In Gardening, Timing is Everything
When is the best time to plant seeds and seedlings in South Florida? Is September too early? Is October too late? Can I plant again later?
What we grow and when we plant it depends largely on choosing species and varieties that have been proven to thrive in our climate. Time of year affects temperatures, day length and whether days are getting longer or shorter, all of which affect the way plants grow.
In steamy South Florida, you can successfully plant delicious crops all year round here, but you need to pay extra attention to plants that need cool weather.
Planting them too early can lead to:
- Inconsistent germination (many crops require specific range of temperatures to sprout)
- Leggy seedlings, often a result of excess humidity
- Stressing seedlings with high heat, sometimes killing them
- Exposing seedlings to harder rains, which can often drown seedlings and bruise/rip foliage
- Greater risk for pest problems
Planting too late can lead to:
- Slower initial growth with shorter day length
- Slower growth of cool-weather veggies that like it warmer tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumber, beans
- Delayed harvesting
Many cool-weather veggies can be started as early as September, but others need the cooler temperatures of October or November to germinate and grow well. Planting in September can give you a head start to crop production, but you will need to provide protection from hard rain and some shade for the seedlings because the sun is more intense than in October or November.
When to plant from seed:
- Early as September-Beans, broccoli, collards, cucumber, eggplant, kale, onions, peppers, tomatoes
- Wait till October or November-Beets, carrots, lettuce, radish, strawberry
SHORT VS. LONG SEASON
Some plants are short-season while others are long-season. This is the difference in the number of days after planting when the crop is at the ideal stage for harvesting. You can plant short-season crops multiple times within the cool-weather season, while long season ones are usually planted once. Staggered planting-planting at intervals, mostly with shorter-season crops-lets you spread out harvesting, especially useful if you have little refrigeration space or limited ability to preserve the excess, distribute to friends and family or sell.
- Short-season crops: Bush beans, beets, cuaunbers, lettuce, okra, radish, turnips
- Long-season crops: Broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, peppers, pumpkin, strawberry, tomatoes
For those with larger gardens, consider choosing different varieties of the same species with different days to harvest to allow for a staggered harvest. Harvest times for different to allow for a staggered harvest. Harvest times for different varieties often fluctuate 5-40 days, so look at harvest times on seed packets and planting charts when deciding.
PLANT SPACING AND TIMING
Another way of timing your harvest is through plant spacing. Often, you can plant seeds closer than recommended, then harvest them earlier than recommended as "baby" versions of crops. If you do this carefully, you can "thin" plantings through the harvest and create more room–ideal spacing-for the plants that remain, so that they grow into full-size mature versions of a crop.
Finally, timing in the edible garden simply depends on when we have time to garden and plant. It takes time to prepare the garden for planting: weeding, reshaping/adding beds, adding compost, mulching paths, building trellises, etc. So does trimming tree branches that cause excessive shade in the garden, especially if it gets less than six hours of direct sunlight. Having as much sun as possible can make a big difference in how well a veggie garden will do. Make sure to figure your own time realistically in caring for your edible garden, from preparation to harvesting.
Have an edible gardening question? Email Dylan at garden (AT) ediblesouthflorida (DOT) com
Bush beans Sep-Apr
Cantaloupes Aug-Sep / Feb-Mar
Chinese cabbage Nov-Jan
Eggplant Dec-Feb / Aug-Oct
Green onions Sep-Mar
Lima beans Aug-Apr
Pole beans Aug-Apr
Pumpkin Jan-Feb / Sep-Oct
Southern peas Aug-Apr
Summer squash Jan-Mar / Sep-Oct
Sweet corn Aug-Mar
Sweet potatoes Feb-Jun
Watermelon Jan-Mar / Aug-Sep
Winter squash Jan-Feb, Sep
Adapted from Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide, University of Florida/IFAS Extension Visit edis.ifas.ufl.edu