Spring Planting In North Florida
By Paul Rutkovsky
Springtime in the panhandle of Florida can be tricky, especially if you want to plant vegetables. Warm season crops, such as beans, tomatoes, squash and corn, can be planted in early March. The second half of March would be a good time to introduce okra, eggplant, cucumbers and peppers. Our weather can be unpredictable. Protect seedlings if a frost or freeze is forecast. For more Florida-specific planting information visit the University of Florida IFAS Extension website which contains detailed planting information including planting dates, recommended varieties, when to harvest, spacing and yield estimates.
Soil preparation is important. Liz Marshall at Native Nurseries in Tallahassee says if you’re interested in organic gardening without using synthetic fertilizers, start a compost bin. While you’re waiting for the compost to mature, use mushroom compost, a mixture of mushroom parts, pine bark and cow manure available at Native Nurseries. If your soil has too much clay, it’s advisable to consider building raised beds, then mixing in compost and topsoil. Native Nurseries gives great advice about constructing and maintaining a healthy compost bin.
Organic seeds are available and New Leaf Market organic and conventional seeds and seedlings are available at Native Nurseries, Esposito’s Lawn & Garden Center and Tallahassee Nurseries for spring planting. I have had good luck growing organic vegetables and native plants in two urban alleys in Tallahassee without using chemical based fertilizers. Diluted Dr. Bronner’s organic liquid soap helps keep aphids—a common pest—off plants, and cayenne pepper will deter small and large rodents from consuming flowering plants.
Native wild flowers are a great addition to any small or large yard. Natives are more tolerant of the North Florida climate and tend to be more resistant to insects/pests, which equals fewer pesticides. I have used zero pesticides on my native plants. A good variety of native wildflowers are available to plant including Columbine, Woodland Flock, Blued Eyed Grass, Coontie, Fakahatchee Grass, and beautiful Muhly Grass. Introduce Native Azaleas—they’re gorgeous and bloom in the spring! The Magnolia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society’s website is a good resource for native plants.
A parting quote from Liz Marshall, “Native plants attract native birds and butterflies.” Try not to use manufactured chemicals in your yard or garden and introduce native plants when possible and you’ll have a healthier environment for you and your family.