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Jan 14 / denisa

Container Gardening In South Florida

Growing vegetables in South Florida is a little different than in the rest of the country. Just like gardening in general. In our Zone 10 climate, the dead of summer acts as our winter usually zapping most flowering plants and vegetables who cant handle our intense heat and humidity. But even in sunny Florida, cold air and frosts can make their way down south and put a chill in our tender plants mid winter. So how can we achieve a full growing season without risking the loss of harvest?

Planting our vegetables in containers.

Container gardens have both their advantages and disadvantages.  For starters containers can be easily moved to receive more (or less) sunlight in order to keep your crop growing happily throughout the season.  Containers can also be moved easily into a garage or indoors if a rare frost or cold front happens to arrive mid winter.

One major advantage is that pots and planters offer protection from root knot nematodes found in our warm climate soil. These pesky pests eat the roots of tasty veggie plants and kill the plant from the ground up. Another advantage is that you can choose a higher quality store bought soil which many fruit producing plants prefer to our native, nutrient-lacking, sandy South Florida earth.

Aesthetically speaking, veggies aren’t the most decorative or attractive plants. Planting them in containers allows for the flexibility of moving unsightly plants away from your main gardening oasis to a less visible part of your yard where they will be less of a focal point. This method also allows people with very little garden space or unpaved land to enjoy home grown fruits and vegetables of their own.

So why not plant your entire garden in containers?

Container gardening does have its drawbacks. For starters, a potted garden requires more care and watering to be sure your plants have enough water and are draining properly. You may also need to fertilize more often as soil in containers may not hold the nutrients as long as ground soil. Containers can be costly and although you can reuse them every year they can still deteriorate over time.  (We like to re-use the old black pots our plants came in from the nursery, but sometimes-bigger containers are required). If you’re garden is out of sight (like ours is) you can use any type of container like old (thoroughly cleaned) paint buckets with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage; or the like.

Click through the gallery of our container garden for more tips and info on growing tomatoes and bell peppers in South Florida.

A note on squirrels and other rodents:

We recently had our homegrown tomatoes attacked by local squirrels.  It was a sad and horrifying site to see the largest tomatoes eaten in half and left on the vines to rot.  Quick action was needed to save our crop!  A fast search on the web provided many suggestions on how to rid your garden of the pests. Everything from covering your garden in mosquito netting to using hot pepper sauce on your larger veggies to out-right shooting the squirrels (yikes!).  We opted to cover our largest fruits with zip lock baggies (cut the corners off to let air circulate and rain water drain).  This seems to be working well for us, although I do worry about fungi or mildew forming if they do not get adequate ventilation.  Other suggestions include wrapping in pantyhose or other sheer fabric. This sounds like a better option since the fabric will breathe and stretch with the fruits growth, but we had baggies on hand so we’re using this method at the moment.

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  1. Misty / Jan 28 2014

    We are moving to West Palm in February. Any suggestions on what I could start with upon my arrival?

    • admin / Feb 17 2014

      You can start anything in February that likes the slightly warm weather. Tomatoes and peppers will do well this time of year as well as nearly every vegetable. You want to try and start plants that can be harvested by June. Otherwise the hot summer may be too much for the plants to handle. You’ll also want to get started asap. February is pretty much spring time in WPB so this would be the time to plant. Don’t wait until March or you may not get a good bounty.
      Good luck!

  2. Melissa / Sep 11 2012

    I live in south FL & I’m new to gardening. I want to container grow tomatoes, cucumbers & strawberries. When is the season to plant the seedlings?

    • admin / Jan 11 2013

      Definitely September. You’ll want to start your seeds indoors with a grow light to shelter from the harsh Florida heat in August and put them out in mid September. Its still very hot in September here so you’ll want to really watch your water and not let them dry (watering once a day maybe even twice a day at first). Once established they will require less work. You may find that a little afternoon shade may benefit them but not too much shade as veggies need lots of sun to grow well. Good luck!
      (PS) you still have time if you put them out now to get a good crop in before may when the heat starts to get to them.

  3. Marinna / Aug 18 2012

    I live in Orlando. All my tomatoes this year for some reason had very hard tough skins. Planted Roma, Big Boy, Cherry in containers. Getting ready to plant again next month & dont want the same results. Any idea why?

    • Marin / Oct 14 2013

      Usually temperature swings and big swings in the moisture content of the soil are to blame.

  4. Jennifer / Jun 3 2012

    looking to start my own container garden thnaks. Your illustrations have me even more excited now!

  5. Sharna Gordon / Apr 14 2012

    Great info (especially for a northern gardener). Thanks.

  6. college grants / Jan 24 2011

    this post is very usefull thx!

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