Start a Backyard Garden and Grow Your Own Food

If you’re new at gardening but would like to dig in and give it a try in your own backyard next spring, guess what? The time to begin planning is now!

Florida is a very garden-friendly state, and if you follow suggestions for the state’s three climate zones, you can grow vegetables all year long. Wondering where to start? We can help.

What You Do Should Do Now to Prepare for Your Spring Vegetable Garden

Long before you buy your first pack of seeds or come home with potted seedlings, take your time this fall and winter to thoughtfully consider where to plant, what to plant, and when to plant. Here are some things you can do now: 

  • Start combing seed catalogs or websites. 
  • Take an inventory of your garden tools. Clean and repair existing tools as needed, and begin a list of those you may need.
  • Begin to scout your backyard for the best location to establish your garden. 
  • Start a digital or paper journal for notes, questions, achievements, and more. 
  • Involve your kids from the beginning, so they will be excited to participate. 

Choose Your Garden Location

Taking the time to scout your backyard to find the best garden sets you up for success from the very beginning. If you’re a beginner, it’s a good idea to start with a plot about six feet by six feet (manageable but not overwhelming) on a well-drained site and close to a water source. 

Ideally, try to situate your garden facing toward the south, where it will receive the most sunshine throughout the day if you live in the Northern Hemisphere. If that doesn’t work for your space, the next best options are to face it east or west. 

When you’re ready to plant, run your rows north-south for optimum light exposure, and place taller vegetables where they won’t shadow smaller ones. A healthy vegetable garden will require around six to nine hours of sun each day, with morning sun being most important. Don’t forget to take into consideration that tall fences, buildings, shrubs, or your neighbor’s house may block light during some parts of the day. 

Preparing for and Tending the Garden

Start with drawing out a design for your garden, mapping out where you will place each plant, taking into consideration the size of your garden and how large your produce will become as it matures. Trailing plants like cucumbers and watermelons will likely spread across much of the garden space. Green beans can be trained to climb vertical poles, and lettuce or herbs are neatly self-contained. 

Soil preparation takes time. Become familiar with how to maintain good soil health and consider options like organic matter, compost, and cover crops. Using a quality soil mix is worth the investment. 

Spade or plow the plot at least three weeks before planting, and work it again on planting day.

Decide if you want to cultivate seeds or seedlings

Fertilizers can be tricky, so ask local nurseries which products they recommend for your area, or consider these options as natural fertilizers if you want to avoid chemicals. 

Be prepared to water regularly during the summer. 

Pests are inevitable, so know which ones will like your veggies and plan your defense strategy before you even plant your vegetables. 

What to Plant and When 

Florida is divided into three climate zones (north, central, and south) that dictate not only which plants you’ll have the best success with in your garden, but when to plant them as well.

To ensure that the vegetables you want to plant are Florida-friendly, find out the best time to plant according to your climate zone. Or, check your climate zone to see which vegetables fit your planting plans and scroll to “What to Plant, by Month.”

Three More Gardening Tips

  • To find everything you want to know about growing fruits or nuts in the Sunshine State, Florida Fruit Geek offers an abundance of information.
  • Get information about planting herbs in Florida at Herb Growing Guides
  • There’s an app for growing Florida vegetables! Planting dates and other vegetable gardening information are available as a free mobile app called “Florida Fresh.”

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