How to Begin Growing Vegetables in Florida

Some things I did and places I bought seeds to get my Florida vegetable garden going.

Although I have lived in Florida for most of my life, I have not done much growing of vegetables. Now, I am interested, and have begun to slowly add garden beds to the backyard. But how to know what will grow here and where to find the plants and seeds?

I always assumed that nothing would grow in a Florida summer. But, if you look around, the citrus and banana trees do just fine. Some vegetables are specifically known as being southern, such as collard greens and okra.

Bunch of bananas hanging from a tree in the yard
Bananas in my backyard

There is a definite advantage to having a very long growing season here in Florida. In New Hampshire my bell pepper plants would just be looking pretty good when suddenly it was cold again.

Peppers like it hot, and I’ve had good luck growing some types of peppers (jalapeño, Serano, and bell) in my southern location. If the winter is not too cold, they will come back and produce more peppers the following season.

green pepper
Green Bell Pepper

Begin the Search

It’s tough to know what to plant and when, but the University of Florida has a collection of excellent advice for the southern gardener. This page, for central Florida gardening, is filled with flower, herb, lawn and vegetable advice.

Narrow it down by viewing the vegetable planting guide, and you will be ready with a list to use when seed shopping. Decide which foods you and your family will eat and see how to go about making it happen.

When I view the lists of warm and cool weather crops for Florida, I do disagree with some of the vegetables listed. This means that maybe each gardener will have different degrees of luck with certain crops.

Maybe I have planted at the wrong time, and maybe I need to try again and take notes. But at least these vegetables have a chance of growing and are worth a try. I have not had luck with carrots or beets.

If broccoli is a favorite with southern gardeners, I will put that on my “cool weather crops” list. Now I have expanded to have a ground garden where I can rotate “warm” and “cool” crops. The only thing is… many vegetables continue to grow year round – the growing season does not really end. I have had eggplant plants and pepper plants grow for years! So one garden may not be enough space.

backyard Florida garden plot planted with seeds and seedlings
Peppers, dill and eggplant growing in the ground

Where to Buy the Seeds and Plants For This Climate

If you live near a nursery that sells plants that will grow locally, you are lucky! Big box stores like Home Depot don’t seem to specialize in selling local plants. I’d rather give my money to a small business but I can’t seem to find the plants and seeds I want at a location nearby.

The Farmer’s Market and flea market are places I plan to scour further. Sometimes local farmers will have plants for sale.

Shopping for Seeds Online

First, I bought seeds from The Urban Harvest, which is a central (west coast) based seed and plant seller – they also have many YouTube videos. I have had good luck with the seeds germinating, but they were sold out of many items I would have liked. If you live near them in St. Pete (I believe) they have a garden center where you can pick up live seedlings.

Some of the seeds I got will be planted in Fall, but I did plant the pumpkin, okra, and Moringa this Spring. I don’t know what to expect from okra, but the UF site has a whole page about okra.

seed packets from the Urban Harvest, a florida based company
Seeds from Urban Harvest

So, I continued to look online. Johnny’s Selected Seeds had a nice variety, including heirloom and organic vegetable varieties, but they wanted $11.50 for shipping just a few packets of seeds! I moved on.

Mary’s Heirloom Seeds has a good selection of beans especially, but the seed potatoes were sold out. I liked this site, but had already purchased some seeds from the Eden Brothers site.

I found mimosa seeds (a flowering ground cover) at the Eden Brothers, and it is something I had been looking for. Then I found more flower seeds and a few veggies and placed my order. This time shipping was only $3.98 which is much more reasonable.

Most seed sellers do not specify what does well in a sub-tropical climate, so have that list of specific, Florida friendly crops, ready before you shop.

If you are a Floridian and have a favorite online place to buy seeds, please let me know! I also appreciate any helpful advice when it comes to gardening in our climate.

In Closing…

Check for vegetables and herbs that will do well in our area / your area of Florida. Decide what you have room for, and plant what you want to eat! Search for a place that can supply the seeds. Local nurseries, farmer’s markets, or online. Maybe a neighbor is also a grower and would share some seeds with you!

Remember that most seed packets are packed for a specific year, so don’t load up on seeds that you can’t use within the year.

I’ll be updating this blog with my garden stories as I try to grow more vegetables. Currently my “in the ground” garden is planted and doing well.

backyard garden with vegetable seedlings
The new garden – Nearly full, end of April

Keep Reading ….


How to Use Coconut Coir in the Garden

Using coconut coir for the first time to grow seeds.

For the first time ever, I purchased a block (well two) of Coconut coir. I’ve heard about this stuff for gardening and for some reason never tried it. What a mistake to overlook this wonderful planting material!

I chose the Burpee brand, which claims to be organic. The package comes with two bricks of coco coir.

coconut coir
This link goes to Amazon, where I am an affiliate. This is the brand I bought and used.

Is the coir only used for seedlings? Apparently not. It can be used to grow plants, or mixed with soil in a pot to increase aeration. It works like peat moss, if you’ve ever used that, but is more environmentally friendly. The idea is to break up the soil and provide an easier growing environment for roots. The coir also holds water well even though it is quite loose. When watering, the water will pour right out, but the coir retains moisture enough to nourish the roots. This way, the roots will not become waterlogged, but have the moisture needed to thrive.

Coir for Starting Seeds

My basil died over winter and I’ve been trying to grow more from seeds in pots this spring. The new plantings in dirt finally sprouted and are still pretty small. So I used the remaining seeds by putting them into the coir.

Three days later…. seedlings already showing! I am amazed by this quick sprouting action in the coir.

Basil is sprouting in Coconut Coir – after 3 days

basil seedlings in coconut coir
Basil seeds sprouting after 3 days in the coconut coir

The first seedlings below were planted weeks ago in a dirt, compost mix and are still very small. I’m betting that the basil in the coir will surpass the dirt-growing plants!

Basil seeds planted in soil- weeks ago

Basil seedlings growing in soil.

By May 1, the basil in the coir has nearly caught up with the basil in the dirt.

basil growing in pots
May first – a comparison of the basil seeds

The coir does not contain any good nutrients for the little seedlings. Once they begin to grow be sure to give them something… I water with a fish fertilizer. When my seedlings are a little bigger I will put them into a combination of coir, compost and soil….. BUT, better yet, do not start seeds in Coir only.

In fact, the next time I made up pots with “soil” I used the coir in the bottom for good drainage, then a layer of coir mixed with compost, dirt and bone meal.

My basil seeds are Genovese Basil from Seeds of Change. I bought them at the local Home Depot last year and they (Seeds of Change) were not available this year. My local store did not carry any of this brand for some reason. Now I am looking for someplace to buy organic, non GMO seeds. I did buy seeds from the Urban Harvest (which is a local Florida company), but many varieties of veggies were sold out.

From Coconut Blocks to Growing Medium

If you are wondering how the bricks become fluffy medium for planting, it couldn’t be easier. Just add water. It does get a little messy. I added too much water and the stuff became soggy, but it doesn’t really matter. It was easy to pull out the coir and add it to pots and then strain out the excess water. All this was done outdoors.

I suggest you don’t add lots of water all at once as the directions say.

Certain flowering plants may do better when planted in the coir. It is also a good idea to mix the coir into a planting bed to loosen the soil. Research according to what you are planting and then decide how much you want to spend to add this fine “soil” to your gardening plans.

Use as a Rooting Medium For Cuttings

I’ve had some cuttings from the Elderberry and Beautyberry trees / shrubs that are growing wild in my yard. The cuttings have been sitting in water for a few days now, but don’t seem to be doing well.

I took more fresh cuttings and stuck them straight into the coir in pots.

Here they are: Beautyberry on the left, and Elderberry on the right. I keep the pots outside tucked up under the cherry tomato for shade.

The Beautyberry is difficult. I’ve tried to root this one before without success.

Cuttings of the beauty berry

Helpful articles about coconut coir

Please keep reading more gardening stories…

Go With the Flow and Stop Wasting Time

I’ve been growing fresh vegetables in my backyard for years. Now I struggle to get food to grow.

We learn from experience and observation. Life is about change. If we are wise, we will go with the flow and not waste time with something we cannot change. I am applying this philosophy to my backyard vegetable garden.

Observation and Common Sense

One thing I have observed since I began gardening in Florida is that a lot of vegetables simply won’t grow here. Maybe I am doing something wrong, but I grew veggies fine in New Hampshire. I am not an inexperienced gardener, but vegetable gardening in this climate is obviously beyond my grasp.

It’s been two years. That is plenty of time to grow something well. I’ve built up the dirt with compost and fertilizer, watered like mad, and thwarted raccoon attacks on the plants. I’ve picked worms, loved the lady bugs, and sprayed off mites. My little raised bed garden has given me very little to eat in return.

With the exception of about three eggplants (total) and occasional small bell peppers, there is little food coming from the backyard.

Herbs Seem to Flourish

On the other hand, my observation is that many herbs do grow very nicely here. In fact, my parsley, basil, thyme, mint and fennel have lasted a very long time.

Herbs are hardy. When I first began growing parsley I lived in New Hampshire. The green stems would push up through the first snowfall, which amazed me. Deer used to help themselves to the lush green herb.

In Florida I have had the same parsley plants growing in my garden for over two years! Parsley not only survives the cold, it can take the heat and oppressive humidity.

It is depressing to put work into trying to grow decent tomatoes, squash, zucchini and root vegetables, only to watch them rot, wilt or end up too tiny to bother with.

How long do I keep trying, only to watch the plants produce nothing I can eat? I’m about over it.

Changes All Around

My life is always changing, and recently it went through another change. My youngest son has moved out. He’s nearly done with college and does online classes, so he went back to the northeast to live. Good for him. Wish I could afford to do the same.  I did take a trip back to stay for a week, which was so nice.

My youngest son has always been a very picky eater. If I don’t make food he likes, he could literally go all day long without eating. So, I tended to make food he would eat. That type of food was very different from the type of food I eat.  Now that he has moved out, I can concentrate on cooking for me only.

This is a very new idea and it will take a while for my brain to wrap around the concept. I’ve been cooking for my children for over 40 years!  My way of cooking will be changing. Although I am not crazy about spending a lot of time in the kitchen, I am a very good cook. As an “almost vegetarian” meat is not my main focus. I love to cook soups, stews and one pot meals (using my Dutch oven) which are full of fresh vegetables.

Since I can’t grow all the vegetables I’d like to, I will concentrate on growing the herbs. I learned very late in life how much herbs can brighten the flavor of a meal. Now I can’t make anything without using herbs because it’s not worth eating.

Because my herbs will grow year round, I don’t have to spend time drying or freezing them.  Sometimes I even get to collect their seeds.  I still need to find a store that sells good fresh, organic vegetables.  Publix is a good store, but as I have discovered, their produce is not the best.

I also have access to fresh citrus, which I should begin incorporating into my food as well.  Both my lime tree and lemon tree are still growing, but the lime needs re-potting.

So I’m collecting recipes to make for myself and will concentrate more on eating healthy. The weather is much cooler now here in Florida, and I do get outside for walks as much as possible.  My neighborhood is a boring place to walk, and there are no hills to get my heart pumping, but I do what I can.

(They Yacht is not mine. Photo taken at a nearby Marina.)

Hydrangeas in My Yard: The Paniculatas

My last post was about the macrophylla varieties of hydrangeas growing in my yard. Those have big, rounded blooms and large leaves. This post contains pictures of my two types of paniculatas, which are hydrangeas with elongated type flowers.

In general I have found the paniculatas to be very easy to care for. They seldom droop in a drought, as the macrophyllas (Blushing Bride and Endless Summer) wilt quite easily in hot sun, and when they are dry.

The first photo is of the Limelight hydrangea. It was taken in August 2015, and as you can see it is not flowering, but it does have buds. The second photo is from last year at approximately the same time.  As you can see, this year I will not get the blooms like last year.  Again, I blame this on our incredibly horrible winter.  The extreme cold and piles of snow have done a number on just about everything in my yard.   Some of my Hostas never grew back, and the perennials I thought had died, are still living, but they are way behind on growth, like the hydrangeas.

limelight hydrangea shrub
Limelight Hydrangea – Aug. 10th, 2015

flowering limelight hydrangea
Limelight Hydrangea – August 20th, 2014

The last picture I have is of the Pinky Winky hydrangea. I have come to love this plant for it’s beautiful, long-lasting blooms. It is also a very easy plant to grow. Plant it and forget it.
pinky winky hydrangea
Unfortunately, I could have chosen a better spot for this one to grow. Without a lot of yard space, I thought it would have plenty of room to expand next to the garage. Then the snow came and my plow guy pushed loads of snow over the poor thing. It came back and grew fine.
This year I had to have a broken tree taken down, and as the tree-cutters brought the big beech down, the branches landed on my Pinky Winky. It was enough to break one of the main, low branches. I will have to cut it, as it’s split. I want to wait until the blooms go by.

Pinky Winky 8/20/14
One year ago – Pinky Winky, August 20th, 2014

The only problem I have with this one is that the deer eat it – see how lopsided it is in the photo above?  There is a big deer population around my house and they come up from the woods at the side of the house to check the yard for dinner.  After they munch on my rhododendron, they chew down the stalks of the hydrangea. It’s the only hydrangea they eat, and I think it’s placed just right (or wrong).
So between the broken branches and deer trimming, I may not get to see this perennial grow too large before I move, but it’s still beautiful.

This is the only hydrangea that doesn’t seem to have been bothered as much by the extremely cold winter.  I would love to have more Pinky Winky hydrangeas in my yard.

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