Agri Leader

Plant a late winter garden

Our mild winter weather is one of our favorite things about Florida living. January, February, March and April are good months to plant a late winter garden in Central Florida. All you need is a patch of land, seeds and a little determination to enjoy delicious vegetables from late winter through early spring.

There are a variety of vegetables that can be grown year-round in our area. But before planting, you have a few important decisions to make. First, decide on the perfect location for a garden. It's usually best to choose a spot close to your house, which has easy access to water.

Since vegetables need nourishing sunlight to thrive, the location should receive at least six hours of sunlight each day. Next, you must decide which vegetables to plant. Most types of beans such as pole beans, bush beans and lima beans can be planted from February through April. Vegetables that should be in the ground from February through March are pumpkin, summer and winter squash, corn, turnips, peppers, cucumbers and eggplant. All types of tomatoes can be put in the ground during this time with excellent results.

Once you have a planting site and vegetable seeds, you must get the soil ready for planting. Almost all gardens can use improvements to the soil. Organic matter such as compost, manure and commercial soil mixtures can be used to make your garden more productive.

Compost is easy to make with household items such as coffee grounds, kitchen scraps and rotting leaves. You can make your own compost pile and have plenty of organic matter when you need it.

How much water your vegetables need depends largely upon your soil type. Vegetable plants require adequate amounts of water to thrive, but they do not tolerate pooling or standing water. Just how much water your plants need will depend on your soil type and what vegetables you planted. A good rule of thumb is to provide new plants with light, frequent watering and mature plants with fewer but deeper watering.

Florida gardeners must always be on the look-out for plant pests that can damage the health of plants and reduce crop yields. Aphids, whiteflies, mites and nematodes can all be found on vegetable plants in our area. Landscaping experts recommend using a pesticide-free approach in the home garden, unless insect populations are high enough to cause serious damage to plants.

Weed control is key to keeping insects at bay. Remove weeds by hand or with a hoe and place mulch around the base of vegetable plants for best results. If cutworms are a problem in your area, purchase row covers to place over plants. Monitor your plants once a week for signs of insect damage. If you must use chemical pesticides, be sure to properly identify the pests present, follow label directions and spray plants thoroughly. If you have slugs in your garden, there are a variety of baits that control them.

It is well worth the time and effort to plant a late winter garden. Not only will you have time to work outdoors and enjoy our mild winter weather, you will have fresh vegetables on your table to enjoy year-round or to share with friends.