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 flawildflowers.org 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!

Marissa

Best Pro Tips for a Bountiful Harvest

Best Pro Tips for a Bountiful Harvest
By Marissa

You dreamed. You planned.

You tilled soil. You amended.

You planted. You watered.

You Sweated.  You Fretted.

You pulled weeds…the endless weeds.

Now you wait for your plants – your babies – to grow up and ultimately tell you if you did a good job raising them (children grow up so fast, don’t they?) at harvest time.

Is there more you can do to help them produce more, and be the best plants they can be?  Of course!

Here’s just a few Pro Tips for you to make your vegetable harvests more bountiful, and beautiful.  Enjoy!

 

Pro-Tip #2 – Strategic Fertilizing Plan

About a month ago I wrote an article for you, Top 10 Fertilizing Tips, that has some good information on when to give your plants a good boost of nutrients.  During the time when plants are turning flowers into fruits, they are using the most energy, and thus need more fuel to power these fruit miracles.  Fertilizer is like a vitamin drink to an athlete – giving vital nutrients that are needed to create the end product.  There are many different kinds of fertilizer out there – there’s (arguably) no wrong answer to the question of what to use, as long as you’re following the recommended application directions (or in the case of organics like compost, compost tea, and the like, applying a few times a week and watering in).

Pro-Tip #4 – No Place for Suckers

You’re probably thinking…suckers? Is she just trying to be clever or “hip”?  Well, maybe.  But suckers are extra branches off the main stem that don’t serve much of a purpose except extra photosynthesis.  You might think that more photosynthesis is good, right?

Sure, in some cases.  But when your plants reach the flowering and fruiting stage, like the plant shown to the right here, it’s got plenty of energy creation potential with the leaves that it already has.  If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be able to produce the flowers and fruit.

The reason these are called “suckers” is because they “suck” energy from fruit production, making the plant focus on new branches AND fruiting.  It’s too much.  You’ll get more flowers and fruit when you prune these away.

But don’t worry, the trimmings don’t have to go to waste.  You can create new plants by rooting these trimmings! You’ll get the same exact species of plant, and a second helping of tomatoes a little later on!

 

Pro-Tip #1 – Pollination

Pollination of your plants’ flowers is the key to making fruit (which contains the seeds).  We mostly rely on local insect pollinator populations to do that work for us, however, in many cases you can help too.

In squash, for example, there are clearly defined male and female flowers.  The female flowers are attached to what look like baby zucchini or whatever type you’re growing, sometimes called the “budding fruit” – it’s actually an ovum.  The male flowers look like just a regular flower on a stem, with an anther holding a lot of yellow pollen grains.  Pollination happens when pollen from the male stamen is physically taken from the male and lands on the female flower’s pistil structure. 

Since in the case of squash these flowers are in different locations, maybe even on different plants, the female is really lucky to get pollinated at all!  It’s the miracle of life, we’re all born of luck, right?

The good news is, you can help increase the odds of successful pollination!  Use a small artist paintbrush to collect some pollen from the male, then paint it on the female pistil. Voila! You’ve made a squash baby!  You can actively look for female flowers each morning and find a male flower to “rob” for the purpose of creating fruit.  

Be careful not to cross-pollinate – yellow squash and zucchini will pollinate each other’s females, and you’ll get some weird fruit – and the seeds from those are usually sterile, and/or not true to their parents.  It happens by accident sometimes and that’s ok.  Also, this pollination technique works for other plants, like cucumbers, tomatoes and more.

Pro-Tip #3 – Pick Often to Produce More

Believe it or not, some plants will produce a lot more seeds/fruit when you harvest the ones it’s already growing.  Green beans, for instance, whether the bush or the pole variety, will push out more flowers after a harvest and set more seed pods when you harvest the ones that it’s already working on.

You see, it’s all about the biological processes of survival.  If a plant “thinks” that it doesn’t have any seeds to drop and procreate itself, it will immediately put on more flowers and create more seed pods.  If you take those pods away, it will start over, and over, and over, until it’s exhausted.  This is how beans give us such bountiful harvests time and again.  Tomatoes also do this to a certain extent, as do peppers, cucumbers, and many more flowering fruit plants. Try it and keep score!

I hope you enjoyed these tips for getting more yield from the garden.  I’m sure there are many more things we could talk about, but these are the ones on my mind right now.

Do you have your own great advice for getting better yields?  Share with the community.

I look forward to hearing from you.

In the meantime – enjoy the bounty that we can grow with our own two hands and a fair amount of sweat equity.  Eat well and be well in the garden!

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.

 

Top 5 Spring Gardening Tips

Top 5 Spring Gardening Tips
By Marissa

Alright, you’ve got your plants and seeds, and you’re ready to get started planting your garden.  But what plants should go where?  What about soil and water and food?  Are there plants that shouldn’t be next to each other? How do I take care of it all moving forward?

Well, those are all good, and valid questions.  And the answer is almost always, “It depends.”  I know, that’s not helpful.  However, I want you to know that there are resources out there for you to help get it right.

I also want you to know to not be afraid of your garden.  Experiment.  Play.  Keep notes.  If something isn’t working, try something else.  In the garden, change is good.  The benefits of the education you’ll receive about living systems far outweigh the costs.

Gardening is an epic, life-long adventure. There will be astounding feats of greatness that you accomplish. You will also lose dear (plant) friends along the way.  One of my favorite quotes is from the late, great, J.C. Raulston who said, “If you’re not killing plants, you’re not really stretching yourself as a gardener.”  Want to know more about Mr. Raulston and his accomplishments? Check this out.  He was a pretty impressive guy.

#4 – Create a Care Schedule

We are all busy people.  We have places to go, things to do, and people to take care of.  It’s important to remember that gardening isn’t a “set it and forget it” hobby.  Vegetables and annual plants/flowers require consistent care and attention. 

But it doesn’t have to take up a lot of your time.  A few minutes per day, and then a block of time on your day off, will get you to harvest and/or bloom with great results. Incorporate garden time into your schedule, just like making dinner or brushing your teeth. 

10-15 minutes daily in the morning to water, pull a couple of weeds, monitor the health of your garden, harvest a few things that are ready, and look for/remove pests are all you need to do during the week.  Getting outside for a few minutes gives you fresh air, exercise, and maybe a little bit of sunshine to start your day.  A quick note in your journal on what you did or noticed will help you keep track.

If you’re REALLY busy, enlist helpers.  Teach kids to take on certain “chores” and hold them responsible.  Once your plants are established, for example, weeding is a great chore for kids. Challenge them to keep your garden weed-free for a prize at harvest time.  Teach them how to recognize when the green beans or jalapenos are ready to be picked and let them do it.  It’s really fun to see their happy faces when they eat something they had a hand in creating.  Or maybe there’s a neighbor who would love to help (and share in the harvest).

 

 

 

#2 – Plants need regular watering

It’s recommended that we humans drink at least eight 8 ounce glasses of water every day because we need water to survive. Likewise, plants need regular drinks of water too.  Water is the fluid that keeps leaves open to collect the sun’s energy, keeps nutrients available where needed, and is the substrate where all of the biochemical processes for life happen in a plant (and really, in us too).  

In places like Florida where we have high humidity, if you can water the soil without touching the leaves, your chances of harmful fungul diseases of the leaves decreases dramatically. Soaker hoses, drip irrigation, and containers that water from the bottom (like Earthboxes), are the best way to do this.

If this isn’t possible, just make sure you water in the mornings so that the sun can dry the leaves.  Dark moist environments are bad fungi’s dream environment (just think of athlete’s foot, but on your plants).

Watch for leaf wilt on hot afternoons (see picture to the right), if this happens then your morning watering is not delivering enough, you’ll need to water more.  And some plants just need more water than others, you might try supplemental watering of certain plants using bottles you stick into the soil that leak water out slowly (I’ve done that on hot patios when I didn’t have an Earthbox), there’s lots of DIY for bottle watering if you look around the ‘net for it.

#5 – Plan Your Garden, Garden Your Plan

 

We know the basics of plant life, right?  Light, Soil, Water, Food, Air, Temperature.  All of these factors play a big role in the life of your garden.  An imbalance in any of these can nip your success in the bud – pun intended.

In my two previous blogs, Tips for a Great Garden Plan Part 1 and Part 2 I discuss many of the things to think about when planning a garden.  These articles cover a lot so I won’t repeat it all here.

I do want to point out one thing, though.  After you do all of your planning, drawing, and such, follow that plan.  Unless you learn you royally screwed something up in the plan – like not having a structure for your pole beans to climb or figuring out that where you thought you had 8 hours of sun only gets 2 hours – then follow the plan.  It makes your notes through the growing season more accurate so you can take what you learn and apply it to future gardens.

 

 

#3 – Plants Need Food

Just as we need to eat, plants need to eat too.  They create energy from photosynthesis, which is the process of using the energy of light to take the carbon out of carbon dioxide to make glucose (sugar) to feed itself and release oxygen back to us (plants are why we can breathe).  Carbon is the basic building block of all life.  But plants need so much more.

To thrive, plants also need Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium – they’re called the Macronutrients (NPK).  These are the numbers you see on fertilizer bags. A high nitrogen (N) fertilizer will promote solid green growth of leaves and stems.  Phosphorous (P) takes care of flowering and root growth.  Potassium (K) also increases root growth and establishes the overall health and growth rate of the plant. Plants need other minor elements too, like Sulphur, Magnesium, Manganese, Copper, Zinc, and more. 

And finally, they need beneficial microbes and mycorrhizae in the soil to help them assimilate those nutrients and establish plant communities.  Fungi, for example, have a very extensive network of nutrient gathering “roots” that trade sugar that the plant makes for water and nutrients that the fungi gather.  This is known as a symbiotic relationship.

Fertilizers and soil additives are a manual way to enrich soil that is deficient in the nutrients and microbials your plant needs. They come in organic and regular varieties. This is a huge topic, so I would suggest talking to gardeners you know, researching with the UF/IFAS websites, or asking us here at the store.  That said, in general the most important times to feed your plants are 1) at the time of planting; 2) at the time of the first flowering; and 3) at the time of the first fruit setting, with small amounts through the middle of the harvest time (and in Florida often you can extend harvest time by a few weeks with continued harvesting and feeding).

#1 – Observe the Wonders of Your Garden

I can’t stress enough how many wonderful things your garden will teach you and your family over time.  You’ll learn what the plants you like to grow want, and when they want it. You’ll see little insects and figure out if they are good or bad for your garden.  You’ll taste the freshest most delicious produce you’ve ever eaten in your life.  You’ll smell flowers, freshly-worked soil, Spring rain, and the scents that certain plants have, like tomatoes, or geraniums, or rosemary.  With a journal you can look back on gardens past and remember what worked and what didn’t.

Through a garden, you will grow as a human being who shares this planet with other wonderful creatures.  Only by diving in and experiencing these true wonders of the world will you know the joys of getting your hands dirty like this.  I suggest you get started, right now.  We’re here to help – just ask us!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re enjoying these gardening thoughts.  Care to share? Send me a comment, or email me a question.

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.

 

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

Thanks,

Marissa, Director of Communications

Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply, Inc.