South Florida vegetable gardening can be a challenge. The extremes between the dry and wet seasons, poor soil quality, excessive heat and an environment friendly to mold, fungi and insects can make vegetable gardening seem a daunting task. Fortunately, there are ways to compensate these difficulties, and South Florida gardeners get to enjoy a year-round flourishing vegetable patch that many northern gardeners can only spend half the year dreaming about.
Plan your garden planting times according to your hardiness zone. South Florida covers USDA hardiness zones 9b through 11. Most vegetables can be grown in South Florida that are grown farther north, they just aren’t usually planted or harvested at the same time of year. For example, you may be able to enjoy pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, or on Memorial Day, but will likely never see a carving pumpkin in time for Halloween.
Choose varieties that are especially tolerant of South Florida’s growing conditions. If you are planting what are normally cool-weather crops, look for the more heat-tolerant varieties. Seek out drought-tolerant varieties or plants you will be growing over the dry winter. Look for varieties that note on the seed packet or seedling marker that they are resistant to diseases especially common is Florida’s warm, humid climate , such as verticillium (V), fusarium (F), or nematodes (N).
Look for the perfect location. Most vegetables require a minimum of seven hours' direct sunlight each day. Good drainage is essential in the tropical South Florida climate. Keep your vegetables far from trees and shrubs so they won’t have to compete for nutrients. Be sure the spot is conveniently located for carting in heavy loads of compost or mulch.
Prepare your plot. Purchase a soil-testing kit to determine your soil’s pH level and what nutrients the soil needs. Follow the test’s recommendation for additives to help fix the soil’s conditions, if necessary. Break up the soil and turn it with a spade to loosen and aerate it. Work plenty of organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, into the plot. To promote good drainage, consider making raised beds, either with mounds or frames.
Install a drip irrigation system or soaker hose in a ditch alongside your raised beds. This is by far the best method for watering vegetables in Florida. Wet foliage from overhead watering can steam plants in the hot sun, and in this humid climate, makes plants more susceptible to the spread of diseases. During the dry season, hand watering a small vegetable patch would take hours of hosing, several times each week, to reach the necessary depth for most vegetables.
Apply a thick layer of organic mulch around your plants to help retain moisture and discourage weed growth. Avoid dark-colored rubber or plastic sheets that can overheat the soil in the tropics.
Check plants frequently for signs of pests. Some signs are bites or tracks in leaves, trails of sticky residue or actual eggs, insects and larvae on the plant. Take immediate action on pests, such as hand-picking them, using an insecticidal soap or pesticides, to avoid infestation.