August brings some of Florida’s hottest weather, and although gardening isn’t on most people’s minds, if you’re planning a fall garden, it probably should be.
Because of our hot summers, growing many vegetables during Florida’s summers is next to impossible. Tomatoes don’t set fruit well when the night temperatures are above 70 degrees, and humidity makes it hard to grow the vegetables northerners grow all summer.
Okra, reportedly a new food on the superfoods list, is one of the few plants you can grow during our hot months. Still, you’ll want to get your beds ready and plant some of your early crops.
Tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, eggplant and southern peas are some of the plants that can be planted in August.
Tomatoes are best started in containers since you’ll want to plant them two to three inches deeper in the soil than the top of the roots. This might seem weird at first but the tomatoes will root along the buried portion of the stem and the plant will have a stronger and more extensive root system.
I personally like to grow and keep my tomatoes in large pots, and that way I can have them fruiting from November to June while moving them in when it’s cold. Most varieties of peppers take two to three weeks to germinate, so starting them now will get them a head start before the cold comes.
Peppers and eggplants can be container-grown, too, and moved in to protect them from the cold.
If you haven’t tested the pH in the soil beforehand, you’ll want to do that right away. Soil pH is the measurement of soil acidity or alkalinity. A pH of seven is considered neutral.
Vegetables will absorb nutrients best when the pH is slightly acidic between 5.5 and 7. This should have been done two to three months in advance to allow the dolomitic lime to activate, provided raising the pH is needed.
If you’re finding out in August that you need an adjustment, use a hydrated lime at three-quarters the rate recommended for applying dolomitic lime. Hydrated lime will activate in two to three weeks but you will need to check and adjust the pH more often.
The Highlands County Master Gardeners located at the UF/IFAS Extension office in Sebring can test your soil pH for a small fee and give you recommendations for adding dolomitic lime.
Most of your leafy vegetable plants are cold hardy and could be planted in September and October and harvested throughout the winter months. Don’t stop with one planting; you can harvest them into early April provided you get them in the ground by early January.
Mustards, collards, turnip greens cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, radishes and turnips are in the mustard or crucifer family and can be planted in September and October and harvested throughout the winter.
Other leafy vegetables such as various lettuces, endive and escarole are in the sunflower family and can be planted in September for your fall garden.
All are cold-hardy but during extreme cold under 28 degrees for long periods you might want to toss a bed sheet or some frost cloth over them just to be sure – especially if the weather has been unseasonably warm prior to the cold weather.
Beets and spinach are members of the goosefoot family and tolerate the cold well. Beets can be planted October through March; make sure you don’t overlook the tops of the plants. Cook beet greens like you would collards or spinach and they can be quite a treat.
Spinach, a champion of cold weather, needs to be planted October to November because January is too late.
Brussels sprouts, which is in the mustard family with cabbage, is also cold-proof enough for anything Florida can give it, but like spinach, it needs to be planted in early October.
Carrots are another vegetable that tolerate the cold and can be planted October through March.
For information on when to plant vegetable varieties, you can pick up a list of vegetable planting times for central Florida at the Master Gardener desk in the Extension office at the Bert J. Harris Agriculture Center, 4509 George Blvd., Sebring. Austin is 1984 graduate of the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s of Science in horticulture and is the Highlands County Horticulture Extension agent/Master Gardener coordinator. You can reach him at (863) 402-7140 or firstname.lastname@example.org