Did you know that Florida has 4 gardening zones? This climate diversity and the variable weather makes planting times incredibly important. If you plant too early, your plants will have trouble germinating. Those that do germinate will struggle along until the warmth comes. Plant too late, and your plants might be unable to handle the heat, humidity, and pests. It is important to know your gardening zone and to plan your garden accordingly. If you are used to gardening in the northern United States, you will find that many of your typical spring crops are planted in the fall here in northwest Florida.
It can be confusing to read gardening books and to follow them, only to have your crops struggle because of our climate. Vegetables can be grown all year here, but there are many differences to note about gardening in Florida. You cannot follow the planting times and guidelines from many of the excellent gardening books because of how much our climate varies. Here, if you wait until Mother’s Day to plant tomatoes, you have planted seedlings when local gardeners may be waiting for theirs to ripen.
I have spent much time searching the Internet, reading books, and talking to gardeners while trying to learn how to garden here. I have put together a list of resources that have helped me figure out how to garden in zone 8b.
First, you can find your zone on this site. Seed catalogs, books and websites will refer to zone numbers often, so it is helpful to know your zone.
Second, I use the University of Florida’s planting calendar. If you stray too far from their planting times, you do so at great risk. Use common sense when determining when to plant, too. For example, according to their calendar, I can start planting beans in March. Because I know that beans need warmth to germinate, and that our winter has been quite cold, I am waiting until the end of March to plant them. Their website is also an incredible resource, full of information about all kinds of agriculture: lawns, flowers, square foot gardens, and fruit trees.
Also, check with your local Extension Office. They may provide soil testing and other services.
I have found the forums on gardenweb.com to be so helpful. They have a Florida gardening forum that is quite active (remember, we can garden year-round here), a seed-starting forum, and forums for many specific flowers and vegetables.
There are also some sites and blogs that I have enjoyed reading. For us in north Florida, I have found a really good blog, The Front Yard Farmer, who grows vegetables in Niceville, Florida. He has information archived by month, so it is a good practice to check his site to see what he has done in past years. I have learned so much from reading his blog.
There are two blogs based out of central Florida that are also neat to read. Gardening in Central Florida is a blog that chronicles a garden’s progress. He is a month or so ahead of us because of his location, but whatever he is doing in the garden is typically something that we can be preparing to do in our gardens.
There are some books that I have found very helpful for gardening in Florida. My favorite is Month-by-Month Gardening in Florida (Tom MacCubbin), which details what to do month-by-month for all types of plants. Some of the topics covered are citrus, perennials, vegetables, bulbs, annuals, and palms. Second, I like Florida Gardener’s Resource ( Tom MacCubbin and Georgia B. Tasker). This book gives planting information about many of the plants that grow well in Florida, as well as brief month-by-month instructions. Vegetable Gardening in Florida (James M. Stephens) is another great book. I recently discovered Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida (Ginny Stibolt and Melissa Contreras). Even if you are not an organic gardener, this book covers many basic gardening principles that anyone can use. Check your local library to see if they have them available or buy a copy to keep for personal reference.
My favorite gardening resource is my gardening friends. The love of gardening crosses generation gaps and social classes. Once you start talking about gardening, you will be surprised at how many people are like you and love to grow plants. Some exert great effort to grow the first tomato of the season, others concentrate on growing vibrant herbs, and many grow flowers for the butterflies. We all can learn from each other.
I have found gardeners to be among the most generous people I know; they are always ready to share tips, seeds, and even the harvest. Seeds and plants given to me by my garden friends seem to do so well and I have found many new favorites because of their recommendations and gifts. When I see the plant thriving in my backyard garden, it brings special memories of the giver.
I hope also that you will find this site to be a valuable resource as you garden in this wonderful state. It is my goal with coffeetocompost.com to teach you what I have learned and to show you what I am growing at a given time.
If you know of any other great resources, feel free to mention them in the comments.