Gardening in Florida

Article written by Saturday6TM blogger Steve Asbell from The Rainforest Garden

It's not you - gardening really is different here in Florida. Garden like a true Floridian and see why things are different down here.

It still gets cold. There's a big difference between a winter in the western panhandle and the lack thereof in the Keys. For the most part, Florida is divvied up into USDA climate zones 8b, 9a, 9b, 10a and 10b where winter lows can reach 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35 degrees, respectively. Even gardeners in South Florida have to worry about frosts on occasion! Grow plants that are appropriate to your zone, but don't be afraid to experiment. Those in zone 10 can try growing plants for zone 9 if some afternoon shade is given, and zone 9 gardeners can grow tropical plants for zone 10 if they protect the plants in winter.

Winter is the best time to complete many garden tasks, and primetime for cool-season annuals and veggies. While those up north are shoveling snow and breaking up ice, we're drinking piña coladas with hibiscus flowers under the palm trees, or more likely, just trying to garden while it's nice out. Lawns still have a winter dormancy period though, so you can water and feed less during that time.

Not only can you grow edibles in winter, many will only do well if planted during the cool season. Lettuce, carrots, kale, spinach, peas, radishes, beets, broccoli and most of the veggies planted in early spring up north all need to be planted in late fall or winter if they are to grow to harvest size before the heat knocks them out or makes them bolt and go to seed. Planting dates are different depending on your zone, but the window for warm-season veggies like tomatoes is generally short - after the last frost and before temperatures really heat up.

Many plants will flop over and drop dead from summer's oppressive heat, disease-friendly humidity, downpours or warm nights. On the other hand, there are also a lot of plants that will thrive in your backyard sauna. Good summer veggie choices include; okra, sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas, hot peppers and cherry tomatoes.