Top 10 Fertilizing Tips for Florida Gardens

Top 10 Fertilizing Tips for Florida Gardens
By Marissa

You want to feed yourself and your family fabulous produce that you grew in your yard, and that’s awesome.  There’s nothing like that sense of accomplishment when you bring in baskets full of wonderful vegetables, or pop a beautifully sun-ripened cherry tomato in your mouth that you just picked off the plant.  When two-thirds of your dinner plate is colorful, delicious vegetables from your garden, you know you’re living a fantastic, purposeful life.

But when do you feed the plants that give you those great vegetable harvests?  Well, they will need a little something extra at several points during their growing cycle, and here are some tips for you to ensure that your plants will have everything they need to feed your family and still live happy, healthy plant lives. 

Before I dive in, there is one little thing that is important to know about fertilizer – it’s not technically “plant food” – rather it is a supplement of nutrients the plant needs to successfully create all of the nutritional molecules it needs to survive and thrive during its own photosynthesis process.  Think of fertilizer as something akin to taking Vitamins rather than eating a meal – it actually helps with knowing when it’s best to fertilize!

Here’s our top tips for fertilizing Florida Gardens – an article inspired by feedback from you, our customers!

#1 – Fertilize at Planting Time

Whether you’re planting seeds or starter plants, work organic fertilizer, nutrient-rich compost, or slow-release into the top 4-6” of soil of your planting area.  You can also drop a “3-finger pinch” into the planting hole, as long as it’s worked into the soil as well – you don’t want to burn the roots with too much nitrogen matter.  Always water fertilized areas well to activate the release of the nutrients from the dry granules. I recommend a 3-3-3, 6-6-6, or 8-8-8 for this purpose. Also, if you are planting peppers and/or tomatoes, you really should add dolomite lime to the soil you are planting those plants in, it will help you avoid blossom-end rot.

#2 – Fertilize When Seedlings Have First True Leaves

If you started with starter plants, this will not apply to you.  If you started from seeds, your sprouts will have their initial leaves – known as “seed leaves” or, scientifically, Cotelydons – that get the photosynthesis process started for the plant.  These leaves are responsible for getting the plant embryo inside the seed from the initial “rooting & shooting” stage to establishing a more complex and environmentally-engaged root system – they create the energy needed to establish the plant for better survival immediately.  

These leaves usually look a little different than the leaves at the time of fruit production later in life – so they probably won’t look like the pictures on the seed packet (and that’s ok). The leaves that form after the cotelydons are the true leaves, and true leaves will usually be higher on the stalk than the seed leaves.  

If you didn’t fertilize into the seed or seedling hole directly at the time of planting, work a small handful, or “a palm-full,” of fertilizer into the top inch of the soil around the bottom of the plant, keeping about 1” away from the stalk so that you don’t disturb the fragile newly-formed root ball too much. You could still go for the 3-3-3, 6-6-6, or 8-8-8 for this purpose (could do 10-10-10 if that’s all you have – just something balanced in all the NPK nutrients).

 

 

 

#4 – Fertilize When Plants Have First Flush of Fruit – if you missed the first Flower Buds

Sometimes you look away for 5 seconds, and all of a sudden, you didn’t even see the first flowers – you now just have little fruits forming everywhere.  It’s ok – your plant is doing well with what you already fed it!  Just give it a little nudge now.  A small fist-full into the top 1” of the soil as a side dressing along each plant will work for this.

You can encourage the size of your fruits by giving them a little phosphorus and potassium (“K” in the NPK number) push when they set their first round of fruits.  Another great idea is some micronutrient boosters, such as FoxFarm’s Kelp Me Kelp You supplement – made from sustainable Kelp sources and teeming with all the right stuff for fantastic fruit.

Your Plants should be good through a harvest now.

 

#6 – Fertilize When Second Fruiting is Underway

Most plants are nearing the end of their “annual” lives by now, and the second flush of fruits can often be more productive than the first (really depending on the plant!).  It’s like they’re really hitting their groove. Biologically, the reason the plant fruits so much in the second fruiting is that it’s trying to produce viable seeds to continue the genetic line before the plant dies. 

They’re going to need some Phosphorus for heavy fruiting and Potassium for overall healthy growth and support, so a high- P and K fertilizer is good here.

 

#8 – Fertilize On A Schedule If Your Plants Have a Mixed Flowering/Fruiting Cycle

What if #5 & #6 above don’t really apply? Some plants don’t “flush” with flowers and fruits consecutively – rather, they will have flowers and fruits at the same time over the long haul.  A plant that comes to mind for me is pole beans, which function in a “the more you pick, the more I’ll produce” kind of behavior until the plant has exhausted all of its resources.  In that case, you can figure out when to fertilize based on production.

For example, when your two jalapeno pepper plants hit 30 peppers harvested and still has flowers, go ahead and fertilize and add dolomite.

After a season or two of growing and harvesting, you’ll be able to tell when your leafy kids need a boost. If you notice your pole beans start to slow down production, but you still see some flowers and the leaves look healthy, give them a good fertilizing and some compost tea and see if you can increase the bean count.  If not, well, you didn’t lose much with the experiment, and if you do get an increase, you know that your plant was just catching its breath and needed some nutrients to recover.

This is where your garden journal really comes in handy at tracking your growth and harvest cycles.

 

 

 

#10 – Be Consistent and Observant

I saved this tip for the very last because it is the thought I wanted to leave you with.  Even if consistent gardening for you is 10 minutes a day – 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening – be consistent about it.  Observe your plants’ behavior and you will learn when it needs a little push. You’ll know when it’s growing fine and doesn’t need more nutrients.  You’ll know when there’s too much fertilizer (plants look burned from too much nitrogen).  You’ll also know when your plant is eventually spent and can be pulled (and added to the compost pile if it’s not diseased) and replanted with something else.  Giving your plants building blocks so they can make the nutrients they need, when they need it, is one of the most important things we can do to help our gardens grow, thrive, and produce for us.

 

#3 – Fertilize When Plants Have First Flower Buds

You’ve probably been waiting awhile for the first flowers to show up.  It’s worth the wait! Your plants are growing long root structures and creating relationships with the microbial life in the soil, growing strong stems to support the eventual fruits that are coming, and the leaves it needs to feed all those processes. It’s a complex and wonderful time for a plant.

You can use the same fertilizer as above, but I would recommend a high Phosphorus (“P” in the NPK number on the fertilizer bag).  Phosphorus concentrates on growing strong blooms and fruits, and roots too, which are needed to feed said above-ground plant features.  Encouraging flowering will give you more fruit, and fruit is why we work so hard at vegetable gardening, right? Work a small fist-full into the top 1” of the soil around each plant.

 

#5 – Fertilize After First Harvest & Second Flowering Starts

You’ve harvested your first flush of fruit, pinched back the stems that had those fruits on them, and now you’re seeing more flowers starting to bud on new stems.  Give your plants some more 3-3-3, 6-6-6, 8-8-8 or 10-10-10. It’s also a good time for some more dolomite lime in the soil for those peppers, tomatoes, and the like.  If you have it, work some veggie compost, earthworm castings, mushroom compost into the soil as well to feed the roots (a great time to weed thoroughly!!), and do a couple of waterings with compost tea.  

**Simple Compost tea recipe: spread out a cheesecloth, a little bigger than a bandana, and place a double-handful of compost in the middle of it. Tie off the cheesecloth so that it makes a pouch tied with a single top knot.  Fill a 5-gallon bucket with water (rainwater if you have it) about 2/3 full and submerge the compost-in-cheesecloth in it. Cover, and leave for 24-48 hours, agitate it whenever you’re out and about in the garden. Use the water from that bucket to give your plants a nutrition-rich drink – they will love you for it – you’ll see!  It can be used at any growth stage, but I like to do it at this point to “recharge” the plant for it’s second round of production. Throw the dirt from the cheesecloth back in your compost, or add it to your garden’s soil for an extra boost.**

At this point in the plant’s life, it’s just run a marathon for you, and you’re helping it recover so that it can start training again for a second go!  See what I mean about the “Vitamins” analogy?

 

 

#7 – Fertilize Again If Your Plants Are Game For Round 3

If it seems like your plants are game for a third round, you can continue the above fertilizing pattern for the foreseeable future.  

Sometimes Annuals and Vegetables in Florida continually produce because our weather is so mild here. They will slow down in cooler weather, usually, but if it doesn’t get really cold, something you plant in Spring may be still producing in December – so don’t be surprised!  

Actually, our Florida garden’s most fearsome enemy is the unabating heat of summer – where it’s still 90+ degrees in the middle of the night, the roots and leaves don’t get a rest.

 

 

#9 – Specialty Fertilizers and Soil Additives Can Really Help

I’m sure you’ve seen the shelves in the fertilizer section with a myriad of different things with strange names on them.  Bone meal, blood meal, hydrated lime, bloom boosters, liquid kelp, bat guano, microbial enhancers/inoculators, Superthrive, acidifiers, micronutrient boosters, and so many more.  It can be overwhelming!  That’s why it’s important to have people on your side that you can talk to, like our staff at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply.  Stop in and ask us!

There are fertilizers that are formulated specifically for different kinds of plants as well, like Citrus, Palms, Azaleas/Rhododendrons, Roses, Tomato, Lawn & Landscape, and more.  Soil additives like Soil Conditioner helps add more organic and/or moisture-holding materials into the soil you already have. Florida soil in most areas is really sandy, so adding organic material and vermiculite or perlite help hold water near your plants’ roots longer so that they can have time to absorb it before the water runs through is helpful.  

Shell’s also formulated several fertilizers specifically for Florida soils to help your gardens thrive – please ask us about them! We have Organic too!

Another product that is helpful in keeping water near plant roots is Hydretain, which is an environmentally-friendly liquid that you apply through a hose-sprayer. It works wonders in areas of lawn, garden, and landscape that seem to not retain water at all, such as slopes.  I find it also helps to extend the crop life into the blistering heat of our summer.

 

 

I really hope this article is a good foundation for establishing your fertilizing “schedule” in your garden.  Please keep in mind that every single garden, and plant in it, is different. So while these tips work generally, your plants may need more, or less, depending on their individual environments, growing cycle, weather for that year, watering habits, soil microbial health, and many more variables.  

In the future I plan to bring you articles about nutrient deficiencies, so come visit us again for some helpful articles about that and other things.

For now, though, if you have questions, concerns, or comments about my tips here or any article in my blog, just contact me – I’m easy to find.  And you can always ask our experts at the store for your garden product and problem questions – that’s what we do!

Take care, and happy gardening!

Sincerely,

Marissa

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.

 

Tips for a Great Garden Plan, Part 2

Tips for a Great Garden Plan, Part 2
By Marissa

In Part 2 of this series, Tips for a Great Garden Plan, we’re going to dive deeper into what to grow, how many to plant, amending soil, and more!

In the last blog article, I assigned a little homework – deciding what you wanted to eat from/grow in your garden was one of them.  So, hopefully you have that information. But if not, take a moment to pick a few of your favorite things.

Starting from Seed

If you’re growing from seed, you’ll have planting instructions on the back of the package.  It might look something like this the image below.

These instructions printed on the back of these seed packets are based on planting seeds in beds that are in the ground, and are oriented to traditional farming – in other words, having rows of all the same crops like we talked about last time.  

Regarding planting time, the most important things to see on there for these kinds of gardens is the seed planting depth and the spacing between seeds.  This is very important for planting in long rows because it allows your plants the space they need to grow roots that will support the plant and also gather enough nutrients to put on the fruit you want to harvest.

I don’t want to be “normal”

But what if you don’t have, or want, a traditional farming setup?  What if you want to have a mixed bed? All containers? A Square Foot Garden?

It’s ok. You can fudge these spacing numbers a little in raised beds and mix up your crops.  In raised beds, for nutrient purposes we can amend the soil even more to make up for the various nutritional needs of the different plants we put in the raised beds and the increased uptake of nutrients because we are planting the crops closer than recommended, and we need for all the plants to have all the nutrients needed to flower and produce their fruit.

 

Starter Plants

Starter plants are definitely easier than starting from seed, but starting from seed is really satisfying!  I don’t find any fault with either method, but starter plants give you instant gratification, so, there’s that.  

If you are starting with starter plants like the ones we sell, make sure you pick up a free Shell’s Garden Guide!  On the back is a general guide to planting – the when, how far apart, etc – it’s all there! Our source of information is the University of Florida IFAS website, and there you can find their full gardening guide if you have more questions about care and best practices.  I linked to that in my previous article, so make sure you check that out if you haven’t already!

Otherwise, planting starter plants is very similar in technique to planting seeds – spacing, alignment with the sun, nutrients – get those figured out and you’re good to go!

How Much Should I Water?

What’s a good watering rate? Well, that depends on a lot of factors.  From UF IFAS Vegetable Garden Guide:  “Vegetables cannot tolerate standing water from excessive
rainfall or irrigation. At the same time, vegetables need
soil moisture to grow and produce. Frequency of irrigation
depends upon the age of the crop and your soil type.
Young plants need frequent but light irrigation; maturing
crops need more water but less often. Sandy soils demand
more frequent irrigation than clay, muck, or amended
soils. Conserve water by using mulch, organic matter, and
techniques such as drip irrigation. Make a slight depression
at the base of plants to hold water until absorbed by the soil.

So, as an example, early in the season right after planting, 1/10th of an inch daily might be good. As it gets hotter, watch for your plants to droop. They might need a good daily inch of watering, or maybe every other day. If you watch them closely, they will tell you!  Make sure you water early in the morning so the leaves have time to dry before the evening, when fungus proliferates the most.  Mulching your garden beds will help keep water from evaporating in the heat of the day and will keep the soil cooler.  You’ll especially want to watch for plant droop in the hot afternoons.

 

Let’s Talk Soil

Our Florida Native soil is very sandy, which is great for our native plant species – they love it!  Wonderful crops like Seminole Pumpkins, Everglades Tomatoes, Cranberry Hibiscus (pictured here), etc., all do really well just in the soil we have. You’ll want to give the ground around them some organic matter to chew on, like it would be where they naturally grow.

Normally, though, we’re planting things that are not native, which require more than what we have in our soil naturally.  So, we have to make our soil more than it is with amendments. What are some of these amendments? I’m glad you asked, because you’ll need to plan for them.  Here’s some common ones:

Fertilizers are the most commonly used way to amend the soil. These consist of granules or liquid ready-to-use nutrients that are immediately available to the plants through the foliage, or the roots, or both.  They are easy to apply, and with that, they also can wash away quickly. Many folks use time-released fertilizers that degrade slowly and provide a steady supply of nutrients over time.  Organic fertilizers are also available, so if that is your aim, search them out – there are some good ones out there (see Shell’s 3-3-3 Organic Fertilizer…it’s really awesome!! Mr. Shell formulated it just for Florida soils.).

 

 

 

Worm castings are “worm poop” – it is the byproduct of their feeding process.  If you naturally have earthworms in your soil, that’s great! You can attract more of them (or provide them a great place to breed) by mulching with leaves, coffee grounds, shredded newspaper, and other vegetable matter.  Have you ever heard of Vermiculture? You can grow your own worms and collect their castings and make a nourishing “tea” from their waste using this technique. I previously wrote some articles about it here and here if you’d like to learn more.  We sell worm castings, a big bag is about $13.  During growing season we also have compost worms available when our grower brings them, so call us and ask if we have them in stock!

 

Keeping a Garden Journal

It’s good practice to keep a garden journal – write down what you planted, and then as the days go forward write down what chores you did and anything you observed, as well as anything applied to the garden, pests you found, and what you did about them.  Keeping this information to look back on is very helpful! Plus it will keep you from planting the same plants in the same beds over and over again and depleting the soil.

It doesn’t have to be fancy, and there’s lot of free ones to print out from online.  I am in the process of designing a downloadable for you, so if you are a journal keeper, send me suggestions of what you’d like to see in a garden journal that you can print out for yourself!

 

There are a lot of companions plants that work well together – I like the book Carrots Love Tomatoes as a guide. I’ve had a copy for so long it fell apart and I had to get a new one! I think the author has revised the book and added some things since I last purchased it, so check out the latest publishing of it!  There are also other references for you on the internet, just look up Companion Planting for ideas.

Some Plants Don’t Play Well Together – Be Aware

Then there are some plants that don’t play well with others, those are also listed in this handy book!

Onions, for example, need their own beds or containers because they tend to stunt the growth of other plants. 

And Nightshades like Tomatoes, Peppers, Potatoes, and Eggplant, for example, are all susceptible to the same diseases, so it’s not advised to plant them close together because if one gets infected, they will all be compromised.  

If you don’t have Carrots Love Tomatoes, that’s ok, you can look up articles on what to not plant together and you’ll find lots of information. I’m sure it will be a topic for my blog at some point!

 

Now It’s Your Turn!

Alright, so I’ve given you a lot of information in these two articles! now, I want you to apply it and create a garden plan for yourself!  I’m here if you have questions, and I’d like to see your plans, so send me pictures!!

Here’s something to keep in mind: “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” –Zig Ziglar

Have fun! 

Sincerely,

Marissa

 

More things to Consider When Making Your Plan

  • How will you get water to your plants?  

If this is a difficult process, I promise, you won’t water as often as you need to, especially as it gets hotter later in Spring. And that will dash your dreams of farm to table in a matter of days.  A little benign neglect is acceptable, however, if your garden bed requires lots and lots of lugging heavy buckets of water across the yard…trust me, you won’t want to torture yourself like that. A funny quote I saw about gardening attests to this:  “Gardening starts at Day Break and ends at Back Break.” If you’re like me and can get lost in the garden, don’t make it any harder to be out there working than it absolutely has to be!

Consider putting a water “splitter” at the closest spigot and bury a hose a few inches under the ground that runs from the spigot to a good central point in your garden beds, and have the end of the hose pop up and hook to a sprinkler that will water the full area of your beds.  You might have to elevate the sprinkler by attaching it to a post (wood or PVC works for this) to make it reach everything. If you’re really wanting to be inventive and industrious, from where your hose emerges from the ground, run micro irrigation or soaker hoses throughout your beds.  This take a little bit of engineering, so do your research. My dad used soaker hoses and loved them. He put them on a timer so they would run even if he forgot.

 

 

  • How much time do you have to dedicate to gardening?  Do you have help?

If you are very very busy, don’t plant a lot.  If you can only spare 5 minutes a day, a couple of Earthboxes are your best bet.  If you have an hour a day and more on weekends, you can expand your garden and plant quite a bit because you’ll have the time to do what needs done – weeding, feeding, watering, pest management, etc.  If you have help, that’s even better!

Take it a step further – have a weekly calendar of garden tasks, for instance Weeding Wednesday for pulling weeds, Feeding Friday for checking plant health and fertilizing if needed (for instance if they’ve just started flowering and/or fruiting).  Things like inspection for pests and picking them off should be done every day, and if treatment is needed, do it right away. Watering can and should be a daily task (unless you are growing in an Earthbox, then you probably can go a day or two without watering – depends on how hot it is and what you have planted, so check at least!).  Eventually, harvesting will be a daily thing too – bed you can’t wait for that!

Weekends are for larger projects – spreading mulch, structure building, or pest treatments for large areas that take time.  During the week should be spot treatments, but if you know you need to treat the whole garden for something, do that when you’re not in a hurry so you can be thorough.

 

 

Compost is partially-degraded vegetable material like leaves, sticks, veggies, paper, etc.  When this is added to the soil, it continues to break down and provides nutrients to the plants as it does so.  Built up over time, compost makes the soil very rich and dark. You can also make a “compost tea” to water your plants with for a quick natural boost of nutrients.  There are lots of articles on the internet about composting and compost tea. A great local resource is the Pinellas Community Composting Alliance – they have lots of information about composting.  Pinellas County has a very composting-friendly municipal government, even their Department of Solid Waste is on board!  Hillsborough doesn’t have any official policy, however, there is a Composting workshop that is held periodically by the Hillsborough County Extension Office of the UF IFAS program, so check that out as a way to get started. Here is an article from the UF IFAS Blog as well (written by the PCCA too!).

 

“Lasagne gardening” is a layering technique of putting a bunch of compostable materials on the top of your soil and planting in it.  As it breaks down, and with repeated applications each planting season, you get a good solid layer of rich soil full of organic material and solid populations of beneficial soil microbes.  No digging!!

It really is concentrated applied and active composting.

There are books written about this technique, just look around the ‘net, you’ll find them.  If not, let me know, I’ll dig out my book and give you the info for it.

 

Planting by Groups

Often called companion planting, it’s something to consider.  For example, I am planning a 3 Sisters garden bed this year (see the photo of my plan at the end of this article).  The 3 Sisters are Corn, Beans, and Squash.  This is a method of companion planting that is very beneficial to these three kinds of plants, and has been used and passed down from Native American growing traditions.  Corn stalks can be used to support beans (I’m using bush variety, but if you use pole beans, the corn makes a great “trellis” for them!). The beans fix nitrogen in the soil which increases availability for all three, and the squash makes a natural ground cover with their big leaves, keeping the soil shaded, cooler, and helps eliminate some of the water evaporation from the hot sun (and raccoons don’t like the fuzzy squash leaves, so bonus there!).  Here’s a fun article from our friends at the Old Farmer’s Almanac about it.  

I’ll Show You Mine

Here is a pic of my garden plan for this Spring.  It is a work-in-progress (do you ever really finish?).  This is one of quite a few drawings because I change my mind a lot.  Things that are important to note are:

  1. Knowing how your garden is oriented in relation to the sun.  I drew the Compass Rose on the diagram so that I could remember.
  2. Relative orientations and sizes of the beds – you need to know where they are in relation to the others and their measurements (which are not shown here…I will add them later today!).
  3. Note new things you’re planting – for me, Corn is new – because in small quantities like this, they need to be hand-pollinated, so that is a special project I will have to do when the tassels and silks are ready!!  Kind of excited about trying that – I just hope I don’t miss the window!
  4. Special notes for things that I need to remember are included – see the upper right of the image.
  5. Number the larger beds so that you can refer to them easily in notes.
  6. I noted some maintenance projects that I need to do in orange ink.

My special notes say:

“Separate squash & zucchini to help minimize cross-pollination.”

“Tall crops at North end of the beds” (this keeps tall crops from shading shorter ones, the sun passes over east to west, and where I am the sun is slightly to the south of direct, even in the summer).

“Radishes and Marigolds are planted throughout beds 1 and 2, marigolds included in the wildflower bed too.”

 

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.

 

Tips for a Great Garden Plan, Part 1

Tips for a Great Garden Plan, Part 1
By Marissa

In this 2 part blog series, I’d like to talk about making a great garden plan for your Spring garden. 

Planning a garden in the dead of winter is almost like taking your mind into the setting of an idyllic fairy tale.  Right about now, the seed catalogs are arriving at homes all over America.

You dream of what your garden could be, and sometimes make it a bit embellished with a touch of the impossible.  It’s fun to think about Spring gardening, surely, during a less-desirable growing season for us like Winter, but I believe that one of the most important garden planning steps is to “reign it in” a little.  Trust me, I’ve been there, got carried away, and wasted money on stuff I couldn’t plant. So I thought I’d help you a bit here with some tips about gardening, in any season.

Ready?

Let’s get started!

#2: Review your garden area’s USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map

Almost all garden plants like vegetables, flowers, shrubs, and tree species have a USDA Zone rating.  If you look in your seed catalogs, for example, most of them will say something like “hardy up to Zone 3” or “for growing in Zones 7-12 only” or “grows as an annual above Zone 6”.  Ever wondered what that really means?

The USDA actively researches Plant Hardiness for all areas of the United States.  This is based as much on the origin of the plants we like to grow as well as historical weather data.  They have provided us a handy online tool for finding out what your Plant Hardiness Zone is. Here is the link: https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/

On that site you can see the colorful map of the zones, and if you look near the top left, there is a place to enter your garden area’s ZIP code.  When you do that, you’ll get an answer as to what Zone you’re in (for example, Lutz ZIP code 33549 is in growing area 9b, as is the store’s ZIP code of 33612).  You can also view state, regional, and national maps that you can print out if you like using the tabs at the top of that page. It’s pretty neat to look up different places and see what zone they’re in!(HINT: It’s a fun learning exercise for kids that ties meteorology and climate together with food production capability and geography).

Once you find out what Zone you’re in, then you will have more knowledge of what you can grow in your area.  Here in the Tampa Bay area, that’s pretty easy – nearly everything will grow here! There are a few notable exceptions, but we will talk about that later.
 

 

 

 

#4: Figure out how much garden space you have – and where it’s at in relation to the Sun

Figuring out how much space you have will determine how much you can grow.  You see, in most gardens, you need to give your plants space to spread out their roots to support themselves and gather nutrients effectively so that you get the produce you’re after.  That is why seed packets have spacing instructions!

Mark out a space that gets a lot of Sun in the Spring.  That may be a little difficult now, as the sun doesn’t climb as high in the sky during the Winter as it does in the Spring.  But if you think about it, and remember sunny areas in your yard from the previous year, you can estimate the areas that will get the most sun.  You can wait until end of February/beginning of March and do a Sun Map if you like, a couple of examples appear below:

Look at openings in the tree canopy (if you have mature trees; I know that many homes recently built do not have any trees to speak of), and know where the sun rises and sets in relation to the area you want to plant.  That will mostly tell you if you’ll get the production you want.

You can get techie too! There is a google map overlay called SunCalc that allows you to see where the sun will be on a given day at a given time.  It’s pretty nifty if you want to get all nerdy with it.

As an example, tomatoes need at least 8 hours of sun per day to produce fruit.  Think of it like charging solar cells – the more sun you have, the more photosynthesis can happen, the more fruit you can get.  So you’ll want to pick areas that get that kind of sunlight if you want to grow that kind of crop. Lettuce requires less hours of sun (4-6) so you can grow that in areas that may not have access to as much light.  Your seed packets and catalogs will usually give you an idea of what kind of sun they need, and if not, the Extension service websites I gave you in Tip #3 should have what you’re looking for.

 

 

Feel free to mix it up!  Build one raised bed and set other containers beside it, or have a section of Earthboxes and another in-ground bed.  The great thing is, it’s all up to you, so be adventurous!  Gardening is all about experimentation.

Alright, that’s quite a lot to consider already, and we’re only about halfway through this planning guide!

So, your homework, should you be so inspired, is to look at your garden space, decide where you want to plant, what you want to plant there, and to get your structure planned, and possibly built!  In a couple of weeks we will explore Part 2 of Tips for a Great Garden Plan, and we’ll talk more about how to decide what to grow, how many to plant, soil amending, and more!

I highly suggest starting a Garden Journal.  There are lots of them out there that are already created – just have to download them.  Or you could just use a plain ol’ notebook or 3-ring binder.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, but if you’re artistic, or a photographer, it’s a great opportunity to make drawings and store photos of your garden friends, year after year, like a scrapbook.  Or you can make it more scientific-looking too. 

Keep track of the season with a simple label for the top of each page, you can put the date if you like, but I also like to include “Spring 2019” in there.  Sketch out your garden beds and/or container areas in relation to other landmarks in your yard, mark the sizes and shapes, and maybe some notes about why you put them there.  If you’re going with containers, have an idea of what kind you want, as this will help you make your shopping list later.  Start to list out the things you want to grow and eat and/or flowers for bouquets (and maybe throw in an area for a pollinator garden)!  All of this will help in the steps we’ll talk about next time.

Until then…thanks for reading!

Sincerely,

Marissa

P.S. I hope you have fun with this – don’t stress!  Especially if you’re a gardening newbie.  This should be fun, not overwhelming. 🙂

P.P.S You can get an early start on your garden markers by getting some fun ideas from my last blog about DIY Garden Markers!

#1: Review the current year’s Almanac

We carry the Grier’s Almanac (FREE!) and Old Farmer’s Almanac (it’s $6.99) in our store.  These quirky publications have a lot to offer for people who are planning on planting (with a little bit of patience and a good sense of humor) come the next growing season.

You see, quite a bit can be predicted from historical weather patterns.  Also, the phases of the moon exert a large effect on the Earth – if you’re a weather watcher or a fisherman, you know the Earth’s highest and lowest tides are almost always when the moon is full or new.  In Florida, our underground water aquifers are also affected by the moon (and also the sun and the weight of the atmosphere, but that’s another nerdy conversation for another day).  My point is, Almanacs have gathered historical climatology information and combined it with sun and moon charts to give us the best days to plant seeds, harvest crops, and other information on garden care, throughout the whole year.

I do my best to incorporate this information into my garden planning, if at all possible.  I find that when I follow the suggested dates, it makes positive difference in my results! And with the guide, you can schedule garden work into your busy lives by knowing what days it’s best to do everything that needs done in the garden!

 

#3: Decide what you like to eat (or what flowers to grow)

I know I mostly talk about vegetable gardening, because I’m a foodie at heart, but maybe you’re planning for a flower garden (and I highly recommend a good-sized patch of native wildflowers in any garden to help support local pollinators).  “Flowers make the heart joyful, and the gardener humble” is something I once heard a relative of mine say. Whatever it is you’re wanting to plant, take the Zone information from Tip #2 above and make sure that what you want to grow will survive here.

Also, there are certain times of the year to plant certain things. Our Shell’s Feed Garden Guide can help you with that. It’s free in the store when you stop by  We publish one for every 2 months of the year pretty much with instructions on what to plant, and caring for your entire lawn and landscape.  On the back of each one is a guide showing when to plant what, and it includes the most commonly grown veggies for Florida gardens. You can also find more information at the University of Florida’s IFAS website if you have specific questions about a particular type of vegetable or flower.  Try this to start: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/lawn-and-garden/florida-gardening-calendar/  You can also contact our local Hillsborough County IFAS extension office – it’s in Seffner.  https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/hillsborough/

 

 

 

#5 Decide what the basic structure of your garden will be.

There are lots of options when you want to create your garden beds.  Traditional farming plants the same crops in large, long rows, and rotates the crops around the field to minimize soil depletion.  Most of us in urban areas don’t have the luxury of many acres, so we have to go with other methods.

Raised beds are very popular in Florida because they offer great drainage and a chance to amend our native soil with lots of organic material like compost, mulched leaves, earthworm castings, chicken/rabbit manure, and more.  You’ll be able to keep the soil from compacting and your root crops like carrots and parsnips will grow longer and better.  They can be custom built to your space and therefore can come in many shapes and sizes.  My best recommendation for you is to not build them so wide that you cannot easily reach the center of the bed while standing or kneeling at the edge – you’ll need to weed periodically and you don’t want to walk inside your garden bed to do it.

If you have a small space, or no space except a patio, then your volume of production may be limited.  But don’t let that discourage you – apartment and condo dwellers can still grow food on their patios and balconies.  I highly recommend Earthboxes for maximum production in the least amount of space; just ask our Earthbox class teacher Susan Roghair – she does EVERYTHING in Earthboxes pretty much, and she has a small backyard that is mostly paved.  (Classes for Spring 2019 coming up February 16 and March 9 – click those dates for your tickets and reserve them today!)

You can, of course, grow food in other containers, and we have all kinds of sizes, from large to small, as well as all the soil and fertilizer you’ll need to make that happen.  Container growing (outside of an Earthbox) takes a little extra care to ensure that you get the production you want, and I covered some of that in a previous blog article here, and also how to prep containers here, so check them out for more information!

If you have a larger back yard, even just a quarter of an acre, you can pretty much grow whatever you like and really bolster your grocery budget and feed your family.  As with raised beds, just make sure you can easily get to all areas of your planned garden without having to walk on your planting soil (or make a paver or mulch path through so that you can weed and thin and fertilize easily throughout the season).

There are also ideas like Square Foot Gardening, on which there are many publications available, that incorporate a specific plan for your raised beds.  I won’t go into it here, but know that it exists and may be a good option for you.  Also, Haybale gardening is increasing in popularity (and it’s something I’m thinking of trying this year!) – no containers, just a completely compostable hay bale that you plant starter plants in!

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.

 

14 Fun DIY Garden Labels

14 Fun DIY Garden Markers
By Marissa

Feeling crafty?  I definitely am. One of my resolutions is to make every single gift I give this year, whether it’s a greeting card or a useful item.  But I do other stuff besides gifts – I am very practical so I make stuff for the garden too. You don’t have to spend money on garden markers unless you just want to. You can make your own!

Have some Winter fun by doing a DIY project in preparation for Spring – making Garden Markers!  It’s January, the time of year for clearing away clutter and deciding whether or not to have a yard sale (or maybe that’s just me?).  While you’re clearing out, and dreaming of getting your hands dirty in the soil again, you can scout for things that could be used again and save them from the landfill.  

Added bonus: Deciding what to put on your markers will help you decide on and get ready for seed planting.  Since you can start seeding inside later this month here in Florida (if you don’t just buy plants from us) making great easy labels now for your seed cells will give you more time then to focus on planting.

Here’s some ideas that don’t take a lot of effort and are really useful!

Garden Labels for Wine Lovers

Do you garden so that you have fresh flavors for your meals to pair with your fav wines?  Then these two garden markers are just for you.

Wine Bottle Garden Labels

How cute is this? Use a wine bottle – or a glass soda bottle – slap a cute label on it – and sink neck-first into the ground.  Presto! Garden marker!

It will make your recycling can less heavy (yay!), and you get the benefit of having a pretty marker in your garden.  If you have more bottles than markers (hey, no judgement from me!) you can make a few extra for a gardening friend.

 Speaking of friends, this project is fun to do with a friend too.  Perhaps you both save some wine bottles for a while, then you can do the labeling project together.  

I find that waterproofing your labels work best – it’s a garden so they’re going to get wet.  You can use a clear vinyl to cover your paper labels – like clear contact paper – or laminate printed labels and glue them on to the bottle.  If you have a Cricut or Silhouette machine, you can make your own labels out of peel-and-stick vinyl and stick them onto the bottles. Whatever you decide, it’s sure to be cute!

Wine Cork Garden Labels

When you have wine, you usually have a cork.  You can use that too! Either use a small dowel to poke into the corkscrew hole you already made when you drank the wine, or use some old forks to pierce the cork!  Either way, the dowel, or fork, goes into the ground and the cork is your label! Not a lot of supplies needed for this one, but I definitely recommend permanent marker.

As an additional idea, I’ve seen some people paint the corks bright colors before labeling so that they’re easier to find in the garden, and/or a coat of glow-in-the-dark so they light up at night.  Use a bright color paint, let it dry, coat of glow if you wish, then write your label name with a permanent marker. After it dries, I highly recommend a couple of coats of Mod Podge Outdoor to keep the labels looking bright and help protect from water damage.  

Clothespin Garden Markers

Clothes Pins make great garden labels too, both for seed trays and for garden rows.  They’re very adaptable! I don’t know about you but I always have random clothespins lying about.  They’re so useful for so many things.

If you’re using them for seed trays, they’re most likely going to be getting wet often.  I think painting the clothespins on the clip end is a good idea, and I would use nail polish in bright colors, and paint the tips, inside and out.  It will help seal the wood and keep it from wicking up moisture out of the soil into the wood (your seeds need the water!).

There’s another option for clothespins too – you can paint them lovely colors, label them, and then clip them to a stick or dowel!  Just like you see below. Then if you have a mixed bed or companion planted areas, you can have multiple labels on one stick.

Twig Garden Labels

Have a good-size twig, a permanent marker, and a sharp knife?  Slice the twig off at the end and use that exposed wood to write your label.  

You can make it more decorative with paint or whatever you like, but really this is all you need.  As you can see in the picture above, it’s kind of like whittling – if you’ve ever done that – but it’s only one slice instead of many.

There’s a very simple one shown to the right.

 

Paint Stick Garden Labels

If you want some slightly larger stick labels that have a wider, flatter surface to decorate, free paint sticks from your local hardware store are your answer.  Example is shown below.

On these, you have room to make the labels bigger, and more readable from a distance.  I recommend painting these with bright colors, and if you’re artsy you can add small images of the crop to the stick.  Paint and decorate both sides of these so that you don’t have to worry about where you’re standing in the garden to see the labels.

Also, if you have a handy vinyl cutting machine, you can cut out word labels and stick them on.  Test it first to make sure the vinyl will stick to the paint.  If not, you could use the same cutter to make a stencil so that your label looks neat and tidy.

Seed Packet Mason Jar Stakes

Another cute idea, do you have some extra jars lying around? (I know I do). 

Staple your seed packet to your stake.

Then use a clear mason jar to cover your seed packet label and protect it from the elements.

One of the spaghetti sauce companies uses kind of square-ish Atlas Mason Jars, those are a great size for this project!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would still paint the wooden spoon a coordinating color first. Then for all spoons add a coat of Mod Podge to the concave side of the spoon, and while it’s wet stick my image (cut to fit) onto it. Let it dry a little bit then add a couple more coats of Mod Podge Outdoor, allowing it to dry in between those coats.

Finally, you can also metal stamp some old metal spoons to make labels out of them – but that’s not a quick process and takes special equipment.  I won’t show it here, but just wanted to mention the possibility!

 

Using Sticks for Garden Labels

Speaking of sticks, you can use any number of different kinds of sticks – both natural and manufactured – to make garden labels.  There are endless possibilities. Because of size, some are more suited for your seed trays and small containers, others can be used for in-ground and larger container plantings.  But really, they’re all useful anywhere in the garden.

 

Popsicle Stick or Tongue Depressor Garden Labels

Did you play with popsicle sticks when you were young? A pack of these, some paint, and some Elmer’s Glue would keep me occupied for hours back then.  Alright, I confess, it still does! The great thing about popsicle sticks is that they are really versatile, and you can make a garden label as simple or as complicated as you want.  If you have someone in the medical professions around, they might have some slightly larger tongue depressors that you could also use.

Another simple but impactful popsicle stick label idea shown below – that’s just some glue, paint, and probably some metallic permanent markers making those so cute!

Seed Packet Stake Garden Labels

Instead of painting your garden stake labels, you could use your seed packets.  

Slip the packet onto the stake and glue to attach.  To make the seed packet label last longer, cover the packet with clear contact paper, after it’s attached to the stake, making sure to seal the sticky edges together on all sides as best you can.

 

Spoon Garden Labels

Do you have a broken wooden spoon? Or just some old ones that got a bit funky and you’ve been thinking about throwing them out? Don’t toss them!  Repurpose them!!

Wooden spoons make a great surface to paint and write on to label your beloved garden.  As with the sticks, paint a bright color and use permanent marker to label.

For more advanced craftiness, any old spoon (wood, metal, etc) also supports decoupage – Mod Podge again (I’m obsessed with the stuff) – you could use the picture of what you’re growing from the seed packet and decorate the spoon with it, or draw your own picture if you like.   

  

Painted Bricks, Pots, & Rocks

 

Finally, painting rocks or bricks or pottery is a great way to have more permanent labels.

Recently I’ve been enjoying making rock paintings.  I do it for decoration, but also use inspiring words on some to remind me of the greatness that life has to offer.  You can take this idea to the garden and use painted rocks to label your beds.

Acrylic paints or paint markers work best for this.  You’ll want to protect your paintings with Mod Podge Outdoors (yes…I know…I said it again – they don’t even pay me.)

 

 

 

 

Finally, small terra cotta pots can be used to top stakes and label your plantings.  You can either paint the whole pot or just write on it with paint or permanent marker.

 

Alright, I think there’s a bunch here to work with.  It would be fun to mix and match your labels – a few rocks here, a few stakes there, a couple of wine bottles too.  So, get to crafting, and show me your pics!

Thanks for reading, and Happy 2019!

Sincerely,

Marissa

 

 

Milk Jug and Plastic Garden Labels

 

Yep, you can get out the utility scissors and cut plastic pieces out of used milk jugs or empty plastic salad greens boxes and make labels.  This is recycling at its finest.

I’m showing a milk jug example, but really any plastic packaging that is long enough to make stakes will do – plastic tub lids, plastic clamshell packaging from produce or other products, butter tubs, whatever!

You can use the bottom “dishes” as water catchers for small pots too. Win!

 

You can also use old bricks or pieces of them and paint a label on them as well.  Concrete block can be painted on too! (not shown)

 

Can Lid Labels

 

Using a paint stick or other stake, and some string or floral wire, you can use can lids from open tin cans to make garden labels.  You can even use old wire coathangers to make the stake and hanger for the lid label.

A permanent marker, grease marker, or paint marker will work for this (the grease marker might be hard if the can is coated in plastic).  Make your label, or stick one on (like decoupage! Told you I was obsessed), and attach to a stake. I personally prefer to use a hot glue gun to attach (if not using a wire hanger to make the hook to hang the label on), and I like to have one on each side of the stake as well.

P.S. Images used in this article are from the internet, and I tried whenever possible to leave the site labels on the images for crediting purposes.  I have done most of these in the past, but don’t have pictures of my own to share, that’s why I chose to use others!

 

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.