Winter’s great for planting tomatoes

A growing mecca

Some northerners, (from Georgia north!) don’t understand Florida’s vegetable growing season. Northern states are, after all, used to producing vegetables all summer. In Florida, from October until spring, lots of food travels out of state to help feed the country. Not so much in the summer. A Florida summer gardener will either let their garden lay fallow or grow sweet potatoes and okra. Summer in Florida is a good time for soil building.

A young boy sits on his grandpas lap on a wagon in the Garden, a basket of tomatoes sits in front of them.
Gardening is for the young and old alike. IFAS Extension offers something for all ages. Photo IFAS communications

Florida is the first and last state to have tomatoes ready for harvest in the country. In January, like the rest of the country, most of our tomatoes generally come from other countries or greenhouse producers. The need for picking them early to survive the long trip is one reason why commercial tomatoes don’t always taste so great. The other is breeding, with a few exceptions, has generally concentrated on other traits than flavor (read about UF/IFAS bred for flavor tomatoes).

Florida’s commercial growers plant tomatoes in August or September for October harvest and again in the late winter or early spring. Times vary depending on the latitude of Florida you live in. Florida’s a very long state! Commercial growers tend to grow determinant tomatoes. Those are bush varieties that generally have a crop over a short period of time. This helps growers get the harvest done and move on to other crops. Homeowners often like to grow indeterminate tomatoes. Those are the vining varieties that produce fruits on the new growth and can be harvested over a longer periods of time. Lots of homeowners choose these because, in Florida, they can protect the plants from the cold and have tomatoes all winter. Tomatoes don’t produce well in the warmer months, once night temperatures are up in the 70’s. Vine ripe tomatoes are , of course, the best flavor wise. Because Ripe and fresh is always better.

Grow your own
The UF/IFAS North Florida Research & Education Center shows off a Florida commodities traveling display featuring tomatoes, lettuce, onions, potatoes, and squash.

Growing your own tomatoes and veggies may be the only way that you can control factors like taste and freshness. There’s nothing like walking out your back door and picking a vine ripened tomato or other vegetable. Growing your own may, at first, seem like a daunting task. The persistent gardener will prevail and each failure is a learning opportunity. Here at UF/IFAS Extension, Highlands County we offer vegetable growing workshops in August and January. The next one is Saturday, January 12th from 9-12:00. You can lick HERE to learn more and also register. That’s the news from the Hometown Gardener.

Need answers?

Have a plant problem, a bug to ID, or any other horticulture related problem? Come see us at the Master Gardener help desk in the UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension office. We are at 4509 George Blvd., Sebring in the Bert Harris Agricultural Civic Center. Master Gardeners are on duty from 9:30 to 3:30, Monday through Friday. Do you want to be a Master Gardener! Email me at for details! Class is starting soon.

Like my Hometown Gardener page on Facebook and stay up with the latest gardening info in Florida’s Heartland. Sign up for our Newsletter Here.

Read Highlands County Extensions other blogs at


david austin
Posted: December 21, 2018

Category: Agriculture, Crops, Fruits & Vegetables, Health & Nutrition, Home Landscapes, Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension,
Tags: Agriculture, Gardening, Highlands County, Highlands Horticulture Digest, Master Gardener, Master Gardeners, Tomatoes, Vegetable, Winter Gardening

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