Keys to a successful vegetable garden in North Florida


For many, the words “We’re not in Kansas anymore” invoke childhood memories of the lovely Judy Garland, and more adventure than most would expect from one young woman and a dog. But for me, those words serve to sum up Florida veggie gardening for newcomers.

The unique challenges created by our climate, soil and pest pressure often require approaches and applications that range from slightly dissimilar to wildly different than those found in other areas of the country.

Addressing and dealing with those differences are the foundation of my five keys to successful vegetable gardening in Florida: Right place, right soil, right variety, right time, and right now!

The right place for your vegetable garden is one that gets lots of sunlight. At least six to eight hours per day for most vegetables (leafy, green veggies can tolerate a little less). We can improve poor soil, but there is no substitute for sunlight. Do not underestimate its importance. Try to choose a location that has sufficient sunlight in both winter and spring, is close to your source of water, and conveniently located near the house.

The right soil for vegetable gardening does not occur naturally in Florida, so we must amend the soil to make it more favorable. Organic matter, such as compost, is added to the soil to provide nutrients and hold moisture. Testing the pH of the soil, and correcting it if necessary, increases a plant’s ability to take up nutrients. Local cooperative extension services typically offer soil testing.

The right variety often means a cultivar other than what is commonly grown outside the South. Select varieties that are resistant to disease, stand up to the heat and humidity (often labeled as a “Southern Performer” or something similar), and which grow and mature in our somewhat abbreviated growing periods.

The right time to plant in Florida is often madly different that other parts of the country. Planting times vary for north, central, and South Florida, but in most instances, we’re planting crops long before most. Getting an early start on our warm season garden often is vital because most vegetables will not grow during the heat of the summer as they do elsewhere.  Recommended planting dates for the state can be found by clicking on the links found in the right column of this page.  Remember, the dates are meant to serve as guidelines and are not set in stone.

The right time also applies to the application of fertilizer, disease control and pesticides.

Plants in the garden which are susceptible to disease should be treated early on and regularly as a preventative measure. In contrast, most pesticides are applied only after observing a growing population of insects or unacceptable insect damage. There are exceptions, such as treating corn for corn worms and squash for vine borers in anticipation of their arrival.

Fertilizer, too, must be applied regularly and in a timely fashion. Most warm season vegetables require a side dressing of fertilizer every three to four weeks. The timing of fertilizing is even more important in organic gardening because of the lack of fast release nitrogen in organic fertilizers and compost.

Right now! My last but immensely crucial key to success. Don’t let the new season catch you unprepared. There is no better time than right now to get things organized and ready for your next vegetable garden.


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