We’re having a cold winter this year and I’m sure the last thing on your mind is your spring garden, but it’s time to start ordering seeds!  The spring gardening seed catalogs are now out on garden center magazine racks and it’s tempting to buy everything that looks good in pictures.  However, there are a few things to think about when picking out what you want to grow.

Know Your Season

Vegetable crops are usually grown by season.  We are lucky in Florida because we have both a warm season and a cool season.  We are unlucky too because we have very hot summers!  Usually our spring crops suffer from too much heat and humidity in July and August.  Cool season crops are typically planted from September to March, while warm season crops are typically planted in February and March or August and September.  Eggplant and okra are outliers because they can usually make it through the summer.  It’s important that you follow tried and true planting dates for the crops you intend to grow.  You can find a very helpful table embedded in the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide that lists what to plant when.

Know Your State

As you may have noticed, North Florida has a very humid climate year-round.  We not only have to give our crops extra care due to rain and humidity, but we also need to grow varieties adapted for our climate.  Some recommended varieties are listed in Table 2 of the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide.  You can also find some recommended varieties in Seed Sources for Florida Homegrown Vegetables.  (Please note that some of the seed sources listed in this publication are geared more toward commercial growers, so they may be unavailable unless you intend to plant quite a few acres in one crop.)

Know How Green Your Thumb Is

Probably the most important thing about gardening is your level of commitment and experience.  Take a few minutes to assess your skills as a gardener and the amount of time you are willing to commit to your garden.  Then use the following list to help you determine what to plant.

  • Easy to Grow in Florida – Radish, Collard, Turnip, Kale, English Pea, Green Bean, Sweet Potatoes
  • Somewhat Easy to Grow in Florida – Okra, Yellow Squash, Zucchini, Eggplant, Watermelon, Sweet Corn
  • Hard to Grow in Florida – Tomato, Cantaloupe, Muskmelon, Pumpkin

This is only a short list, but I hope it gives you a starting point to help you determine your skill set.

A variety of calabaza squash. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS

Know the Difference Between Open Pollinated, Heirloom, and Hybrid Varieties

  • Open-pollination of crops occurs when insects, birds, wind, or other natural mechanisms carry pollen from flower to flower.  Seed can be saved from open-pollinated varieties which will produce crops with similar characteristics to their parents.
  • Heirloom varieties have a history of being passed down within a family or community.  As the name suggests, seed can be saved from heirloom varieties which will produce crops with similar characteristics to their parents.
  • Hybridization is a controlled method of pollination in which the pollen of two different varieties or species is crossed by human or natural mechanisms.  Seed saved from hybrids will most likely not produce as vigorously as their parents and may produce crops that are significantly different from their parents.

I would never want to discourage you from growing new crops, but I hope you now have a little better plan as to what to plant this year.  If you want to try something new with minimal risk then I would recommend you try growing yard-long beans, calabaza squash, and malabar spinach.  These vegetables serve as excellent substitutes for some of the more commonly grown varieties.  You can read more about these crops and other minor vegetables by visiting the University of Florida/IFAS Minor Vegetable Webpage.

Matt Lollar
Latest posts by Matt Lollar (see all)