spp.) and a native peperomia as ground covers.
One terrific thing about these subtropical plants is that they live a long time and become old friends. I have a staghorn fern (Platycerium spp.) that I started on a coconut 27 years ago, and an oncidium orchid I got as a cutting about 15 years ago.
So now, while most gardeners are taking a break from their garden tasks, I'm gearing up. And next spring, when others prepare for a new garden season, I'll be reading seed catalogs-and dreaming about my fall garden.