Broward County Extension Education
VEGETABLE GARDENING IN SOUTH FLORIDA
Prepared by Jalil (Jay) Vedaee, Extension Agent II Horticulture Elaine Farquharson, Extension Horticulture Assistant Sandra Granson, Horticulture Technician
There is nothing quite like going into your own yard and picking a juicy, vine-ripened tomato, fresh basil, and crunchy lettuce for a large salad. The following tips will have you growing and harvesting your own veggies and herbs in no time at all! The first thing to remember is that here in South Florida our planting season is the reverse of our northern neighbors. In September, while their gardens are winding down, this is the time we get down to business. However, before you go crazy at the nursery purchasing transplants make a few key decisions. SITE CONSIDERATIONS: Pick a site that receives at least 6 hours of sun and is close to a source of water. Stay away from large trees and shrubs as their roots compete for nutrients. Good drainage is important though in poorly drained areas consider constructing raised beds. Remember out of site is out of mind, so try and locate your vegetables in a convenient place where you won’t forget about them. PREPARING BEDS AND CONTAINERS: Here in South Florida raised beds, either mounded or framed, are a good choice. If space is limited consider container gardening. Or go with a combination of both. Raised beds allow you to use superior soil with better drainage and moisture retention. Construct the frames on level ground. The frames can be made of wood, concrete block, or recycled material. Do not make the frame wider than 4 feet across as you need to be able to reach inside without stepping on soil. If framing in wood use cedar or pressure treated wood. A new alternative available to the homeowner is pressure treated wood which has been treated with alkaline copper quat (ACQ) that contains no carcinogens (CCA pressure treated wood is being phased out).
Choose 2 inch thick x 8 inches wide board for a soil height of 8 inches (1 inch thick x 6 inches wide will also suffice). Four feet by eight feet is a convenient raised bed size because standard lumber sizes are 1?x 6?x 8' or 2?x 8?x 8'. You will then purchase three 8-foot boards and cut one in half. Use exterior-grade screws to connect corners. Blocks of 4? by 4? can be used to brace the corners or purchase angled braces. It is also possible to elevate raised beds to accommodate a wheelchair.
Construction of a raised bed
Raised bed made from recycled roof tiles Elevated bed for wheelchair accommodation
Traditional raised bed
Once you have your frame constructed it is not necessary to remove the grass. Cover with a layer of 6 to 8 sheets of newspaper. Deep tilling is not necessary; roots can easily penetrate sandy soil. Fill the beds with a mix of 70% sand and 30% muck (or top soil) and amend with organic matter (i.e., compost). Contrary to popular opinion, using only top soil is not a good fill as it has very poor drainage. You can also use equal parts of sphagnum peat moss and perlite or store-bought potting mixes. Add two pounds of dolomite for every 100 square feet of bed if using a soilless mix as such a mix is acidic and overtime becomes even more so. Dolomite is alkaline and helps in maintaining the proper pH. Do not use dolomite or lime in beds filled with regular soil or sand and muck as the pH is already alkaline. The best idea is to test the pH of your soil before adding any additives. Plants grow best with a pH range of 5.5-6.5. Lime can lower the pH of acidic soil, but it is more difficult to modify our alkaline soils. Sulfur is sometimes recommended, but adding organic matter is a better alternative.
To fertilize the bed: add a complete and balanced fertilizer that is slowrelease according to label directions. In our sandy soils you will need to feed again in 3 to 4 weeks. Soils high in organic matter can be top-dressed again in 4 to 6 weeks. Water plants 2 to 3 times a week. Don’t just wet the surface. Drip irrigation is an optimal system that delivers water where it is needed and avoids wetting the leaves. If hand-watering, water early in the morning and try to avoid drenching the leaves. For those growing in containers—5, 10, or 20 gallon containers can be used depending on the vegetable. Tomatoes can grow in a small 5 gallon container but 10 gallons gives them more space and room to grow.
You are only limited by your imagination when you garden with containers.
Old tires stacked and painted will grow good potatoes.
Soil less or soil bags with holes poked in bottom and 2 X cuts for vegetables to be placed inside.
Plastic drainage pipe set upright and filled with soil.
Fill the containers with a soil less mix adding 3 tablespoons of dolomite for every 5 gallons of potting mix. Containers require frequent watering, at least once a day as the plant gets larger. Use a liquid fertilizer and apply according to directions on label. You will need to flush with plain water every two weeks to remove excess fertilizer salts that accumulate in containers. Or use a slow-release pelleted fertilizer.
ORGANIC VEGETABLE GARDENING: Many people choose to garden organically out of their concern for the environment. Growing organically means gardening without using synthetic pesticides, fungicides, or fertilizers. It is also possible to adopt a pesticide-free method using only natural techniques and organic pesticides but still use ‘regular’ store-bought fertilizers such as 66-6 or 20-20-20.
Organic fertilizers that can be purchased
Organic gardeners utilize homemade compost and fertilizers such an alfalfa meal, composted manure, fish emulsion, kelp or organic fertilizers such as Fertrell or Sustane. They add a large quantity of organic matter in the form of compost and cover crops which improves the structure of the soil and improves its ability to hold water and nutrients. Organic soils are rich in microbial activity and have the added advantage of releasing nutrients slowly. Mulch, such as dried grass clippings, pine straw, leaves, or plastic sheeting are used to maintain moisture levels, prevent weeds, and create a barrier between the plant and soil to help control diseases.
Choose disease-resistant varieties that have V (verticillium), F (fusarium), or N (nematodes) notations on their labels. Rotate your vegetables so that you are not growing the same plant family in the same location year after year. Don’t work in garden when plants are wet as this spreads diseases. Many insects can be hand-picked and destroyed. Use Bt (Thuricide or Dipel) to control caterpillars. Pull up and destroy plants that are obviously diseased before infection has a chance to spread to other plants. Organic pesticides such as insecticidal soap can be purchased or made at home. Homemade Insecticidal Soap Mix 1 Tablespoon liquid soap (Ivory, Kirk’s or any soap without a degreaser) 1 Tablespoon oil 1 Gallon of water. Apply solution in early morning when it is cooler. Copper or sulfur fungicides are certified for organic use as is the Cornell Formula Cornell Formula Fungicide Mix 2 Tablespoons baking soda 1 Tablespoon oil 1 Gallon of water. Apply solution in early morning when it is cooler.
WHAT TO GROW: Tomatoes: choose between determinate (bush) tomatoes or indeterminate tomatoes. Determinate tomatoes are compact in height (approx. 4 feet) and the fruit ripens all at one time. Indeterminate tomatoes grow up to 6-10 feet and the fruit ripens at different intervals. Plan on staking indeterminate tomatoes at least 6 to 8 feet. Left-over concrete reinforcing wire can be rolled into a cage and placed over the tomato for support.
Tomatoes using reinforcing wire as a cage
Broccoli is a very easy crop for South Florida and tends to have few pest problems. You may also want to try cabbage or cauliflower which are in the same family.
Lettuce, and salad mixes, Asian salad greens, and bok choi are very easy to grow once our weather cools a bit.
Beans, either bush or pole beans, are fairly fool-proof but, seeds should be planted directly into the garden as they don’t transplant well.
Squash and cucumbers are more difficult but worth the effort. Support is necessary with vines.
Colorful Dwarf Peppers
Green peppers and hot peppers produce well in South Florida. Carrots, corn, sweet potatoes, eggplant, potatoes, radish, and most herbs can all be successfully grown. Use vegetable gardening books that specifically pertain to South Florida to learn about individual vegetables and their cultivation requirements in our area.
INSECTS AND DISEASES: Insects that Attack Underground Plant Parts: Wireworms, cutworms, mole crickets, nematodes, and grubs. Plants in decline may indicate these pests.
Damage to roots by Rootknot Nematodes
Chewing Insects that Feed on Leaves and Stems: Caterpillars are the primary leaf feeders. Beetles generally feed on leaves in their adult stage and on roots in the larval stage. Miners tunnel in leaf tissue.
Serpentine Leaf miner Bean Leafroller
Piercing and Sucking Insects that Feed on leaves and stems: Aphids, Leafhoppers, stinkbugs, leaf-footed plant bugs, thrips, spider mites and whitefly. Some of these insects can transmit plant viruses and diseases.
White fly on pepper leaves
Insects that Feed on Seed, Pods, or Fruits : Include several caterpillars, weevils, and stinkbugs.
Sri Lanka Weevil
Tobacco Hornworm Caterpillar
Contact your Broward County Extension Office (954-370-3725) for precise diagnosis and control measures. Books :
The Edible Landscape by Tom MacCubbin Vegetable Gardening in Flordia by James Stephens Oriental Vegetables by Joy Larkcom 100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden by Carolyn Male Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew
University of Florida Brochures:
Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide (Sp 103) Mini-Gardening (Containers) (HS-708) Herbs in the Fl Garden (Cir 570) Organic Vegetable Garden (CIR 375) Insect Management in Garden (Eny 476)
Seed and Garden Catalogs:
Tomato Growers (888-478-7333) Peaceful Valley (888-784-1722) Gardens Alive (812-537-8650) Kilgore (386-754-1938) Park Seed (800-845-3369)
The use of trade names in this newsletter is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida and the Broward County Board of County Commissioners do not endorse or condemn the products named and do not intend discrimination against similar unnamed products that also may be available.