Preparing for Your Florida Fall Garden
Florida, as you might imagine, is a mecca for gardening. We have amazing weather for all kinds of plants – and pests too. Most of Tampa Bay falls in the 9a, 9b, and 10a Agricultural zones, which means lots of sunshine and plenty of rain and humidity to support crops all year long.
For us Floridians, we are privileged to be able to garden in all seasons. In Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, there are crops that can take what abuse our climate dishes out, if you plan it right. Today we’re talking about prepping for the Fall garden.
Yes, We Really Plant Vegetable Gardens in the Fall in Florida
Many people don’t realize that our Northern garden brethren have a completely different gardening schedule than we do down here. For them, they garden from April to September, maybe October, and that’s it. Much of the national chain store advertising is set up for this schedule, and so folks don’t realize that our Spring planting in Florida actually starts in February/March timeframe and is done by about June.
You can grow many of the things that you plant in the Spring again in the Fall here. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, peas, beans, gourds, pumpkins, squash, zucchini, lettuces, sunflowers, and more all love the break from the hottest of our summer temperatures. Much of the preparation that you do for Fall gardening is the same as the Spring.
I prefer to do my garden planning in a Garden Journal, and I cannot advocate enough for you to give it a try, too! You can make any notebook, calendar, steno, or legal pad a Garden Journal, and there are even phone apps out there for it, but I prefer the pencil and paper kind. I scribble and scratch and color and sketch in it – it’s yours to use and enjoy, so you might as well get the best from it! I want you to plan, list, and write your garden day experiences in it, just like a journal. It’s important to write down the things that you observe in the garden, and even include photos of flowers, fruits, vines, and bugs, fungus, disease too, identified, and your treatment plans for garden issues, and how well (or poorly) they works. Chart your successes and your failures. You’ll want to look back and see what you’ve done, and remember the clever things you did that made your garden awesome so you can repeat them in the future.
Preparation Starts Earlier Than You Might Think
If you saw our article on Solarization of the Soil, that’s really your first step to prepare for Fall gardening – 6 weeks to weed and disease-free soil. If you missed it, though, that’s ok, you can do it next year. It’s not a make-or-break step, but if you have the opportunity to solarize your soil I promise you’ll be able to tell the difference.
A new season is like a fresh start – even if it’s just on the heels of the previous season. Many folks use the fall planting season to update and add or subtract hardscape for their vegetable beds – erect new trellises, build new mounds or raised beds, make a new plan. This can be done before any new season starts, its just that most of us prefer to do that in Winter rather than in the Summer heat. If you work in the early mornings or in the couple of hours after sunset, it’s not so bad.
Making a Plan
Finally, make your garden plan. This all starts at the core of figuring out what tasty garden veggies you want to eat more of this season! Figure out what you want to eat, and how best to plant them in the space you have. Decide if you’re planting in containers, raised beds, mounds, rows, square foot gardens, or whatever.
Make sure the crops you plant next to each other don’t harm each other: better yet, ensure that they compliment each other! It’s called Companion Planting – we talked a little bit about it in our Easy Eating Container Plantings article – look at the Three Sisters plant-o-gram in that blog! There’s lots written about Companion planting out there too, one of my favorites is a book called “Carrots Love Tomatoes” – check it out! (Just a quick Google search, you’ll find it!)
Things to do for Fall
Prepare Your Tools
It’s easier to make your garden brilliant when your tools are in good shape and all organized. Take inventory of your tools. Check to make sure they are in working order, blades sharp and clean (rubbing alcohol does just fine), hinges lubricated, and decontaminated (just for soil movers like spades, shovels, trowels, or cultivators). If you have electric or gas-powered tillers/cultivators, fire it up and ensure that all parts are working. Have them serviced and clean now so they’re ready to work when you are ready to dig in.
Prepare Your Soil
Pull any weeds and crops remaining from the previous season that are spent. If they’re not diseased, and if the weeds aren’t seeding, toss them in the compost. If they are diseased, or seeding, the burn barrel is a good place for them, or into the yard waste bin they go.
After removing the weeds, cultivate (“turn over”) your soil, and mix in your compost, or fertilizer (I like to use Shell’s 3-3-3 Organic Garden Fertilizer). Form your mounds and rows and get them ready for planting. If you aren’t seeding the same day as your soil prep, I would cover the beds/mounds/rows with newspaper or cardboard, or even re-useable tarps. This will help keep the weeds under control until you are ready to plant.
Finally, if you solarized, don’t mix in anything that might have seeds in it like grass clippings, leaf litter, manure, or top soil – or you’ll ruin all that work from the solarizing process!
There’s nothing wrong with planting seeds right now in August so your plants are ready for the weather to cool down Some people like to track their germination rates, so they plant seeds in pre-molded seed plug cells so they can count the seeds that popped up and which didn’t. These cells, as the seeds sprout and grow out their roots, make a nice little “plant plug” that can just be dropped into a hole in your mound or row, easy peasy. We carry these in different sizes, and can help you choose the right one for your crops.
You can also plant directly into the ground right now. Some people are religious about holding off planting until September, but I think a couple of weeks jump start gives you the opportunity to plant more in a season. When you do this, you get an even harvest for a longer period of time, instead of a huge harvest all at once. And who doesn’t like more food all season instead of all the work at once?
This staggered planting is a technique called Succession Planting, and it’s a great way to space out your harvests to give you a chance to consume them before the next ones are ready to pick. Sometimes you get so much with a huge harvest you can’t process it all or give it all away before it goes bad…and no one wants to waste food that you worked so hard for.
Finally, I have another short blog about preparing your planting containers for Fall here with a cute infographic for reference.
Benefits of Fall Gardening
The days are getting shorter this time of year, it’s true, but the days are also getting slightly cooler, and drier, traditionally. It’s true, sometimes October can feel just like July, but we always hope for the best.
Gardening in the Fall is usually more comfortable than the Summer and late Spring gardening as well, so many folks look forward to wearing a light sweater during the Fall Garden harvest time (hey, it happens…sometimes).
Cooler weather and shorter days means less pests for the most part, and thus less pest damage, and less pest treatment too.
And maybe it’s just me…but tomatoes and peppers grown in the Fall just taste different. They taste somehow sweeter to me. Or maybe it’s just that I know that October and November tomatoes harvested from my backyard just isn’t a thing in many parts of the US…so I enjoy them all the more.
Planting Will Be Here Before You Know It!
We expect our grower to deliver the first plants at the end of August/beginning of September – unlike large chain garden centers, we really only carry plants that can be planted at the time that we have them. We always have seeds in stock, as well as tools you might need.
After your organizing, inventory, and planning is all done, get in here and get what you need so that you can dive into the joy that is gardening in the Fall. As always, if you need help, we’re here to answer questions.
We hope to see you in soon!
Thanks for reading,
Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply
I'm an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child.
The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me. The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, "If you're not killing plants, you're not stretching yourself as a gardener." Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they're delicious!) Thanks for reading!
Special thank you to Abby's Farms, where the photo on the left was taken. Shell's Feed & Garden Supply sponsors the chickens and chicken coops there. Visit their website here.