HOW TO GROW VEGETABLES IN NORTHWEST FLORIDA

How to grow strawberries, onions in Northwest Florida

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Onions and strawberries have little in common, except perhaps in Northwest Florida, where gardeners plant strawberries and onions at the wrong time of year more often than any other vegetables frequently grown at home. Together, they serve as the poster vegetables of how the timing of sowing vegetables in Florida is vastly different than most other states.

Growing onions and strawberries in the spring is more popular in this country than a cheerleader at the homecoming dance. Heck, it’s nearly a national pastime. So it is no wonder that so many Floridians follow suit and put out onion sets and strawberry plants as winter wanes and spring beckons.

Unhappily, most of those Florida onions planted in the spring won’t have enough time between becoming established and the onset of summer heat to develop large bulbs. Strawberry plants are impacted in a similar fashion by the heat. Plants put in the garden in the spring don’t have the time they need to produce large numbers of berries before the heat puts the brakes on production.

So instead of planting onions and strawberries in the spring and harvesting them during the summer, in Florida we plant them in the fall and harvest them in spring, or even earlier for strawberries. Both onions and strawberries grow well with the cooler temperatures and growing conditions that come with fall and winter, and both are very cold hardy.

In most of the state onions are best put out in the garden November- early December (October-November in south Florida). If you are starting plants from seeds they should be started in September in order to be ready for transplanting when the weather cools down.

In Florida we have the best success growing selected varieties of “short-day” onions. Short-day onions require days that are only 11 to 12 hours long before plants switch from producing new foliage to growing bulbs. Suggested varieties of short-day onions for Florida are Excel, Texas Grano, Granex, White Granex and Tropicana Red. Granex is the variety that is used for producing the popular Vidalia onions and St. Augustine Sweets.

Onions can be harvested as soon as the bulbs are large enough for your needs. They are fully mature when the tops of the plants turn from green to yellow and the foliage flops over to the ground (late spring-early summer).

Once picked, cure the plants by allowing them to dry in an airy, dry place for about a week. Then clip the roots and tops, leaving about an inch of the dry neck. Sweet onions, such as Granex, are not long-keeping storage onions. The longer keepers, such as Texas Grano, will keep for several months.

Strawberries are planted in October and November across Florida. Both bare-root transplants and tray transplants are planted at this time. The best choices for Florida are short-day varieties such as Sweet Charlie, Chandler, and Selva.

Strawberry plants are often planted in the home garden by setting them 12 inches by 12 inches apart on mulched beds. Black plastic is frequently used as mulch, as is straw and hay. When planted in the fall, strawberry plants should begin to produce blooms during the winter as the days get shorter and cooler. Berry production soon follows and continues until the beginning of the summer heat, as late as May in north Florida.

Strawberry plants do quite well when grown in containers; usually better than they do when planted in soil. Simply use a good quality potting mix.

Unlike most other areas of the country, we cultivate strawberry plants as annuals in Florida rather than perennials. At the end of each growing season we remove the plants from the garden and start over again in the fall with fresh, healthy transplants.

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