FLORIDA — “Timing is everything.” The person who coined this phrase must have been a gardener because the time of year that certain cultural practices are performed often means the difference between success and failure.
Bulbing onions and strawberries are frequently misunderstood and planted at the wrong time of year in our area.
We can produce nice, sweet onions with bulbs up to four inches in diameter, with flavor that rivals those Vidalia, Georgia. To do this, we must set out plants in the fall, not in the spring like they do up north. In fact, onions planted after the first of the year make small bulbs or maybe just green onion tops.
Some North Florida gardeners successfully grow large sweet onions. Here’s how they do it. They use varieties of short-day onions such as Grano, Granex, Texas Grano, Excel, or Tropicana Red. Granex is the variety that is used for producing Vidalia onions and St. Augustine Sweets.
Some gardeners seed their onions in September and have plants ready for transplanting to the garden in November or early December. Others just buy the plants of these varieties during fall.
These plants are established four to five inches apart in rows that are twelve to twenty-four inches apart. Light fertilization will be required during the season to keep them vigorous. Onions grow well during our relatively mild winters and will be ready for harvest from April through May.
Many gardeners go wrong with strawberries by planting them in spring. In our area of the country, they should be planted during October and November. Like onions, strawberry plants are cold hardy, producing a full-sized plant by spring and yielding a crop from March through May.
Use only “short day” strawberry varieties. These include Chandler, Sweet Charlie, Dover, Selva, Oso Grande, Florida Belle, and Florida 90.
Fall is the time for planting other cool-season vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, collards, bunching onions, turnips, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, endive, escarole, kale, kohlrabi, leek, lettuce, mustard, parsley, and radish can all be planted in fall.
The time of year that many flowering and shrubby perennials are transplanted also makes a big difference. Many of the spring flowering bulbs are best planted in fall. Fall is an ideal time to move a shrub from one place in the yard to another or to plant and establish new trees and shrubs in your landscape.
The subject of proper timing can be applied to fertilization, pest control, pruning and almost any other gardening practice. Done at the right time, expect good results. On the other hand, if done at the wrong time of year, much time and money are wasted.