August 12, 2013

Fall Vegetable Gardening in Florida: We’re Just Getting Started Here!

Theresa Badurek,
Urban Horticulture Extension Agent
and Master Gardener Coordinator

If you come to us from up north, fall is the time of year you would normally be finishing your harvest and putting your vegetable garden to bed. That’s not the case here in Florida. Fall is a great time to garden and August is the time to get started. So, prepare before the kids go back to school and by the time the snowbirds flock south again, you can have a beautiful vegetable garden to brag about!

What to Grow Now

There are lots of crops for fall in Central Florida. Things like bush and pole beans, corn, eggplant, peppers, squash, and tomatoes are great to plant in August and September. In October and November we can plant crops such as beets, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, and strawberries. If you have not yet started your garden, it’s time to get diggin’!

Soil Preparation

We have very sandy soils throughout most of central Florida, so organic matter should be worked into your soil at least three weeks ahead of planting. If you are using compost and mulches be sure that there are no large clumps of unrotted organic material. These can harbor disease problems as well as hinder seedlings or their growth. When your conditions are right, these organic materials will be processed by microorganisms like fungi, algae, bacteria, molds, and earthworms. As they do this they make important nutrients available to your plants. For detailed information on various soil amendments, please visit: .

Seeds and Transplants

The most important thing you can do is select the right crops and varieties for our area and plant them at the right time. We are often tempted to plant crops or varieties that we know and love from some other geographic location, but these are often not suited to our unique subtropical climate. How do you know what and when to plant? Refer to the following publication, “Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” whose link is found at the end of this article. Use this to plan your garden layout and bring it with you when shopping for seeds and plants. Pay special attention to Table 4, “Suggested Varieties for Florida Gardens” and Table 3 “Planting Guide for Florida Vegetables”.

Pests and Diseases

So, how do you keep uninvited guests from eating all of your hard work in the garden? Well, you must have a regular scouting routine for pests. At every step of your gardening adventure you should be looking for signs of pests. Hopefully you selected resistant varieties from the “Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” publication (see link above) and inspected your plants for pests and diseases before purchase and planting. Learn to recognize the beneficial insects that help control the “bad guys” that cause damage. Not using pesticides will help preserve the “army” of beneficial insects in your garden. A great guide to start learning about beneficial insects is “Natural Enemies and Biological Control”: .

There are more things you can do to help prevent and control pests and diseases, though:

  • Use mulch; vegetables touching the soil may rot.
  • Good garden mulch tends to reduce damage caused by nematodes. 
  • Keep out weeds which harbor insects and diseases. 
  • Water in morning so plants are not wet at night. 
  • Dispose of severely diseased plants before they contaminate others. 
  • Hand-pick insects. 
  • Clean up crop refuse early. 
  • Rotate garden areas.

All of the usual tips and techniques apply when gardening in fall. Things like mulching to keep down weeds and scouting for pests regularly to avoid infestation are always great advice. Keep an eye on plants to make sure they are getting enough water. We usually get plenty of water from rain in the summer, but the rains usually taper off around October. Be sure to avoid letting your garden wilt in the drier weather- check the soil a few inches down near the plant roots to make sure it’s damp but not overly wet. Plants grown in containers will need more frequent watering to avoid wilting.

For even more about vegetable gardening in Florida- at any time of year- please visit the “Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” at . This handy link will give you the tools to succeed in your Florida garden any time of year, including planting dates, best varieties for Florida, and times to harvest. Once you get your fall vegetable garden in the ground you can start looking for recipes that showcase the fruits and vegetables of your gardening efforts. Enjoy!

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