This Ain’t Your North Garden

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Gardening in Florida is a totally different vegetable!

When I first moved to Tampa, more than twenty years ago, I fancied myself a passionate gardener. My New Jersey garden was full of forsythia, hiacinths, bearded iris, snowball hydrangeas, daffodils, crocus, hostas and pachysandra. Growing up in a family of farmers from Poland, we grew beautiful roses, tomatoes, cucumbers, cherries, gooseberries, and schav (sorrel).

In agricultural hardiness zones of 6 and 7 (yes, it is shifting), I remember my dziadek and babcia’s indoor porch full of tomato seedlings in preparation for Memorial Day weekend at the end of May.

After moving to Tampa, I carried the tradition of planting a vegetable garden in May with me, with horrifying results. If you move from up north and plant your garden in May, you are three months late and most everything will die an almost immediate death.

I even brought down a bunch of hostas and pachysandra only to watch it quickly wither away in our summer heat, never to return.

It wasn’t until I enrolled in Master Gardening classes that I was shocked to learn that Florida doesn’t have one planting season as we have up north. It has three! If you want to grow vegetables in Central Florida’s zone 9, use this guideline:

  • St. Patrick’s Day (Mar. 17): last frost date in north Tampa area) warm/hot season flower and vegetables
  • Labor Day (Sep. 4ish): warm/hot season flower and vegetables
  • Hallowe’en (Oct. 30): cool season vegetables

What the heck are warm and cool season crops you may ask? We just grew everything at the same time back up north?!?! Well, I have a list for that! Basically, many of your green leafy vegetables grow in the winter here and most everything else grows in spring. There are a few crops you can grow in summer, but the bulk needs to be set out in winter, spring and fall.

Warm season vegetables include tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, okra, eggplant, peppers.

Cool season vegetables include green leafies like spinach lettuce, broccoli, kale, cabbage, brussell sprouts.

Celebrating your harvest

Whether you want to celebrate your own gardening successes or the successes of others, here’s a calendar of harvesting festival dates popular in the Tampa area:

January: kumquat, key lime, pomelo, and other citrus

February: strawberry

March: loquat

April: blueberry, corn

May: watermelon, tomato, honey, corn

June: grapes/wine

July: mango, paw paw

August: grapes/wine

October: peanuts

November: pineapple

December: sugar cane

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