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South Florida Summer Gardening

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I grew this sunflower in my corn bed one year. I love the logarithmic spirals in the seed head. God is so cool.

I’ve received several emails from readers here in sunny zone 10 who want to plant a garden now, in March. I’ve told them all to go ahead with the warm weather loving crops, as long as they don’t mind being out in the heat for a few hours a week. I hate it and refuse to go out there when it’s in the 90’s with 99% humidity and 200% direct hot sun. It’s brutal. But for those of you who love the heat, knock yourselves out.

Crops that love hot weather include but are not limited to cucumbers, squash, melons, sweet potatoes, beets, radishes, okra, strawberries, most herbs, green beans, (most beans), corn, peppers, eggplant, and even tomatoes if you’re ready to provide some partial shade once they start fruiting. In “Cubed Foot Gardening” the author has a photo of one such contraption. The gardener placed a piece of wood lathe trellis on top of his tomato cages. The tomatoes grew through the trellis which provided some shade for the fruit. The sun is so direct here in the tropics that tomatoes will quickly become scorched if not slightly shaded. When we were in Hawaii, a waiter told us that they craved our mainland tomatoes because they didn’t grow well there. That surprised us, since it seems that everything grows lushly and beautifully in Hawaii. It must be the hot sun.

Weeds grow particularly well in the summers here, as it usually rains every day during the rainy season, and the winds generated by the tropical storm activity sends lots of seeds a flyin’. One year I made the mistake of just ignoring the garden until October. That was a big mistake, as I’ve had a weed problem ever since. A wiser move would have been to pull out all the plants and cover all the beds with landscaping cloth to keep the weeds from growing. This year I’m actually going to try to grow a few things in the Grow Bags I purchased from Gardener’s Supply. I bought a few tomato plants from there and will plant them when they arrive. I also purchased a lettuce grow bag, which I may put in the lanai under the grow lights. I’m so spoiled being able to go pick our salad every night. I hate to give it up. Lettuce doesn’t do well in the hot scorching sun, but prefers some shade. The grow lights will work just fine until I need them for my seed starts in August.

Crops that prefer cooler weather include peas, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, collards, carrots and onions. Wait until your fall planting for these, but get your seed catalogues into the bathroom where they belong and start shopping!

Happy gardening!

3 comments to South Florida Summer Gardening

  • Bonnie Wachtler

    I have a raised bed that we made several years ago and would like to know if it’s to late to plant any vegetables or herbs at this point? 5/27/13 We live in Pinellas County Florida?

    • You could plant heat hardy items like green beans, radishes, okra, peppers, and sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes thrive in the hot Florida summers, and their vines take over the entire bed, which is good because weeds don’t have room to take over the beds. Otherwise, wait until October to plant your regular crops, and be prepared to cover them when you get freezes. How hard a freeze do you get there? If it doesn’t drop below 25 you should be ok. If you get a hard freeze, then plant right after the projected freeze is over.

  • Gardening Viking

    I live in Sarasota. I planted 6 tomato plants bought at Home Depot on March 19th of this year in my raised bed. I knew I had to buy plants “ready to go” because the heat was going to be here soon. They were 1-gallon size plants – a hybrid beef master, mortgage lifter, and better boy (2 of each). I have an automatic drip system that can water a few times a day for a couple of minutes each time. By today, June 16th, I had harvested about 80 pounds of tomatoes from those plants. The heat over the last couple of weeks, starting around the beginning of June, along with the multitude of pests, however, had ravaged that raised bed. Today, I removed everything. The plants were no longer setting fruit and pests and diseases seemed to taking it’s tole. I feel like I squeezed out another short season before the pests and heat became intolerable (to me and the veggies). This was the first time I tried planting so late and it worked. I think mainly to the automatic drip system and mild spring.

    The sweet potato idea is something I’d like to try.

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