Growing vegetables and flowers in Florida can be a challenge. The weather conditions, insects and soil quality in Florida are different than most other places in the country. Most gardening guides are geared more towards the mid-zones of the United States, making their advice useless to the Florida gardener, who lives with extremes.
Check the optimum planting times for your Florida growing zone. For example, most general garden guides and seed packets recommend planting tomatoes in March or April in anticipation of a summer harvest. If you live in Tampa, you'll have already missed the boat, as tomatoes don't set fruit in weather of over 85 degrees. Your optimum planting time for tomatoes would be in February for spring tomatoes, and September for a late fall harvest. In Miami, you can grow them over the winter. Always time your sowing, transplanting and harvesting according to your growing zone, not generic gardening information.
Select varieties of vegetables and flowers in Florida that are tolerant to heat, drought, and resistant to molds, fungi and nematodes. If you live in coastal areas, choose varieties with high salt tolerance so ocean spray will be less damaging. The better suited to your micro-environment, the better the plant will do.
Prepare and amend the soil several weeks before sowing seeds or setting out transplants. In most Florida gardens the soil is sandy and lacks nutrients, though in some areas it contains a lot of heavy clay. Break the soil up with a garden spade or fork and amend the soil by adding heavy amounts of organic matter, such as compost and well rotted manure. Ideally you should add at least 1 cup per square foot of your garden, but if you prefer you can partially or entirely remove the topsoil and use compost as your growing medium. Preparing your plot with raised beds, hills or mounds will promote better drainage.
Take watering into consideration when you are preparing your space. Moisture control is the biggest challenge when gardening in Florida. Half the year is hot, humid and rainy, while the other half can range from mild frosts to 80 degrees, while dry weather promotes parched ground. Be sure your vegetable and flower garden has excellent drainage so you don't end up with swampland, but you may wish to include polymer grow crystals or dig trenches for soaker hoses to see you through the long dry season. Planning for both extreme conditions in a Florida garden is beneficial.
Set starter plants, in their starter pots, outdoors in the early morning at least 10 days before you plan to transplant them. Put them out for an hour the first day, then increase the time they spend out there by an hour each day. This is known as "hardening off" and will help the plant gradually adapt to its new environment. This is a crucial step in Florida gardens as the weather can be so extreme.
Apply a thick layer of organic mulch right after transplanting, or after seedlings are established. Organic mulch, such as compost or grass clippings, not only will help the soil retain moisture but will continue to feed nutrients into the soil as it breaks down.