Guide to Your Florida Summer Garden

shells feed garden supply tampa florida guide to summer garden

Are you feeling it yet? That blistering white-hot H-E-A-T that signals that Summer is actually here already?

Yeah, me too. It’s starting to feel like a muggy oven out there, and actually, the heat can be dangerous if you don’t stay covered and hydrated appropriately. I know if I overheat and don’t drink enough water I get “wicked headaches” (borrowed that term from a Boston friend). So don’t do that!!

Peppers and small tomatoes are a summer treat!

For most gardeners, summertime is a time to move some plants to areas that get a bit of afternoon shade, and to pull other plants out entirely when they can’t take the heat. I know that my compost pile is happy at this time of year. It’s also a brutal time if you’re battling powdery mildew (on top of the leaf), downy mildew (under the leaf), or other such funguses. Even if you’re only watering in the mornings so the sun can dry your crops, afternoon showers can ruin that attempt to keep your plant leaves dry and leave them soaking wet all night long…and you’ve lost Battle Fungus.

I’m not complaining – the weather here is actually why we have such success growing food, ornamentals, shrubs, & trees. But learning how to adapt to the weather we’re given is a key strategy for gardening success. Funny thing is…the rules change every single year. But there are some general Summertime planting guidelines that will help you get through the season that feels like we’re sitting on the surface of the sun!

Summer Gardening Tip #1 – Let The Healthy Spring Crops Keep Producing

Just because it’s Summer doesn’t mean that you necessarily MUST pull a plant. If the plant is healthy, disease-free, and still producing flowers, edible leaves, fruits, and/or veggies, let it be. Keep taking care of it, harvesting as needed, treating for pests as needed (hand-picking, organic, or regular methods all apply).

Eggplants can do well in the heat.

As we transition from Spring to Summer, worms become a huge issue, and you’ll need to be diligent picking them off and/or applying BT regularly.

Some of the crops that might transition well from Spring to Summer include:

  • Tomatoes, especially the smaller cherry, grape, and Everglades Florida Native variety tomatoes
  • Eggplants
  • Peppers – from Sweet Bells to Mild Poblano Anchos, to Jalapenos, Habeneros, Serranos and more, peppers have always grown really well for me in the Summertime.
  • Georgia Collards – they were REALLY hard to get ahold of this year from our grower (they had some issues with powdery mildew and had to discontinue them), but if you were lucky enough to pick up some Collards in early February from our plant shelves, they’re still producing great greens right now.
  • Onions – you can still grow great green and bulbing onions this time of year. Want some onion-growing tips? Here you go.
  • Sunflowers and some other annuals, such as marigolds, geraniums, pentas, pom pom flowers, zinnias, sunpatiens (in partial to full shade), coleus (in full shade), and some types of begonias too.
  • Woody-stemmed herbs like Rosemary and English Thyme (I know that last one is debateable, but my English Thyme grows really well partially shaded).
  • Herbs in the Mint Family – if not potted they can become aggressive, so they’re pretty hardy!! These include Mint, Peppermint, Spearmint, Chocolate Mint, and Catnip, among others.
Collards loving the sun.

Summer Gardening Tip #2 – Plant for the Heat

Maybe this seems obvious, maybe it doesn’t. This time of year, big box stores will sell you winter/early Spring crops, because they don’t really care that those plants most likely won’t survive. So, things like lettuces, broccoli, leafy greens & herbs, cabbages, squash, and more are sold to you in May in Florida, when their chances of survival are slim, at best. Don’t fall for it, unless you’re a really experienced gardener or have a microclimate in your yard that allows for survival of these delicate plants!

Lettuces for the most part are too fragile for the heat and would require almost constant shade this time of year to even possibly survive. Broccoli, cabbages, and many leafy greens require cold to be flavorful, which is why they make great winter crops. And with the heat, these plants will sing their final opera and send up their flower shoots and go to seed right away, seeing the writing on the wall…or rather, the thermometer.

Sunflowers dazzle in the heat of day.

For Summer, there are still some great crops you can grow, and you should!!

  • Sunflowers and native wildflowers will grow really well in our regular soil (without amending – but a top dressing of compost is really helpful!). If you’re looking to produce Sunflower Seeds, we have a lot of options for you, including bulk seed that has a decent germination rate, come check out our selection! Both of these are great for our local butterflies and pollinators. See for more details and species that will help!
  • Okra is a high-heat rock star, producing beautiful flowers followed by many, many tender pods for eating or pickling (pick them young – they get very tough when they’re older!). They will produce well even in 100+ degree heat – just make sure they are sufficiently watered! They are water hogs, and you’ll see why when you plant them – they make enormously thick stalks!
  • Cowpeas and black-eyed peas are awesome nitrogen-fixers for the soil – you can grow them all summer, eat the delicious peas, and then till the stalks/leaves under a couple of weeks before your fall planting.
  • Sweet potatoes LOVE the heat and will flourish all summer. You can eat the youngest tender leaves in salad, a bonus treat for you while you wait on the tubers to finish up at the first cold snap in the Fall/Winter. Need more sweet potato growing tips? Take a look here.
Okra is some of the most beautiful, and prolific, plants in the summer veggie garden.

Summer Gardening Tip #3 – Increase Your Watering As Needed & Cover Soil to Hold Water

Your plants will need more water as it gets hotter, just like us humans. And just like our own skin, when a plant gets too hot, their leaf pores open and they release water vapor to cool the air immediately around them. If they don’t have enough water to replace what they release, they will wilt, which is characterized by leaves shriveling and stems bending/curling.

Watering is key to a healthy summer garden.

One of the ways to help plants hold on to some of the water from your irrigation is to mulch over the soil to help cool the soil and prevent evaporation from the sun. This can be done with compost, wood mulch, pine straw (fresh), dry leaves, hay, etc. Covering the soil is one of the key concepts of the Earthbox system – and one of the reasons these boxes are so successful. In a ground garden or raised bed, your mulch can be tilled under at your next planting, adding organic material to your soil that will break down over time and provide a steady stream of nutrients to your plants as well as increase water retention. Over time, continuing to add organic materials to your soil will make your garden area soil very nutrient dense and loamy, and less sandy.

Another way to conserve water is to use an organic-grower safe product called Hydretain. Hydretain, when applied in your next watering, helps bind water to the roots of your plants/turf/ornamentals and keeps it available to the plants for longer. It can save up to 50% of your normal irrigation water usage – it’s completely worth it, and really helps with that late-afternoon wilt that is so prevalent in Florida Summer gardens.

Some larger tomatoes take the heat and run with it! Just make sure they’ve got water!

Summer Gardening Tip #4 – Observe & Report

Ever been part of a neighborhood watch group? The police contact for a neighborhood watch group will tell you that your job as a participant is to observe and report.

Well, it’s the same for your garden. Observe your garden daily, and at different times of day, to see where the sun and shade areas are, what plants wilt in the afternoon, what plants are no longer producing fruits and can be pulled, etc.

A garden journal is a helpful tool for this – if you’ve read my blog over time you’ll see this suggestion often because it’s really great to have records of what works, what didn’t, and brilliant ideas that come to you over your gardening career.

Simple example of a garden journal.

Summer Gardening Tip #5 – Solarize if You’ve Got Soil Issues

So, your garden got Fusarium Wilt, or Root-Knot Nematodes, or is just overrun with a horrendous invasive weed problem. Or, it’s just too dang hot to be out there working in the veggie garden.

One thing you can do to use that heat and eliminate those problems is to Solarize your soil. I wrote an article about that some time ago, and I invite you to go see it now if you’re interested in the particulars. Solarize Your Soil.

Note: You don’t need to Solarize your soil if you don’t have problems that are soil-borne. Solarizing will sterilize the top couple of inches of your soil, including the good organisms, so only use it if you’ve been overrun with problems.

Do you have any great Summer gardening tips? Feel free to share them in the comments below!

I hope this article was helpful to you for navigating our fiercely hot Summers while still having gardening fun.

As a reminder, Our last Monthly Community Seed Swap of the Spring 2019 season happens this Saturday, May 18, 2019, from 8:30-10:30 am. This is a free event – more details on the swap right here.

See you soon!


Creating Pollinator Habitats in Your Yard

It is estimated that 90% of flowering plants, and over 30% of human food crops require pollinators to reproduce, such as creating the fruits and vegetables that we eat, and creating new flowering plants in our environment.  Additionally, pollinators are an integral part of the widely diverse and complicated web of relationships between all living things on Earth.

Without them, we literally lose life on our planet.

Although bees are the first thing to come to mind on the topic of pollinators, it goes well beyond that. Bees are a large portion of the incredibly diverse group of pollinators, but they aren’t doing all of the work. Other insects, such as wasps, ants, beetles, flies, butterflies, and moths, and animals, such as hummingbirds and bats, are all part of the fragile and necessary pollination process.

Research has shown that the numbers of native and domesticated pollinator populations are declining. The wide use of pesticides and increased habitat loss, as well as new diseases, are wiping out pollinator species all over the world. They are struggling to survive, as well as struggling to pollinate all the plants that need their help to reproduce.

OK, that’s all the depressing news. Here’s the good news:

YOU can help your local pollinators. Yes, you can make a difference in all of our lives and help your community continue to grow and thrive. It’s not only possible to help your local pollinators, but it can be easier than you think and you’ll reap the rewards of helping struggling beneficial insects while boosting the health of your garden.

Here’s a few tips:

Create a native plant garden

Here in Tampa we are part of an area known as the Outer Coastal Plain, which spreads along the East Coast of the US from Delaware south through parts of the Carolinas, Georgia, Louisiana, and most of Florida.  No matter what area of the world you live in, your local pollinators rely on native plants to eat and reproduce. In many cases, pollinators don’t even recognize exotic plants and won’t be drawn to them for nectar and pollen! Some examples of our favorite plants native to our area include:

Trees & Shrubs:

Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

Common Wax Myrtle (Marella cerifera)

Sweet Bay (Magnolia virginiana)

Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor)

Azaleas (Rhododendron alabamese, Rhododendron atlanticum, & Rhododendron austrinum)

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)


Red Milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata)

Scarlet Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus)

Showy Aster (Eurybia spectabalis)

Blue Lobelia (Lobelia elongata)

Narrowleaf & Savanna Sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius & Helianthis heterophyllus)

Creeping Blueberry (Vaccinium crassifolium)

Having native plants to help the pollinators eat, shelter, and reproduce will help ensure that they are available to pollinate your garden and keep local biodiversity thriving. You’ll host a home for many important pollinators, and you’ll enjoy the bonus of a low-maintenance garden full of local natural beauty, too.

Plant Pollinator-friendly No Pesticide Zones

Many garden chemicals kill beneficial insects along with the pests you are targeting. Having areas where no pesticides or herbicides are used at any time helps pollinators survive. If you MUST spray your vegetables or show-garden, please only do so when most pollinators are not active, and only on days when it’s not windy to keep the spray from travelling. has some good resources on when pollinators are active in your area so that you can be sure, including info for Pollinator Week from June 18-25, 2018. It’s important to remember that the chemicals linger and can still kill bees and other beneficial insects. Hand-picking and other pest remedies are much safer for your pollinators.

I recommend planting an area of the yard that receives no clipping, mowing, sprays, herbicides or any other disturbance. Once planted, allow this area to flower, reseed itself, and grow unhindered (you can trim the edges of the area, as some plants spread). Including plants listed above, as well as other pollinator-friendly plants listed below, will go a long way to ensuring the survival of pollinators in your area. This little patch will be a tiny slice of paradise for your local pollinators, and the native plants that take over are a great reminder of some of the amazing natural beauty we have around this area!

Here’s some garden pollinator-friendly plants to consider:

Catnip                                                                          Sunflowers

Iris                                                                                Purple tansy

Lavender                                                                     Coreopsis

Roses                                                                            Goldenrod

Salvia                                                                          Penstemon

Provide Water and Shelter in your Pollinator Garden

We all need shelter and water, and your local Pollinators are no exception.  In fact, The Pollinator Partnership has created a contest called The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge that you can enter and help your pollinators thrive while having a lot of fun.

Here are a few ideas to keep in your pollinator garden area:

  • Safe areas of bare ground – Andrenid bees, Sweat bees, Digger bees, Plasterer bees, Squash bees, some Leaf-cutter bees, and Gourd bees all like undisturbed, bare soil areas for nesting and resting. This can be provided in areas where not much grows anyway, or an area that is cleared WITHOUT CHEMICALS for this purpose.
  • Upside-down old planting pot habitats – Bumble bees and wasps are attracted to areas that have space, darkness, and one opening to enter and exit. Once it’s there, don’t disturb it.
  • Tunnels and human-made cavities for shelter – Bumble bees, Beetles, some Leaf-cutter bees, and Mason bees like this kind of cover.
  • Habitats of stacks of soft dead wood, like poplar, cottonwood, willow – frequented by Large Carpenter bees, they make it into a home by carving the wood. Beetles also make tunnels in wood that Leaf-cutter bees will take over after the beetle emerges.
  • Pithy stems for habitats, like Rose or Blackberry Canes and bamboo – small Carpenter bees, Leaf-cutter bees, Mason bees, and Yellow-faced bees prefer these small tunnel-like structures.
  • Stacks of sticks & logs for shelter – many bees, as well as native wasps and other beneficial insects, use this kind of terrain as shelter and homes.
  • Shallow watering pools – using a shallow terra cotta, concrete, or plastic tray (like one for catching water under potted plants), place rocks with flat smooth sides in the tray and then fill with water, leaving the top of the rock surfaces exposed. Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators will land on the rocks to rest and sip water. Make sure to place it in or near your pollinator garden so that they have everything they need in a close area. Because of mosquitoes, the trays will have to be cleaned out often, but supporting our pollinators by providing easy water sources is worth the 60 seconds of extra maintenance work.

If you would like more information about how to help your local pollinators, check out this document from The Pollinator Partnership and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign for our region.

Other great resources include:

Let us see what you’re doing for our local Tampa pollinator population by commenting below or tagging us on Facebook (go Like our Facebook page and then use the “@ShellsFeed” in your post to tag us).

Thank you for reading!


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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.


Providing Pollinator Habitats

Considering the decline in pollinator populations, it is imperative that we provide pollinator habitats.

A couple of days ago in Protect The Pollinators we talked about the important role that pollinators play in the food chain. We also went over how pollinators are declining in numbers.

We can provide food and shelter to help keep local pollinator populations in our area healthy and helpful.

Tips To Attract A Pollinator

pollinator– Plant an area of flowers rich in nectar and pollen which flower at different times during the growing season

– Plant larger clumps of the same variety

– Plant flowers in sunny areas that are sheltered from wind

– Bees favorite colors are blue, purple, white, and yellow and they like a variety of shapes

– Do not use any pesticides in the area that you are leaving for the pollinators, chemical or organic

pollinator – Provide sheltered areas for pollinators to nest, and if you are so inclined, you can raise colonies of honeybees!






Pollinator Flower Favorites

Here’s a pretty infographic you can refer to when you are planting your Pollinator Garden.

pollinators flowers bees


Marissa, Director of Communications

Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply, Inc.