April showers bring May flowers. Spring is officially here, which means it’s gardening season. While you can garden all year-round in Florida, springtime is when many people prefer to plant beautiful flowers. It’s also a great time to start a vegetable garden.
Robert Bowden, the director for Harry P. Leu Gardens and author of “Florida Fruit & Vegetable Gardening: Plant, Grow, and Harvest the Best Edibles,” knows a lot about gardening. With a gardening background that goes back nearly 50 years, Bowden has extensive knowledge on what can and cannot thrive in Central Florida’s climate during springtime.
“There’s nothing like the flavor and there’s nothing like knowing what’s been sprayed or how your plants have been grown, but the simple fact that it tastes so much better and it’s so inexpensive. It’s really the way to go,” he says.
Bowden has provided some of his best tips for individuals who want to start growing their own fresh vegetables.
What to Grow in the Spring Season
Bowden says there is a short window where the Central Florida climate offers favorable conditions to plant produce like lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash and beans in your vegetable garden. Your spring garden will last about two months, which is the perfect amount of time for these plants to give you some vegetables. Once May approaches and the summer hits, Bowden says the intense heat and humidity will be too much for your spring crops.
When to Start Planting
Mid to late March, preferably after the last full moon of the month, is the sweet spot for planting spring vegetable gardens. But don’t be discouraged if you haven’t started yet. There is still time to take advantage of the favorable weather.
Expert flower garden tip! Be sure to take out your winter flowers before planting your summer annuals. Bowden says this is important because the roots of your summer annuals need to be well established to start growing before the hot weather comes. If you wait to plant in the summer, the individual flowers don’t have the ability to get enough water and nutrients in the roots.
How to Make a Compost Pile
A compost pile is a soil conditioner that is rich in nutrients. Composting helps the soil retain moisture, providing your garden with the ability to grow healthier plants. As opposed to fertilizer, which feeds the plants, compost feeds the soil.
It’s easy to make your own compost pile. Bowden says you can include any kind of organic material, including coffee grounds and vegetable stems. He suggests throwing your winter annuals into your compost pile after removing them from your garden so they don’t go to waste. However, avoid putting any type of meat or fat into your compost pile.
Bugs Be Gone
There’s nothing more irritating in a garden than finding out you have little pests eating your precious plants. Bowden says some pests to look out for are armyworms. This type of caterpillar will eat away at your plants and vegetables, making tiny holes in them. These critters burrow into the soil during the day to stay cool and are most active at night. To avoid dealing with armyworms, Bowden recommends applying an organic material called Dipel.
Slugs also make an appearance during the spring season. Like armyworms, slugs also hide during the day and come out to feast on your plants at night. Bowden recommends making your own simple slug traps. Simply place a flat board down overnight in the row where you see holes appearing. In the morning, when you go out to your garden and flip the board, you will find slugs hiding underneath. You can then easily dispose of them.
Bowden says slugs also hate yeast, so another trick is putting a small, aluminum pie pan filled with some beer in the garden. You may have to dig a little bit to ensure the pan’s edges are level with the soil. Overnight, the slugs will go into the beer and you can dispose of them in the morning.
Here are some more of Bowden’s tips and tricks for creating a successful spring garden.
1. Transitioning a garden: When summer comes, your springtime plants will start to die on their own. Bowden recommends cutting the plant off at ground level instead of pulling it completely. Over time, the roots will decompose and add to the organic matter.
2. Be aware of the climate: Not all plants are designed to grow in Florida’s climate. Leu Gardens performs its own tests to figure out what grows best. Bowden says they grew 50 different types of green beans over the years and determined that a variety called “strike” is the best one to grow in Florida.
3. Grow what works: Florida summers can be brutal, but there’s still plenty of produce that will grow in the heat. Bowden recommends sweet potatoes and peanuts for summertime gardening.
Get into gardening with these spring events.
Friday Farming at South Street
626 W. South Street, Orlando, FL 32805
Fleet Farming, a local organization that empowers all generations to grow food to increase local food accessibility, invites volunteers to help maintain its quarter-acre produce garden in West Orlando on a weekly basis. Closed-toed shoes are required and be sure to bring water, a hat and sunscreen.
April 1 – June 3
Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival
Included in regular theme park admission
This annual event includes topiary displays of your favorite Disney characters, a variety of gardens throughout World Showcase, The Goodness Garden Butterfly House, outdoor kitchens featuring spring flavors and nightly concerts.
Spring Farm Fest
Do Good Farm
12423 Marshall Farms Road, Winter Garden, FL 34787
This free community event allows attendees to explore Do Good Farm by sampling or purchasing farm-fresh goodies while listening to live music, playing games and more.
Rose Growing Simplified
Harry P. Leu Gardens
1920 N. Forest Avenue, Orlando, FL 32803
$10 members, $16 nonmembers
Instructor Robert Bowden will share his experience with growing roses in the Central Florida climate. Reservations are required.