The Sunshine State's subtropical and tropical climates contribute to a good growing environment for lots of plants, including many vegetables. Florida's abundant sunlight, warmth and humidity mimic greenhouse conditions. But the weather and soil can create cultivation challenges. Tropical storms and hurricanes that move in from the Atlantic Ocean to the east wreak havoc on gardens. The sandy soil that is prevalent on the peninsula and panhandle to the north also inhibits water retention. Floridians must therefore adapt their vegetable cultivation habits to suit the tropics.
The University of Florida Extension recommends that vegetable gardeners conduct soil tests well before planting, particularly in new plots, because of the challenges of growing vegetables in sand. A recommended soil pH for vegetables being grown in sandy soil is between 5.8 and 6.3. The Extension suggests applying lime to soil that is below that level and therefore too acidic. Soil that is too alkaline, such as soil that contains lots of limestone from shells, is difficult to permanently amend, but can be temporarily changed with acidic organic matter. The Extension also states that fertilizer may need to be added, although too much phosphorous can pollute surface water. Soil tests will indicate phosphorous levels and help gardeners choose a properly balanced fertilizer.
The University of Florida Extension states most Florida gardeners will benefit from soil amendments that will add nutrients to an otherwise sandy plot. Organic matter such as compost, commercial soil mixes and rotted leaves mixed into the existing soil at least one month before planting will provide needed enrichment for vegetable plants, which grow fast and draw nutrients rapidly. Raised beds and containers are often used, especially in south Florida.
Disease and Pest Control
Along with plants, diseases and pests also enjoy Florida's heat and humidity. The Extension advises gardeners to grow flowers in the vegetable garden that offer nectar and pollen to beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies, to harvest vegetables as soon as they are ripe and removing plants when they are no longer productive.
Vegetables need consistent water to grow. Young plants enjoy frequent but light watering, while more mature plants like heavier watering that is performed less often. Florida's weather, particularly during the summer, often involves lots of rain, but the sandy soil drains it away more quickly, leaving vegetables parched soon after. Organic soil amendments help with water retention, as do measures such as making slight depressions around the bases of plants to hold water longer and soak shallow roots, and techniques such as drip irrigation and mulching.
Growing All Year
Despite the additional measures that must be taken to ensure vegetables thrive, Floridians are lucky in that different types of vegetables are grown all year long, depending on the region. For instance, warm weather vegetables such as peppers and tomatoes can be grown from August through March in the southern part of the state, and peas and celery can be grown from January through March in the north.