10 Tips for Successfully Growing Vegetables in Florida

August 22, 2021 14 min read

10 Tips for Successfully Growing Vegetables in Florida

A vegetable hand-picked from your own garden tastes better than anything you can buy in a store. Florida is an excellent state for growing vegetables year round, but it requires different strategies from what you may be used to up north.

Gardeners need to be mindful of certain challenges- like the heat and humidity- and adopt specific strategies to overcome these challenges so they can enjoy their vegetable garden without worry.

There are many people who have a passion for gardening. It’s not uncommon to see them spend hours doing yard work on weekends or evenings after work.

Vegetable gardening doesn't only offer nutritious and fresh vegetables, it also offers fresh air, sunshine, exercise, enjoyment, and mental therapy.

If you want to grow your own vegetables, there are a few things you need to consider. This guide will help you plan and manage your garden with Florida's climate in mind.

Starting a Vegetable Garden in Florida

If you have never started a vegetable garden before, there are many things you need to know.

First and foremost, do your homework. You can start by testing the soil in your yard to make sure it has enough nutrients for growing food. Talk with other local gardeners about their successes and failures over the years.

Consider the time and energy you are willing to invest in your new vegetable garden. Even if you make the most perfect plan for your garden, things do not always go as expected. It is vital to be flexible enough that you can change your plans when necessary without becoming over stressed or frustrated.

If preparing the soil is too overwhelming, don’t worry! You can purchase soil that is already balanced with nutrients and rich in organic matter. This will help speed up the healthy growth of your vegetables, flowers, and plants.

Things You Will Need:

Planting Indoors or in Containers

  • Seed trays or starter pots

  • Containers

  • Organic fertilizer

  • Grow lights

  • Potting soil

  • Hand trowel

  • Indoor watering can

  • Pruners

Planting In-Ground Outdoors

  • Shovel

  • Garden spade

  • Garden rake

  • Wheelbarrow

  • Garden knife

  • Pruners

  • Fertilizer

  • Hose and nozzle (or sprinkler)

Steps in Florida Vegetable Gardening

Starting an organic garden is as simple as following these steps: find a sunny spot, water regularly, and fertilize occasionally. Plant seeds. Harvest and enjoy!

However, this is overly simplistic. There are many other details that will help make your organic garden even more successful. And you will quickly learn that gardening in Florida is very different from gardening up North.

Consider these steps for a more complete list of what you can do to make your backyard garden as successful as possible.

Find the right location when growing vegetables in Florida - Kitchen Botanicals

Find the Right Location

One of the first lessons gardeners learn in Florida is that full sun for the rest of the country is not the same as full sun in Florida. Full summer sun will burn all, but the most hardy tropical plants.

The sun is less intense in the winter, so we can plant seeds in full sun like we would in northern gardens. Florida also has more daylight hours in the winter than northern states, so typical summer crops such as tomatoes and peppers still receive enough sunlight to ripen their fruit.

However, when planning your summer garden layout, it’s best to plan for morning sun and afternoon shade. If you want to experiment with summer-hardy plants that can handle more direct sun, plant them towards the south and west sides of your garden to help shade other, more tender plants.

Protecting your garden from the heat and humidity of Florida is one way to make sure it thrives. To do this, plant shade-tolerant plants in cooler areas of the garden, and also use shade cloth to help protect some places from direct sun exposure.

If you don't have or can't afford commercial shade cloth, it is easy to make your own using old sheets and wire. Use screws and wire to attach the cloth to trees, shrubs, fences posts, or any other tall structures that will keep it in place.

prepare the soil when growing vegetables in Florida - Kitchen Botanicals

Soil Preparation

Florida soil tends to be very sandy with very little organic matter. It is excellent for plants that like good drainage, but it isn’t sufficient for most garden vegetables.

You can improve the soil by adding organic matter such as compost and mulch, which will add nutrients and improve the soil's ability to retain moisture. 

It is best to layer the organic matter on the surface of the soil rather than tilling it in. Tilling compost into the soil tends to work more sand to the surface and the compost settles below.

Lasagna gardening with layers of compost and mulch keeps the nutrients on the surface while earthworms in the soil will help to work the nutrients down to roots below.

Mulching over the soil surface will reduce water loss and prevent soil from splashing onto your plant leaves. Soil sprays are one of the leading causes for fungal problems, as spores from the soil are transferred to your plant's leaves. Keeping your plants' leaves clean and dry is key to keeping them healthy and flourishing.

consider companion planting when growing vegetables in Florida - Kitchen Botanicals

Consider Companion Planting

Companion gardening is the act of planting different species next to or near each other. There are many vegetables that can be combined together to get a better result in terms of taste and production. For example, tomatoes will produce more fruit when they are planted next to basil.

Plants that repel insects or attract pests away from your other plants can also have a positive effect on the success of your garden. Planting herbs such as rosemary and thyme around your vegetable garden is an excellent way to keep common pests at bay.

You should also plant cover crops in areas where you don’t want weeds to grow because it keeps unwanted vegetation under control by competing for the same nutrients.

Fruit trees inside your vegetable garden can provide shade, wind protection, and deep root systems that help prevent soil erosion and reduce weed growth. They should be spaced evenly throughout your veggie patch so that you can move through all areas between them easily without being impeded by the branches.

When to Plant Vegetables in Florida

Pay close attention to planting dates. Timing is everything when it comes to successful Florida gardening. Planting dates are crucial to determining how well your vegetables will grow during a particular time of the year.

know Florida's USDA growing zones - Kitchen Botanicals

Know Florida’s Growing Vegetables Zones

Use a hardiness zone map to determine the planting time frame for each vegetable you want to grow, based on when it is normally harvested in your area. This is especially important with long-season crops that need a certain number of days to mature before they can be harvested. Do not plant before the correct date or you could risk damaging your plants and losing an entire crop.

Florida is typically divided into North, South, and Central Florida when it comes to determining planting times, although these boundary lines do tend to line up with major divisions in the USDA zones.

Central Florida tends to see the most variety in growing conditions as there are many tropical fruits that can be grown here as well as fruits that require chill hours such as strawberries, blueberries, and peaches.

South Florida is very tropical with few to no chill hours. This is where we see a lot of tomato, squash, watermelon, and sugarcane farms as well as some more exotic tropical fruits.

North Florida can get quite cold in the winter, so their planting times most closely resemble northern states. They typically start warm weather vegetables earlier in the summer for a fall harvest, then plant again in early spring for an early summer harvest. And yes, North Florida has even been known to have the occasional snow flurry.

avoid pests when growing vegetables in Florida - Kitchen Botanicals

Plan for Early Pests

Insect pests tend to attack Florida gardens earlier than northern states, so take precautions early and often if you have any problems. Because most of Florida doesn't typically experience a hard freeze, we see a lot of pests. By the time you see one, you need to be prepared for an infestation. Prevention is going to be your best medicine.

  • Place traps around the perimeter of your garden and regularly check them for signs of insect populations.

  • Plant companion plants near your vegetables that will help deter pests.

  • Plant trap crops outside of your garden that will be more attractive to pests and lure them away from your crops.

  • Keep the area around your garden clear of weeds to eliminate places where pests can hide.

  • Encourage songbirds and beneficial predatory insects to your garden who will eat garden pests.

If you need help in identifying what kind insects you have, you can use "Google Lens" to upload an image and help you identify what kind of insect pest you may have. This will also help you to determine the best treatments, deterrents, and trap crops.

Keep your veggie garden as disease free as possible by using mulches to keep weeds under control and allow air circulation to penetrate dense growth. Mulch will also retain moisture in the soil, which will reduce plant stress and keep plants healthier and more resistant to disease. Proper mulching is one of the most important aspects of vegetable gardening in Florida .

Make sure your soil pH balance is correct before planting because it has a direct effect on plant health. Most vegetables have specific requirements that need to be met for healthy growth so make sure you follow proper directions when choosing garden soils or potting mix.

Hint: Bagged garden soil and potting mix are not the same thing. Garden soil is typically dense and intended to be mixed with your native soil. Potting soil can be used straight out of the bag and doesn't need to be mixed.

Don’t be afraid to try new plants and methods, but be prepared to fail. Failure is the key to learning and success. When in doubt, don't be afraid to reach out and ask questions from more experienced gardeners.

Florida friendly vegetable garden varieties - Kitchen Botanicals

Florida Friendly Vegetable Varieties

Florida is known for year-round growing, but the seasons are very different from what you may be used to up north. Timing is everything in Florida, with our main growing seasons being in the fall and spring.

We don’t have one long season, but rather two short seasons. We can plant some long season vegetables in fall, but they will need frost protection through the winter.

We also have very few chill hours, so perennial fruits such as blueberries, peaches, and strawberries need to be selected for Florida and have low chill hour requirements. 

When selecting varieties to plant, try to choose those that have a maturity of less than 120 days, with most of our vegetables maturing in 60-90 days. It’s also best to select those that are resistant to fungal diseases, powdery mildew, and nematodes. 

Asian varieties are very popular with Florida gardeners as they are adapted to humid, moist environments and tend to produce the best during our rainy summer season.

Growing vegetables in fall and winter in Florida - Kitchen Botanicals

Winter and Fall

Fall is the height of Florida vegetable gardening. Most of Florida’s growing season is started in the fall and grown through the winter. It is usually drier with fewer pests than in spring and summer.

If you live in areas where plants may be harmed by frost, be prepared to cover your plants overnight when it's cold and uncovering during the day.

In order to maximize your harvest of fall vegetables, stagger plantings in succession over an extended period. This way you can have fresh veggies all season long!

Choosing the best varieties is important for growing in Florida. Seed packets will include planting instructions and a maturity date (the number of days until the vegetable is harvested). 

The best vegetables to plant in a Florida garden in the Winter and Fall are:

  • Beets

  • Kale

  • Leeks

  • Green Beans

  • Garlic (softneck or Creole varieties)

  • Cauliflower

  • Parsnips

  • Short or Intermediate Day Onions

  • Potatoes (70-90 day maturity)

  • Peas (Snow, Snap, and English)

  • Swiss Chard

  • Tomatoes

  • Eggplant

  • Cabbage

  • Broccoli

  • Carrots

growing vegetables in spring in Florida - Kitchen Botanicals

Spring

Spring is often the time when new gardeners feel the most motivated to get their hands in the dirt. The days are getting longer and warmer, plus they see their northern friends starting to plan their summer gardens. While spring is a big gardening season for us, it's important to start early. More often than not, gardeners start too late and are disappointed when their plants die before the harvest.

For spring gardens in North and Central Florida, the time to start more seeds is in January and February, with seedlings going in the ground in March and April. In South Florida, you're usually still growing the same plants you started in the fall, but I wouldn't recommend putting any additional plants in the ground past March. 

The best vegetables to plant in a Florida garden in the springtime are:

  • Green Beans

  • Sweet Corn

  • Cantaloupe

  • Cucumbers

  • Eggplant

  • Okra 

  • Peppers

  • Swiss Chard

  • Tomatoes

  • Watermelon

growing vegetables in summer in Florida - Kitchen Botanicals

Summer

Summer brings extreme heat and humidity. People living in Florida face many challenges in their daily life, which are especially challenging for those who garden. This is often the time of year when casual gardeners will let their gardens rest because pest, disease, and weed pressures make gardening too difficult.

If you are one of the brave souls who desires to grow food in the summer heat and humidity, it is important to choose vegetables that can handle these extremes. Choose appropriate crops that can adapt to the hot weather such as:

  • Lima beans

  • Eggplant 

  • Okra

  • Peppers (hot varieties tend to do better than sweet)

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Watermelon

  • Cherry tomatoes

  • Seminole Squash

  • Ginger

  • Turmeric 

  • Yardlong beans

  • Southern peas

  • Sweet Corn

Growing vegetables in Florida can be a rewarding experience; however, you'll need to take care of the challenges that come with it- like the heat and humidity. You'll also need to stay on top of the pests and weed, which seem to multiply faster than your vegetable plants. You'll need to adopt specific strategies to make your garden thrive in the Sunshine State.

Don't forget: When choosing vegetable varieties for planting, try to choose those that are resistant to fungal diseases, powdery mildew, and nematodes. 

Managing pests when gardening in Florida - Kitchen Botanicals

Pest Management

Organic pest control is a great option because it does not harm humans or the environment. You can use organic sprays that occur naturally in nature, but they will need to be applied at least once weekly and after every rainfall. This helps to ward off pests including stink bugs, beetles, aphids, and caterpillars. 

weed management when growing vegetables in Florida - Kitchen Botanicals

Weed Management

Weeds can be a challenge for any gardener. Some weeds are easy to recognize right away; however, others may require some careful investigation. As a general rule of thumb, if it's growing where you don't want it to grow, it's a weed.

Once you've identified the weeds in your garden, it is important to keep them pulled so they do not compete with your vegetables for nutrients. Pull weeds before they have been able to go to seed to prevent future weeds from germinating.

Planting cover crops or spreading deep mulch between harvests will also help to prevent weeds.

irrigation and drainage for Florida gardens - Kitchen Botanicals

Irrigation and Drainage

Vegetables cannot tolerate standing water from excessive rainfall or irrigation. Vegetables need soil moisture to grow and produce, but too much can cause them to rot.

Young plants need frequent, light irrigation; maturing crops need more water, less often. Sandy soils also demand more frequent watering than clay, silt, or amended soils. Utilizing mulch, organic matter, and irrigation solutions like drip systems can help minimize the challenges of gardening in Florida that cause stress to plants.

soil testing garden soil in Florida - Kitchen Botanicals

Soil Testing

Nobody wants to invest money and time into a garden that is going to fail. By taking soil samples, you will be able to determine if there are nutrient or pH deficiencies in your garden so you can amend as needed.

Collect soil samples from the top 12 inches of soil using a soil probe or shovel. Be sure that it's recently watered -- soil is easier to sample when it's wet. Collect soil samples from at least four locations around your garden. Keep the samples separated.

Soil samples can be brought to your local UF/IFAS county extension office for affordable soil testing and amendment recommendations. 

Conclusion

If you're looking to plant vegetables in Florida, it's important to take care of the challenges that come with gardening in this state. Growing your own vegetables through the summer heat when humidity is high means making sure to choose appropriate crops, which will adapt to these conditions.

Timing is everything when gardening in Florida and many growers have found fall to be the perfect time to start their vegetable gardens. You can grow a wide range of vegetables in Florida during fall, including cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, collard greens, kale, swiss chard, and turnips.

We have created monthly seed buying guides for Florida to help you select the correct seeds for growing food year round.

Frequently Asked Questions

What vegetables grow all year round in Florida?

There isn't much that will truly produce year round in Florida. Instead, we need to plant seeds with the seasons and at the appropriate time for that vegetable variety. For instance, Seminole pumpkins love heat and humidity, but will go almost completely dormant in the winter. Yes, they will overwinter if they don't freeze.

On the other hand, most lettuces, herbs, and root vegetables rot or bolt during our hot, wet summers, but they thrive during the cooler months.

There are a handful of tropical perennial plants that can be grown and harvested from year round. These include rosemary, bay laurel, Okinawan spinach, Longevity spinach, and others.

How much sun does a vegetable garden need in Florida?

Full sun vegetables need 6-8 hours of sunlight to ripen their fruits, but they do not necessarily need that sun during the heat of the day. In fact, they can often get enough sunlight to thrive through the morning hours and given shade in the afternoon when the sun is the most intense. This will also help the plant to retain moisture and recover from stress. Very few traditional vegetable varieties can handle full Florida sun, especially in the summer months when the sun is highest.

When is the best time to plant a garden in Florida?

Beginners find fall to be the best time to start a vegetable garden in Florida, even though it may go against their gardening instincts. Despite the shortened days and cooler temperatures, the fall growing season has fewer pest and disease pressures than other times of the year.

Gardeners in Southern Florida may find fall and winters the only seasons tolerable enough to work in the garden, while those in North and Central Florida need to be prepared to protect frost tender plants as we get into the winter months.

Pest pressures increase in the spring and into summer, with most traditional vegetables struggling to thrive past May and June. The vegetable varieties that can survive a Florida summer are far more limited, and this is the time of year when many gardeners choose to give their gardens a rest.

What fruits are in season in Florida?

There are more fruits and vegetables produced in Florida than most people realize, so I'll try to stick with the most popular ones. Also, Florida is a very long state, so these dates won't apply to the whole state at the same time. South Florida tends to see fruits come into season earlier than the rest of the state, while North Florida is usually the last to harvest.

  • Blueberries: April - May

  • Citrus: September - June

  • Mangos: June - September

  • Peaches: March - May

  • Strawberries: December - April

  • Watermelon: April - July

When to plant tomatoes in Florida?

Everyone wants to know when to plant tomatoes in Florida. As a general rule of thumb, we start tomato seeds in August and January. Tomatoes will need protection if you live in an area prone to frost.

My recommendation is to grow heirloom, indeterminate varieties in the fall and keep them going through the winter and into the spring. This is because heirloom varieties tend to take more time to mature and need that long growing season. I've seen a lot of gardeners try to grow heirlooms in the spring only to have summer hit before their plants have seen full production.

Spring is a better time to grow determinate varieties because they grow quickly and put all of their fruit out at one time. This is great if you want to preserve your tomatoes, but it also makes it easier to time your harvest before the heat and pests destroy your tomato plants.

For those who want to grow tomatoes into the summer, cherry tomatoes tend to do the best. They grow quickly and handle the heat better than larger varieties. The fruit also ripens more quickly, which means you can harvest them before the pests even know they're there.

There are a couple of medium salad tomatoes that I've found to handle the heat pretty well. Those are Homestead and Floradade tomatoes. However, they still tend to struggle to produce at the height of summer because of high humidity and nighttime temperatures.

What fruits and vegetables will not grow in Florida?

There isn't much that won't grow in Florida if planted during the proper time of year. Here are some exceptions I've come across:

  • Artichokes- while researchers are trying to find a way to make them produce faster so we can grow them in Florida, they typically require too long of a growing season and they are too prone to fungal diseases.

  • Fruits that require a lot of chill hours - Florida produces a lot of peaches, strawberries, blueberries, and other fruits, but they've all been bred to require low chill hours. Be careful when purchasing fruit trees from a big box store. If it hasn't been selected for Florida, it won't produce.

  • Hardneck garlic - we don't get cold enough for a long enough period of time for these to produce bulbs. The exception seems to be Creole varieties.

  • Long day onions - as the name implies, these varieties of onion need long daylight hours to produce bulbs. The Florida growing season for onions is September through December, when days are getting shorter. We can't plant onions in the summer because it's too wet and they rot. So stick with short day onions such as Cabernet, Gabriella, Bunching Lisbon, and Zebrune Shallots.

  • Rhubarb- some people have had success growing it as an annual, but it will not come back year after year.


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