Vegetable gardening offers fresh air, sunshine, exercise, enjoyment, mental clarity, nutritious fresh produce, and economic savings, along with many other benefits. When I first started to garden, I had no clue what I was doing, and still don’t sometimes. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned between then and now, it’s this: anyone can do it! So if you’ve been thinking about starting your own garden, just give it a shot. Yes, there will be some failures, but that’s all part of the journey of learning what works and what doesn’t.
The first thing that you’ll need to know when planning your garden is what to grow & when to grow it.Vegetables can be grown year-round in Florida if attention is paid to the appropriate planting times. The chart I made below explains the schedule of Florida’s growing season, which is quite unique in comparison to other climates.
Hot Season: June through August
In most areas of North America, the growing season is observed between March or April through October before shutting down for the winter. Florida is the complete opposite. Our biggest variety of vegetables can be grown from October through March before we have to shut down for the summer. The heat and humidity interfere with pollen viability, and it create an environment that bugs and disease absolutely love.
One of the biggest misconceptions about gardening in Florida is that summer is our prime growing season. While there are a handful of vegetables that will do well in the summer heat, for the most part our summers are far too hot for most vegetables to produce.
If you’re up for the heat and humidity, sweet potatoes, okra, southern peas, and cherry tomatoes are great options for a summer garden. Some spring crops like peppers and eggplant may continue into the summer. As long as the plants are healthy, there’s no need to remove them if they’re still producing. It’s well into June, and my cucumber vines are still going strong!
Despite not having a huge variety of things to grow during these months, it’s still a great time to do some garden maintenance like composting, ordering seeds, and building/preparing new beds.
Warm Season: March through May; August through October
Florida’s warm seasons are a quirky time of year. We either jump straight from the heat of summer to our cool, sunny days of winter, or we experience a smoother transition between our hot and cool seasons. This year, for example, we had a lengthy warm season with daytime temps in the 70’s that lasted well into May.
As long as the climate is somewhat mild, sweet corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, squash, and several kinds of beans should thrive during these months. For best results, choose seed varieties that are recommended for Florida.
You can sow seeds directly in the soil, purchase organic seedlings from a local nursery, or start your own six to eight weeks before planting time. Reference the chart above when determining which seeds to sow directly in the soil (green font) and which to start under grow lights indoors (black font). For spring gardens in North and Central Florida, the planting time for most frost tender plants is in March. Make sure to plant early enough so that your vegetables have time to mature before the heat of summer kicks in.
Cool Season: October through March
Fall and Winter are by far the best times of the year to garden in the Sunshine State. Cool, dry weather finally begins to visit Florida and usually makes itself welcome for the next several months. Growing vegetables between October and March is a lot of fun and can fill your fridge with a lot of food. Cool-season vegetables to plant in October include beets, broccoli, lettuce, carrots, collards, kale, radishes and turnips.
While the cooler, dryer air does help reduce bug populations, be aware that certain insects will persist, especially aphids, whiteflies, leafminers, spider mites, cutworms & corn earworms.
Prior to planting, you may want to have your soil re-tested to check the pH level and nitrogen, phosphorous, & potassium levels. I recommend using these DIY kits to determine what nutrients you might need to add. Also remember to till your soil a few weeks before planting, and then add organic matter, such as cow manure or compost.
Florida is a unique state in which to garden. It can be frustrating to adjust to our wacky seasons, but it’s incredibly rewarding for gardeners who persevere. The more I learn, the more I look forward to sharing helpful information for Florida gardens. Now, go grow something!