Vegetable Gardening Tips for Central Florida
Central Florida encompasses the middle of the "Sunshine State," including major counties and cities like Orlando, Brevard and Volusia. Gardeners in these areas can raise dozens of types of vegetables, including quintessential backyard crops like tomatoes and pole beans. The University of Florida has region- and season-specific tips and suggestions for the Floridian gardener to help her maximize her Central Florida harvest.
Many Central Florida gardens have soil that's low in nutrients; the University of Florida's "Master Gardener Handbook" recommends spreading a basic garden fertilizer to help encourage vigorous vegetable growth. The university suggests using 3 lbs. of 6-6-6 fertilizer or 2 lbs. of 15-15-15 fertilizer for every 100 square feet of garden space. Split the fertilizer application in half, applying the first half 2 weeks before planting and the second half when you plant your vegetables.
Most vegetable species thrive best in soil that has a pH level ranging between 5.8 and 6.3. Many garden stores sell soil testing kits. Soils with a high pH can be lowered with approximately 2 lbs. of sulfur per 100 square feet of soil, according to the University of Florida. If the pH is below 5.8, it can be sufficiently raised using approximately 3 lbs. of dolomitic lime for every 100 square feet of garden soil. For more precise measurement recommendations for your specific Central Florida garden's pH, contact the nearest USDA cooperative extension office (see Resources).
The months of February, March and April are the best time to start planting warm season vegetable crops like peppers and cucumbers, according to the University of Florida. Gardeners should prepare to water their garden more because Central Florida's dry weather begins to set in during March. During April, the university suggests applying a layer of mulch to the vegetable garden beds to help conserve moisture. This also has the added benefit of restricting weed growth, as many summer annual weeds appear during this time.
May, June and July represent the peak of the Central Florida gardening season. Gardeners should set out vegetable crops that thrive in the southern summer heat, including okra and potatoes, according to the University of Florida. Herbs that love heat, like basil and rosemary, can also be planted at this time. The month of June launches Central Florida's rainy season, so watering can often be reduced. Watch for insect pests on crops like peppers and tomatoes. The university says that common Central Florida pests like scales and thrips begin to appear in May. Treatment options include insecticidal soaps, organic horticultural oil sprays and chemical pesticides like permethrin.
August, September and October make up Central Florida's fall season. The University of Florida recommends taking advantage of August's hot sunshine to solarize the garden soil. Spread a clear plastic sheet over the bare garden soil for several days; the heat of the sun bakes the dirt, sterilizing organisms and killing weeds. Begin planting cool season and winter crops during September and October, including cabbage, lettuce and onions.
The winter months of November, December and January is when Central Florida gardeners rejoice at the state's warm weather that allows them to raise vegetables all year. By now, the summer downpours and lighter fall rains have stopped and irrigation needs will rise. Continue to grow cool season crops like carrots and kale. Herbs that thrive in dry weather, like parsley and dill, can also be started. Gardeners who compost should take this time to amend the soil with organic matter to give it time to decompose fully for the summer growing season.