GROWING VEGETABLES, BERRIES & FRUIT TREES IN NORTH FLORIDA
Successful Vegetable Gardening in Florida
[Note: Please join me on Friday, March 7, 2 p.m., at the Gulf Coast Home and Garden Expo at the Bay County Fairgrounds for, "Keys to Successful Vegetable Gardening." Admission is free. Hope to see you there!2230 E. 15th St. Panama City, FL 32401]
For many, the words “We’re not in Kansas anymore” invoke childhood memories of the lovely Judy Garland, a motion picture, 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 below this article. 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.
I will be presenting a program on the keys to successful vegetable gardening at the Gulf Coast Home and Garden Expo, March 7, 2014, 2 p.m., at the Bay County Fairgrounds, 2230 East 15th Street. Admission is free. Hope to see you there!
Timing is one of the keys to gardening success in Florida. Staying within or close to the recommended planting dates can mean the difference between a bountiful harvest and no harvest. Of course, if the weather is out of the ordinary — say, especially hot, dry or wet — that needs to be factored in, too.
Planting dates for vegetables in Florida:
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Dennis Gilson, the Front-Yard Farmer, grows a variety of vegetables, berries and fruit trees at his home in Niceville, Florida. On these pages and in Florida Currents magazine, Dennis offers local gardening information, insight and advice for others who choose to eat what they grow in North Florida and across the state.
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