When thinking about growing your own organic vegetable garden, Florida is certainly a unique place to do it. While you won’t find the rich loamy soil of the midwest, there are a lot of reasons to love planting in Florida. In this article, we will outline some of the advantages and challenges of growing in Florida as well as recommend a few vegetables to grow that will help you gain confidence.
General Rules for Planting in Florida
- You can grow year round. Not many states can say the same!
- There are a wide variety of plants that can be grown. Your imagination is the main limitation.
- You can grow many tropical fruit trees. Now, this can depend on exactly where you find yourself in Florida but the fact is you could possibly have a backyard full of bananas, mangos and avocados.
- While your soil may be fairly sandy, you won’t have to worry too much about your garden becoming water logged because you’ll have sufficient soil drainage.
- The problem with soil that drains rapidly is that the nutrients drain out as well. Florida’s sandy soil, generally speaking, has a pretty low cation exchange capacity (CEC)— in other words, your soil doesn’t hold on to nutrients very effectively. It’s a little like trying to serve soup with a slotted spoon. Check out this article from Deep Green Permaculture if you want to learn more about CEC and what it means for your soil.
- Being known as The Sunshine State doesn’t come without its downsides. While many folks around the US dread the winter time, Floridians need to be adequately prepared for the intense summer heat— and so do your plants! Certain plants just simply won’t thrive or will actually get burned by an excess of heat. It’s important to pick your plants wisely, especially during a Florida summer.
- Because we have a longer growing season in Florida, so do the pests. The bugs we work so hard at keeping out of our garden are attracted to heat, humidity and the absence of cold weather, just like the snowbirds and vacationers that flock to Florida every year. All this means is that you’ll want to pick hardy plants and stay extra vigilant.
All these factors beg the question—so, what vegetables should I plant in Florida?
Florida Planting Guide
Understand the Planting Seasons specific to where you live in Florida
If you can’t tell, we love growing in Florida, but it’s not quite the same experience across the state. There are four different planting zones known as “hardiness zones” and depending on where you live you’ll fall into one of these four zones. And instead of them being labeled “1, 2, 3, 4” like you might expect, the zones are labeled “8, 9, 10 and 11.” Because who would want gardening to be that easy to understand? The primary reason for this is because these categories are applied across the country. There is even a cool interactive map that will show you planting zones throughout the whole country.
If you live in Florida, the best way to figure out which zone you’re located in is by reading up on some of the information provided by the University of Florida (go Gators!).
Once you know your zone, you’re on the fast track to lush green landscapes. There are tons of resources online (and in the library—remember what those are?) that will address challenges specific to your zone and provide planting recommendations. For example, if you live in the Central Florida area, you might want to reference a planting guide like this one, as a starting place.
Other Useful Planting Resources
- General planting guides are helpful but sometimes its nice to have specific recommendations when it comes to choosing plant varieties. Check out our Seasonal Menu. This is the actual list that we provide to our customers at the beginning of our two primary growing seasons; they get to choose from a wide variety of vegetables that we’ve proven to grow well in our climate.
- Many of the challenges of growing in Florida can be overcome if you can keep your soil healthy. You’ll have better water and nutrient retention and your plants will be more resistant to pests. Our friends at Revival Gardening have an array of incredible organic soil amendments that we use to give our gardens a boost.
- Once you choose what to plant you’re going to need seeds. Generally speaking, better seeds produce better vegetables. Heirloom seeds are seeds that have an origin point going back generations, just like an heirloom antique goes back generations within a family. These types of seeds are beneficial for a variety of reasons: They are open pollinated, rather than being pollinated in a manufactured environment and they are often adapted to a specific climate, just to name a couple. Find your seeds from our friends at Growin’ Crazy Acres. They sell hand-picked heirloom quality seeds. They ship anywhere but are based right here in Florida.
- Checkout The University of Florida’s Extension Planting Guide.
- When thinking about the design of your garden, it can be helpful to look at examples online of what other people have done. We love some of the ideas on this website. We also have a bias for putting our garden beds on legs— it gives you many advantages that help you overcome the challenges of growing in Florida. Check out our article to learn more about why having an elevated garden is the way to go.
So what are the best vegetables for a vegetable garden in Central Florida?
Okay, remember our Seasonal Menu? If you have a 2’ by 8’ garden bed, then you can choose 7 vegetables from that list for your vegetable garden in Orlando, and if you have a 4’ by 8’ bed, then you can choose up to 12 vegetables for your garden. Now that’s easy!
If you want more hands on help with your garden you might consider having us design, install and manage your vegetable garden for you. We would love to service your home or business, as well as teach you what we’ve learned about gardening in Florida along the way.
In either case, let’s cover a few of our favorite tried-and-true vegetables:
When it comes to tomatoes, you can choose from heirloom tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes, and early season tomatoes. When choosing from heirloom tomatoes, you have the option of Cherokee Purple, Pineapple Tomato, and Anna Russian. Determining how long you want your crop to last each season will help you narrow down the best vegetables to choose from for your vegetable garden in Orlando, FL. The Fireworks tomatoes are a great option for a quick harvest in as few as 65 days. Each tomato is unique in their taste and color. The Cherokee Purple is a rose/purple colored fruit with a sweet taste, whereas the Pineapple Tomato is red and yellow and offers a fruity taste.
There are a variety of 6 different peppers to choose from in two categories: sweet heirloom and hot heirloom. The two sweet heirloom peppers you can choose from are Corno Di Toro Red, which is a sweet red pepper 8 to 10 inches in length. You can eat them fresh in your salads or sauté them, depending on your preference. The other sweet heirloom pepper is the Chinese Giant, which makes for delicious stuffed peppers, and is fully ripened when it turns bright red. As for the hot heirloom peppers, you have the Bulgarian Heirloom Carrot, Serrano, Sport, and Tabasco. They are differentiated by color, taste, and size. The Bulgarian Heirloom Carrot is bright orange and although it offers the hot taste of chiles, it is also sweet, so it lends itself to a great salsa. The Tabasco is extremely hot and is used for hot sauce. They grow on tall plants and turn red when they are ready to harvest.
There are 3 different eggplant heirloom varieties to choose from. You can choose the Pot Black, which is a glossy oval eggplant around 2 to 3 ounces. The Fengyuan Purple is a long, skinny, Asian eggplant that happens to be the longest eggplant available. Its skin is very thin so you don’t even need to peel it! The Fengyuan Purple is great for grilling. Finally, we have the Listada de Gandia which has a purple and white outer layer and is a sweet fruit that grows up to 6 inches long.
Let us know if we can help you get your garden planted!
Sungold Gardens was built off of love and family. The owner, Amber Harmon, realized how health conscious people have a renewed interest in gardening in Central Florida. For people who have a little time available and need assistance when it comes to growing a vegetable garden in Orlando, FL, Amber and her team will teach you how to grow and harvest your vegetables for the most nutrient rich results.
Sungold Gardens offers vegetables for every season. When you are looking for honest advice on which vegetables to pick for your vegetable garden in Orlando, FL, give us a call.