A garden often succeeds or fails before the first seed is planted. Many would-be gardeners have struggled for years or decades with unproductive gardens in Florida without realizing they hold all the keys to success.
The first thing to consider is the garden soil. Florida’s sandy soils are inherently difficult to grow a garden in and it is essential the soil is sufficiently amended. The low organic matter in sandy soil leads to poor retention of both nutrients and water, so the addition of composted organic matter can greatly improve the quality of garden soil. Compost can also contain trace amounts of nutrients and minerals that further improve the productivity of garden plants. Soil pH directly affects the availability of nutrients to plant roots, so taking a soil test can help the gardener understand the current condition of their soil and where it needs to be.
The three most essential nutrients garden plants need are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Native soil in Florida is naturally high in phosphorus, so it is best to choose a fertilizer that primarily consists of nitrogen and potassium as a slow-release formulation. Fertilizers should be applied in small amounts throughout the growing season rather than all at once. This method allows the plant to absorb as much of the nutrients as possible over time.
It is crucial that well-adapted varieties are chosen rather than merely planting “a tomato” or “a squash”. The variety that works well in New Jersey or Oregon will not necessarily grow well here in Florida. Chain stores will often have a one-size-fits-all garden section regardless of the location of that particular store, so variety selection is often limited. Fortunately, specific plant varieties can be searched for and acquired via online purchases.
The University of Florida’s Vegetable Gardening Guide contains a wealth of information such as: proven varieties, time of planting, planting depth, and plant spacing. Followings this guide for each kind of garden plant will greatly improve the likelihood of success. When the particular needs of the plants are clearly understood, they can be prepared for in advance rather than after problems occur.
The importance of water cannot be understated. It’s not simply water that a plant needs to survive it’s the persistent availability to the plant that allows it to thrive. Water also serves an essential role in nutrient availability in the soil for the plant to uptake. Insufficient or infrequent availability of water for plants will greatly decrease yields and can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Struggle with blossom end rot in peppers or tomatoes? Consistent soil moisture greatly reduces the risk of blossom end rot and other nutrient deficiencies.
Plan ahead, long before the first seed is planted, if you want garden success.