Floridian Nature

Learn about Florida's beautiful and unique nature.

Florida Gardens: Vegetable Gardens
Vegetable gardening offers fresh air, sunshine, exercise, enjoyment, mental therapy, nutritious fresh vegetables, and economic savings, as well as many other benefits. Gardens may be grown year-round in Florida, but spring is the preferred season. Statewide there are over 1 million vegetable gardens, averaging 300 sq. ft. and a retail value of $300. Vegetable gardeners in Florida are lucky to have lots of sunshine and mild winters amenable to growing a multitude of food crops most months of the year. That said, Florida home growers face several challenges that northern gardeners do not. Florida soils in many locations are mostly sand and not very fertile. Most garden beds will need to be amended with compost, manure or commercial mixes to improve water and nutrient holding. Organic or synthetic fertilizers will also need to be mixed into the soil to improve fertility. To determine what kind of soil amendments are needed, have a soil pH test performed. This can be done at the local University of Florida IFAS Extension Office for a small fee. Add amendments as determined by the pH test, and add fertilizers 4-6 weeks before planting. Till these into the top 6-8 inches of soil. Compost home yard and kitchen waste to use in the garden each season, or obtain free compost from the local landfill, if available. For further information on Florida gardening, you may want to purchase a book from our Florida Nature Library.

Site - Locate the garden near the house for convenience on a site close to a source of water with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. With proper care, vegetables may also be included in the landscape among ornamental plants. Where possible, practice site rotation for weed and other pest control. Coastal sites are also suitable.

Soil Preparation - While most gardeners plant on whatever soil type is available in the garden plot, you may improve your soil by bringing in topsoil or a soil mix, or by applying liberal amounts of organic materials. Spade or plow the plot at least 3 weeks before planting. Then rework the soil into a fine firm seedbed at planting time.

Organic Matter - Most Florida soils benefit from applications of various forms of organics such as animal manure, rotted leaves, compost, and cover crops. Thoroughly mix liberal amounts of organics in the soil well in advance of planting, preferably at least a month before seeding. Spread 25 to 100 pounds of compost or animal manure per 100 sq. ft. if you do not expect to use inorganic fertilizer. Well-composted organics may be applied at planting time. Due to inconsistent levels of nutrients in compost, accompanying applications of balanced inorganic fertilizer may be beneficial. Organic amendments low in nitrogen, such as composted yard trash, must be accompanied by fertilizer to avoid plant stunting.

Cover Crops - Off season planting and plow-down of green-manure crops is beneficial. In Florida, such summer legumes as cowpeas and hairy indigo are most often used. In winter try ryegrass plus lupine, and hairy vetch.

Fertilizing - Unless very large quantities of organic fertilizer materials are applied, commercial fertilizer is usually needed for Florida gardens. Gardeners find it convenient to use commonly available fertilizer grades such as 8-8-8 or 15-15-15. Be sure to include micronutrients if soil pH is above 6.3.

Irrigation and Drainage - Provide sufficient drainage of excessive rainfall from your plot, while arranging for irrigation during dry periods. Frequency of irrigation depends upon your soil type; sandy soils need water 2 or 3 times a week. Conserve water by using mulch, organic matter, and techniques such as drip irrigation. Make a slight depression at the base of plants to hold water until absorbed by the soil.

Weed Control - The primary purpose of cultivation is to control weeds. Weeds are easier to control when small. In gardens, practical weed control is best accomplished by hand-pulling, hoeing, mechanical cultivation, or mulching. Chemical herbicides are not suggested.

Nematodes-  Most Florida soils contain nematodes, microscopic worms that can seriously reduce growth and yield of most vegetables by feeding in or on their roots. Nematode damage is less likely in soils with high levels of organic matter and where crops are "rotated" so that the same members of the same family are not planted repeatedly in the same soil. Excessive nematode populations may be reduced temporarily by "soil solarization." To "solarize" your soil, first remove vegetation, then break up the sol and wet to activate that nematode population. After preparing the soil, cover it with sturdy clear plastic film during the warmest six weeks of summer. High temperatures (above 130F) must be maintained during this time for best results.

Choose Seeds and Plants Wisely- Be sure to choose varieties that are well adapted to Florida’s climate and the typical pests and diseases found there. The seeds and transplants found in retail stores may not be appropriate for Florida as they are often ordered in bulk for the whole country. It is a good idea to research varieties before making a decision, and ordering seeds that have the highest likelihood of yielding a good crop in Florida. Make sure to plant warm season crops and cool season crops at the appropriate times or results will be sure to disappoint.
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